C. John Di Pol
Prepared on the occasion of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Parish of Randsburg and its successor, the Parish of St. Ann, Ridgecrest.
50th Anniversary Edition 1996
By these presents is established the parish of RANDSBURG as a movable benefice. The pastor’s residence shall be in the town of Randsburg. The boundaries are as follows;
North Boundary: Tulare and Inyo Counties.
East Boundary: San Bernardino County.
South Boundary: Eighth Standard Parallel South.
West Boundary: The west boundary of R37E, M.D.
+ Philip G. Scher, Bishop of Monterey-Fresno
Given at Fresno, California,
this 3rd day of April, 1946
Thus, the Parish of Randsburg, the predecessor to the present-day Parish of St. Ann, Ridgecrest, was officially established in April, 1946. Concurrently, Bishop Scher appointed the Rev. Francis J. Pointek, a priest of the Diocese, as the Founding Pastor.
Before we begin to trace the growth and evolution of this new and successor parish during their first 50 years it would be well to review the status of the Church in the northern Mojave Desert in the 50 years prior; to review the “pre-history”, as it were.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the northern Mojave Desert was still a barren, mostly uninhabited area, remote from centers of population and commerce. Settlement of the Owens Valley to the north had commenced in the 1860’s with an economy based primarily on ranching and farming. Similar development was taking place in the Kern River country to the west, with the establishment of the towns of Keysville, Kernville and Havilah. But on the desert side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the principal activity centered on mining exploration and prospecting. The mining camp of Darwin, together with its offspring, the Coso Mining District, had their origins in 1875. The big strike in the Inyo Mountains in 1868 was the Cerro Gordo mines which enjoyed several years of highly profitable operation. Boom and bust enterprises in the 1870’s such as Panamint City and Ballarat in the Panamint Valley were more the normal. These activities, however, gave rise to the establishment of freighting companies to serve the trade between the Owens Valley, the mines of Inyo County and the cities of Los Angeles and Bakersfield. Many of these freight and stage line routes traversed the Indian Wells Valley and surrounding region. In 1876, the Southern Pacific Railroad pushed its main line from northern and central California over the Tehachapi Mountains into the town of Mojave to join-up and complete the link to Los Angeles. The advent of this rail line spurred growth in the Tehachapi Valley and the establishment of the town of Tehachapi. Thus by the early 1890’s, the Indian Wells Valley and the Rand and El Paso Mountain regions were still essentially unpopulated, traversed by freight lines, experiencing sporadic prospecting activity, with some small scale mining operations. The only settlement of any note was the town of Garlock, which supported some ranching operations and a small mill to process ore from nearby mines and prospects.
At this period of time the Catholic population of central and southern California were in a geographical area which comprised the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles. This diocese incorporated all of California south of San Jose to the Mexican border, with the See City being Los Angeles. Catholics in the remote mountain and desert areas of the eastern portion of the diocese were sporadically served by missionary priests.
While historical records are fragmentary, it is known that a Dominican priest, Father William Denpflin traveled through the Sierra Nevada, including the Tehachapi Valley, in the period 1879 through 1896, ministering to the Indian tribes and the settlers. Prior to the estab-lishment of the parish at Tehachapi, all of Kern and Inyo counties were in the parish of Visalia, California. Early documents indicate that the first recorded Catholic services in the Tehachapi area were in April, 1877, and were conducted by the Rev. Matthew Marron, then an assistant priest in Visalia. Occasional visits were continued by the priests from Visalia, as well as by the priest from St. Francis Parish in Bakersfield, which was newly established in 1881.
In 1887, the Parish of St. Malachy, Tehachapi, was officially established. Its First Pastor was the Rev. Patrick Bannon. The parish covered a very large area, including all of eastern Kern County, the whole of Inyo County and other distant parts of the northern Mojave Desert area. The history of St. Malachy Parish indicates that Needles, California was at times the permanent residence of the clergy and that the parish was administered from Needles during the period 1908 to 1922. Be that as it may, the pastor of St. Malachy’s was responsible for the spiritual needs of Catholics in a far-flung area. Over the years mission stations were established in centers of population, however small, which were at some distances from the seat of the parish. One of these missions was at Randsburg.
In 1895 the famous gold discovery, later named the Yellow Aster, was made in the Rand Mountains by the team of Messrs. Burcham, Mooers and Singleton. They had been prospecting in the Summit Diggins area of the El Paso Mountains when they ventured across the valley into the Rands. Their story will not be retold here; suffice to say that the “rush” was on. Miners poured in and established the Rand Camp, which rapidly grew into the town of Randsburg.
The first Catholic church in Randsburg was built circa 1897. It burned down in one of the two big fires which swept through Randsburg in 1898. After the destruction of this first church Mass was celebrated, when possible, in the Miner’s Union Hall. In 1904 the Reverend Matthew Ternes, pastor of St. Malachy, built a new church, the Church of Santa Barbara at a cost of $1,000. (This church, which was a mission station of the parish of St. Malachy, survives to the present day and is considered to be the Mother Church of the Parish of St. Ann, Ridgecrest.).
The original bell of the church is said to be a gift of the Most Reverend Thomas Conaty, then the Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles. The first Confirmation Class in Randsburg was confirmed in 1906 by Bishop Conaty with total of eight Confirmandi: five McCarthy children (Teresa, Leo, Tom, Sara and Marie), Leslie Lehman, James Montgomery and Walter Bozeman.
In 1922 the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles, which had been in existence since 1859, was reformed with its northerly portion becoming the new Diocese of Monterey-Fresno and the larger area, which embraced the remaining southland to the Mexican border, being renamed as the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego. Initially the affairs of the new diocese were administered by Bishop John J. Cantwell of Los Angeles-San Diego. In 1924 the Most Reverend John B. MacGinley was installed as the first Bishop of Monterey-Fresno with his cathedral and residence being in Fresno. The Parish of St. Malachy, as well as all of Kern and Inyo counties were included in this new diocese.
With the creation of the new diocese and new parishes, such as at Lone Pine in Inyo County, the geographical area of the parish of St. Malachy was redefined. The pastors once again took up permanent residence in Tehachapi. The principal missions were at Mojave and Randsburg, with a Mass station at Trona. These missions and station were visited periodically. Travel was arduous, over bad dirt roads, with extremes of heat and cold and with occasional short, but violent, rainstorms. Partly because of these conditions, but also because of his special interest to the Catholics in the desert area, the Rev. James Phelan made Randsburg his permanent residence during the year of his pastorate, 1924, and purchased a small frame house near the Church of Santa Barbara as a rectory. While the pastor/priests of St. Malachy were responsible for ministry of their extended parish, including its mission stations, they were assisted when necessary by priests from other localities.
As a case in point, when the Church of Santa Rosa of Lone Pine was established as a separate parish in 1919, its first pastor the Rev. John J. Crowley often said the Masses and administered the Sacraments for the people in Randsburg. Fr. Crowley had a distinguished career in the service of the Church and for the citizens of his community. Following his pastorate 1919 – 1924, he became Chancellor of the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno. Poor health forced him to return to Lone Pine in 1934. There he found a community devastated by the Great Depression, exacerbated by the loss of the Owens River water to the city of Los Angeles.
He worked tirelessly with other civic leaders to restore the people’s confidence and economy. He became known far and wide as the “Padre of the Desert”. Crowley Lake in the High Sierras is named in his honor. Fr. Crowley met an untimely death on March 17, 1940 in an automobile accident on Highway 14 near the Walker Pass highway. A memorial cross, originally built by the young men of the nearby CCC camp, marks the site of this tragedy.
The beginnings of settlements in the Indian Wells Valley (IWV) were driven by the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles during 1908 to 1913. The line of the aqueduct runs along the western portion of the IWV at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. A railroad line was built by the Southern Pacific from Mojave to Lone Pine to deliver material and support construction activity. The town of Inyokern (originally called “Siding 16”, then “Magnolia”) was established along this line, with a major aqueduct construction camp erected at Brown, approximately 9 miles north. The western portion of the IWV was soon dotted with a number of homesteads engaged in farming and cattle ranching. A road (the present State Highway 178) ran east to Searles Valley, the site of a major chemical plant.
Along this highway, the small community of Ridgecrest originated – mainly to provide certain food supplies to the chemical plant and to serve the small number of homesteads which were being established in the southern end of the IWV.
Through its many years of existence, the Rand District has experienced more than its share of good and bad times. From the original gold strike in 1895, to the tungsten boom of 1905, to the silver bonanza of 1919, to the economic depression of the 1930’s In a letter of January, 1930 to Msgr. John Crowley, Chancellor of the Diocese, Fr. Louis Soule, then pastor of St. Malachy, stated: “We are facing hard times in a financial way. The cement plant of Monolith, the only payroll that keeps this town alive, is laying off 50% of their workers and slashing wages. Randsburg is almost dead.”
Upon the retirement of Bishop MacGinley, Philip Scher, Vicar General of the Diocese, was appointed the second Bishop of Monterey-Fresno and consecrated in 1933. At the time of his installation the Diocese contains 54 parishes, 25 missions, 17 parochial schools, 4 high schools, 3 hospitals and 99 priests. The Catholic population was estimated to be 79,000.
The year 1936 saw the creation of the new Diocese of San Diego from the southerly portion of the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego, with that former diocese elevated to the level of a Metropolitan District as an Archdiocese. The geographical boundaries of the San Diego Diocese extended to the northeast to encompass the entire county of San Bernardino, which included the town of Trona. Trona, which had been a Mass station of St. Malachy, was soon to become a parish of its own, however its pastors, the Rev. Meighan and Rev. Joseph Boucher would provide valuable assistance to the St. Malachy pastor, Father John O’Shea, in helping to serve the spiritual needs of the Catholics at Randsburg.
The advent of World War II had an enormous and lasting impact on eastern Kern county and specifically on the Indian Wells Valley and Rand District.
The Muroc Air Base (later to become the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base) was established in the southeast portion of the county. In July, 1942 a Marine Corps Air Station was established at Mojave for the training of fighter pilots for deployment to the Pacific theater of operations. In November, 1943, the Navy established the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) in the Indian Wells Valley. Initial operations were set up at the existing airfield at Inyokern while extensive permanent research, development and test facilities were being constructed at China Lake near Ridgecrest. Fr. Michael Mangan, and later Fr. Joseph Smith, pastors of St. Malachy, celebrated Sunday Masses and held services at Tehachapi, Mojave Mission chapel and at the Marine Air Station. Fr. Boucher of Trona handled the Masses at Randsburg and later served as civilian priest to the Navy personnel at Inyokern and China Lake until the arrival of the military chaplain Fr. Gerald Clark in 1945. Fr. Boucher continued to celebrate the Mass at Randsburg until its establishment as an independent parish and the arrival of Fr. Pointek.
This account would be remiss without a few commendatory words concerning the Reverend Joseph A. Boucher. A native of Massachusetts, he was raised in Montreal and educated in Canada. Ordained in 1919, he served in a Canadian parish until 1924. Later appointed to a parish at Ogdenburg, New York, serving there until 1937 when he came to the Diocese of San Diego. In 1942 he was appointed pastor of St. Madeleine Sophie parish, Trona. Fr. Boucher passed away on September 1, 1952 at the age of 59.
He was quiet but heroic, sacrificial of his time and his own well-being, admired and respected by his peers. Father Pointek, who gave the meditation at the Solemn Pontifical Mass of Requiem in San Diego, spoke the following: “His life was constantly one of prayer and work. His life reflected at all times the love of God.” Father Boucher was archetypical of all the priests who labored in the service of the Church in our remote and desolate areas during the early decades of this century. The Church and we ourselves, past and present, owe them a great debt of gratitude.
A new parish created, as well as a new pastor; a new parish, but rich in history and tradition. A new pastor – his first pastorate, assigned six years after his ordination. Somewhat surprising, some may say. Not really. Bishop Scher knew his man: young, energetic, resourceful, wise, affable and totally committed to his vocation and to his Faith. Father (now, of course, Monsignor) Pointek is a native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Born in 1913, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Pointek who were immigrants from Czechoslovakia. He attended St. Boniface parochial school in Wilkes-Barre plus one year of high school, then entered the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. Upon completion of his high school, college and theological studies, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno on May 26, 1940 by the Apostolic Delegate, the Most Reverend Amleto Cicognani. Fr. Pointek reported “on-board” the diocese in July and for the next six years serving in various posts prior to his assignment to the new parish at Randsburg, arriving in February, 1946. The perfect man for the “perfect” job.
“The Parish of Randsburg“, “Santa Barbara Parish“, Catholic Desert Missions“, “Santa Barbara Missions“, “The Parish of St. Ann“. Different names for the one and the same entity.
And the new parish was (and still is) a large entity, indeed. The north boundary is the line of Tulare and Inyo counties; to the east the San Bernardino county line. On the south the boundary was an east-west line which is close to, and parallel with, State Highway 58 which runs between Mojave and Kramer’s Junction (also known as Four Corners). The west boundary is a north-south line which lies west of the Sierra crest and Walker Pass, passing through the valley of the south fork of the Kern River. A large geographical area – over 1,500 square miles – larger than some of the dioceses in the eastern United States
In the two and one-half years since the Navy first arrived in late 1943, the population of the Indian Wells Valley, especially that of Ridgecrest, had greatly increased. Naval personnel and civilian scientists from the California Institute of Technology by the hundreds had moved in; transient and temporary construction workers had arrived by the thousands and the permanent naval facilities at China Lake, including many hundreds of housing units, were nearing completion. WW II had ended the prior year and many of the CalTech and Naval personnel, who had been mustered out of the service, stayed on at China Lake as civilian employees of the post-war permanent Navy research, development and test center. It was these factors: population growth and permanence which were the basis for Bishop Scher’s decision to elevate the Randsburg mission to the level of an independent parish. For these same reasons, it was apparent to Father Pointek that the “center-of-gravity” of the parish would be that the community of Ridgecrest. The new bishop of the Monterey-Fresno diocese, the Most Reverend Aloysius J. Willinger, C.S.S.R, who had replaced the ailing and hospitalized Bishop Scher in late 1946, readily agreed.
Fr. Pointek commenced his work in a forthright and energetic manner. He first began to meet and come to know his parishioners (and others as well). He easily and readily slipped into the culture and life style of the desert and was as comfortable (maybe more so) in khakis as in a cassock.
He traveled far and wide to the outlying regions where individual parishioners might be found. Concurrently, he began to search for and purchase property in Ridgecrest to be the site of the permanent parish facilities. In this he was greatly assisted by Mr. Joe Fox, a longtime resident of Ridgecrest and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Mr. Fox had acquired considerable property in Ridgecrest which he was generously making available for churches of all denominations at prices which Fr. Pointek characterized as “…….practically giving it away.” Thus, with Mr. Fox’s help, together with help from parishioners such as the Rizzardini family and others, Fr. Pointek was able to assemble several parcels into a multi-acre site on West Church Avenue. An additional parcel, 10 acres in size, of raw desert land located three miles south of Inyokern was donated by Mr. Fox as a site for a future cemetery.
The first Mass in Ridgecrest had been celebrated by the Navy Chaplain Rev. Gerald Clark on Feb. 18, 1946 in the old Kern County Building, known then as the “USO Building,” on West Ridgecrest Blvd. Sunday Masses continued there by Fr. Pointek until the USO operation closed down. Sunday Masses were then celebrated at the Ridgecrest Theater pending completion of the church building on parish property on West Church Avenue. The construction of St. Jerome Catholic Church, Ridgecrest’s first Catholic church, had commenced with volunteer labor on January, 1947.
A total of $1,200 was raised by donations from parishioners and by a grant from the Catholic Extension Society of Chicago. Mr. Phil Lilly was in charge of construction, assisted by Messrs. Menzhuber, Meagher, West, Moroso, Pocta, Ridel, Mussler, Shoaff, Goulet and Sellers. Mac Rizzardini was able to obtain the hard-to-get lumber material and Joe Fox provided roof rafters from a stock of surplus material. The 20 x 40 foot redwood frame structure was completed and dedicated in April, 1947. Prior to the construction of the St. Jerome Church, however, the first Catholic church in the Indian Wells Valley was established in Inyokern. The old Biggs Grocery store, a 20 x 60 foot galvanized metal building was purchased in July, 1946 and remodeled to become the Santa Inez Chapel. Assisting in the reconversion of the building were James Greenfield, Willibrod Bergeron, Gordon Zurn and Mrs. Jack Warner. This chapel served the Catholics in the communities of Inyokern, Leliter, Brown and at the Los Angeles Aqueduct stations. Meanwhile, the parish had received a two-room house, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Al Seberger of Ridgecrest. Moved to the Church Ave. site, the house served as a catechetical center.
Thus by April, 1947, the end of the first year, the parish facilities consisted of the Church of Santa Barbara in Randsburg (the seat of the parish) and the missions of St. Jerome, Ridgecrest and Santa Inez Chapel in Inyokern. Sunday Masses were being celebrated at all three sites; plus the following “Firsts” since the erection of the new parish:
The Rev. Francis Pointek – a very busy pastor. But that’s not all. During this first year Fr. Pointek also assumed an additional responsibility: Auxiliary Chaplain to the Naval personnel at China Lake and the personnel at Muroc Air Force Base.
As previously noted, Fr. Boucher of Trona, who had been providing the services for the Catholics in the Rand district, had also been serving the Catholic personnel, both military and civilian, of the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) which was established in late 1943, initially in Inyokern, later moving to China Lake. In November, 1945 the first Catholic chaplain was assigned to NOTS: Chaplain G. J. Clark, Lt. USNR. Chaplain Clark was commissioned in April, 1943 and had served on carriers and battleships in the Pacific theater. His tour of duty at China Lake ended in April, 1946, with his release from active service and return to his priestly duties in civilian life. (The date coincidental with the arrival of Fr. Pointek). Through arrangements made between the Military Ordinariate and the Bishop of Monterey-Fresno, Fr. Pointek was appointed “Ecclesiastical Chaplain of the Military Ordinariate with full parochial power over all subjects of the Military Ordinariate who are at the Naval Ordnance Test Station and the Muroc Air Force Base.” This authority also extended to Catholic civilians living within the military area. Thus, Fr. Pointek assumed the priestly and parochial duties and responsibility for the Catholics at China Lake and, on occasions, for helping the Air Force military chaplains at Muroc Air Base (later to become Edwards Air Force Base). This commenced in April, 1946. In October, 1946, Navy Chaplain Harold E. Meade, ChC, USNR was assigned to China Lake. Fr. Meade, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cleveland, served as the full-time military chaplain at China Lake until October, 1948, at which time he was transferred to duty with the Atlantic Fleet.
Following the departure of Fr. Meade, the Military Ordinariate and the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno arrived at the agreement whereby the Diocese would assume permanent responsibility to serve all Catholic military and civilian personnel at China Lake. In October, 1948, Bishop Willinger assigned the Reverend Paul J. Redmond, a priest of the diocese, to the Randsburg parish as an assistant to Fr. Pointek, with the principal responsibility as chaplain to the Catholic Congregation of the All Faith Chapel of the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake. Fr. Redmond had served with distinction in World War II as a Navy chaplain in the Pacific theater with the U.S. Marine Corps. Assigned to the 1st Raider Battalion, he was the first chaplain to see action with the Marine Raiders and participated in many island invasions with the 1st and other Raider Battalions. His service earned for him the approbation “Padre to the Marine Corps.” Fr. Redmond served at China Lake until December, 1949, when he was recalled to Fresno to become Diocesan Director of Catholic Social Services.
With the assignment of Fr. Redmond in 1948, and for the next 15 years, the pastor and priests of the parish in Ridgecrest provided the spiritual and parochial care and the administration of the Sacraments for all of the Catholics, both military and civilian, who resided on the Naval base at China Lake. It should be noted that during this period most of the several thousand civilian employees of NOTS lived on the base and thus its Catholic population constituted the largest enclave of parishioners in the parish. This agreement was concluded in 1963 when the Military Ordinariate and the Navy Chaplain Corps reestablished a permanent Catholic chaplain for the military personnel at China Lake with the assignment of the Rev. Joseph A. Costa, LCDR, ChC, USN. Fr. Costa was the first in a long line of respected and dedicated priest chaplains to serve the military personnel, continuing to this day. The civilian residents living on-base, however, remained as parishioners of the Randsburg/Ridgecrest parish.
To the great satisfaction of Fr. Pointek, an additional priest was assigned to the parish to serve as an assistant. The Rev. Patrick Gallagher, a native of Ireland, arrived in August of 1947. Educated and newly ordained in 1945, this young priest was immediately and warmly accepted by all. He assumed his duties with vigor and enthusiasm, even though this vast and brown desert was so different from his Emerald Isle.
The arrival of Fr. Gallagher was most timely inasmuch as the mission station in the community of Boron was transferred from the parish at Tehachapi to the parish of Randsburg a few months later, in February, 1948. Located on State Highway 58, just to the west of Kramer’s Junction in eastern Kern County, Boron is adjacent to the great open pit mine of the Pacific Coast Borax Corporation. Sunday Masses were held in the P.C.B. recreation hall. Plans were formulated for a new church building. A total of $5,000 was raised, $2,000 from pledges and $3,000 from the Catholic Extension Society of Chicago. Construction by volunteer labor was started and completed, with the first Mass being celebrated in the Church of St. Joseph in July, 1949.
Also, in September, 1948, the St. Jude Mission at Isabella, Kern County, was placed under the jurisdiction of the Randsburg parish for a temporary period. Later the mission was transferred to a parish in Bakersfield, and in 1969 was established as an independent parish.
Both of these actions contributed to the steady population growth of the parish. A census taken in 1948 showed that the number of Catholics (adults and children) residing in the parish, including its extended mission stations, to be as follows: Randsburg area: 241, Inyokern area: 138, NOTS China Lake: 720, Ridgecrest: 355, All other areas: 182, for a total of 1,636. Another highlight for 1948 was the first Confirmation class held after the establishment of the new parish. The Most Reverend Aloysius J. Willinger bestowed the Sacrament of Confirmation on 117 candidates in two separate ceremonies. The first was held on April 21st at the All-Faith Chapel on the China Lake naval base. A total of 91 candidates were confirmed. The following day, 26 were confirmed at the Church of Santa Barbara in Randsburg. There were 12 priests attending and crowds overfilled chapel and church. Space limitations does not permit printing of names of all the confirmandi, however a review of those names shows a significant number, or their descendants, to still be current members of the parish.
Several parish organizations were established during this period. Information on the origin of such organizations is fragmentary, however records do indicate the following were started or in existence as indicated: CCD program from the very beginning (known then as catechetical instruction or, more popularly, as “catechism classes”); Randsburg Altar Society: Sept. 1946; Santa Inez Altar Society: 1948; Holy Name Society: 1950; Catholic Ladies Sodality: 1949; China Lake Altar Society: 1952; Christian Family Movement: 1951; Chi Rho Club (high school students): 1952; Og Cuman Club (young singles): 1952; St. Jerome Altar Society: 1952; St. Joseph Altar Society, 1952 and after Vatican II, Parish Councils and School Boards.
The Knights of Columbus Father Crowley Council 3199 was chartered on April 10, 1949 with 40 members. The first officers were: Grand Knight Boney Landavaso, Deputy Grand Knight John Shoaff, Treasurer LT. Leo Lemire, USN, Financial Secretary George Santos. The Council’s facilities were located in Ridgecrest in an old barracks building obtained from a construction camp in the Owens River gorge and moved to Ridgecrest, and later in a modern building built on the same site. The Council has been very active over the years and continues to the present time.
The official name of the parish was still “Randsburg”, but more often than not it also referred to itself as the “Catholic Desert Missions” and “Santa Barbara Missions”. By 1950, however, this latter title was more commonly and frequently used. This evolution shows up in the various newspaper clippings of the time, church bulletins, letterheads, copies of tickets and handbills used for the many social and fund raising events and other similar memorabilia. One might speculate that the reason for gravitating to the name “Santa Barbara Missions” was twofold: To maintain the connection to the Mother Church at Randsburg (after all, it was the seat of the parish) and to recognize the far-flung nature of the parish with its several mission stations at centers of population. The objective of developing the principal parish facilities in Ridgecrest, however, remained unchanged. The population was still expanding and the adjacent Naval Ordnance Test Station, in China Lake had become a permanent and very large installation.
The pastor’s plan for the first permanent structures was the construction of a parochial school and convent in Ridgecrest. A formal fund raising program was organized in 1950 under the direction of a committee of lay persons chaired by Mr. John V. O’Donnell. Pledges for donations were solicited, many fund raising events were held: St. Patrick Day dinners, Valentine dinner and dance, Mother’s Day picnics, corn roasts, on and on (remember, this was before the days of television and events such as these were part of the social fabric of the community). The preparation of architectural and site plans was done by parishioners who were engineers, construction experts, etc., most of whom were employees of the Naval base. They volunteered their services, on their own time and expense, with coordination and direction provided by Mr. Martin Snow. Sufficient funds were raised, including a generous grant from the Catholic Extension Society, to permit ground clearing to commence in early 1952. It was at this time that the names “St. Anne” and “St. Ann” first appeared as the name for the school. The construction effort was “self-contracted”, with some work performed by volunteer labor and the rest by speciality contractors.
The school building and the convent were completed the following year (1953), ready for occupancy in the fall. The building contained five classroom some of which were separated by collapsible partitions. This enabled the rooms to be opened and converted to serve as a chapel for Sunday Masses (the small Church of St. Jerome could no longer handle the growing attendance).
In the meantime, Fr. Pointek was searching diligent for an order of teaching Sisters to staff and operate the school. Four members of the Order of Handmaids of Mary Immaculate, led by Sister Mary Stanislaus, arrived in the summer of 1953 and St. Ann School opened in the fall of that year with Grades One through Four. On November 5th of that same year, Sister Mary Star and Sister Mary Gabriel were seriously injured in an automobileaccident while driving on Highway 395 six miles south of Kramer’s junction. Both were hospitalized in San Bernardino and not able to return to teaching duties for several months.
During this time period there also were changes in the clergy assigned to the parish. The Rev. John F. C. Ryan, newly ordained, arrived in June, 1950 for a temporary three month assignment. (During this period Fr. Ryan performed his first marriage, joining Phil Lilly and Phyllis Lane on August 5, 1950. Mr. and Mrs. Lilly are still members of the parish.)
The very popular Fr. Gallagher departed in June of 1951 to return to his native Ireland. He was replaced by the Rev. John Eves. The Rev. Joseph Eberhardt arrived in October, 1952. The Rev. Ildephonce Calmus, a member of the Order of St. Benedict, had recently transferred into the diocese for reasons of health and was assigned to the desert parish of Randsburg. He served for one year, then moved to Trona to become pastor following the sudden death of Fr. Boucher in 1952. By this time period the regular Sunday Mass schedule had settled down to the following “line-up”: China Lake Chapel: 7:30 and 9:30 AM; Randsburg: 9:30 AM; Ridgecrest: 11:30 AM; Inyokern: 11:00 AM and Boron: 7:30 AM; and when at Muroc/Edwards, 7:30 and 9:30 AM.
And the time had also arrived for Fr. Pointek to move on to a new assignment. His eight years as the Founding Pastor had been filled with great activity, many accomplishments and a solid foundation for the permanent presence of the Church in the Northern Mojave Desert. His departure in March, 1954, was viewed with great sadness, not only by his faithful parishioners, but also by his many, many friends throughout the length and breadth of the high desert east of the great Sierras.
The Reverend John F. C. Ryan returned in March, 1954 to become the second pastor of the Parish of Randsburg.
Father (now Monsignor) John F. C. Ryan, a native of upstate New York, was educated at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. Following completion of his studies in 1930 he accepted a position in parole work with the City of New York. He pursued a year of graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame, after which he worked with delinquent youths, principally at Lincoln Hall in New York. In late December, 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and served four years as a “GI” in the Pacific Theater during WW II. Following separation from the service at the end of the war he returned to work and in 1946 entered Christ the King seminary in St. Bonaventure, New York. He was ordained to the priesthood in June, 1950 for the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno, reporting to the Parish of Randsburg for a temporary period, then going to Pacific Grove as an assistant. He arrived back in Randsburg/Ridgecrest 1954 as pastor whence he served for the following 14 years.
By the time Fr. Ryan arrived Fr. Gallagher had departed, with Fr. Eberhardt and Fr. Eves still “on-board”. During the period of Fr. Ryan’s pastorate, the following clergy also served in the parish: Rev. Francis G. Tasy, Rev. Laurence J. McHugh, Rev. Harold J. Carota, Rev. Joseph Pacheco, Rev. Thomas G. Condon, Rev. Paul V. Wethington, Rev. William G. Richardson, Rev. Joseph F. Cannon, Rev. J. H. MacDonald, Rev. Douglas D. Leitheiser, Rev. Richard J. Boylan, Rev. Godfrey Raffel.
A calamity of major proportions was experienced by the parish in the summer after Fr. Ryan’s arrival. Fire of undetermined origin gutted the newly finished St. Ann’s School at 12:45 PM on August 25th (1954). The Kern County Fire Department in Ridgecrest responded to the alarm, as did fire apparatus from the China Lake Fire Department, however a strong wind was blowing and the flames spread rapidly, resulting in a 60% loss of the facility before the blaze was brought under control. Since the fall term was scheduled to commence in two weeks time, the Naval command authorities at China Lake generously and quickly made available vacant space, known as the “Rowe Street huts”, for use as classrooms.
Replacement furnishings and supplies were rapidly assembled and classes started in September. The damaged school building was fully repaired in the ensuing year.
St. Ann’s School, now restored, reopened for operation in September, 1955, still with the first four grades. The sisters of the Handmaids of Mary Immaculate had departed at the end of the prior school year, however Sister Mary Bridget of the Dominican Order arrived during the summer to be principal and teach the First Grade, with lay faculty for the other grades. In each of the following years an additional grade was added, with the first Eighth Grade class graduating in June of 1960. There were 11 members in that class: Judy Coffey, Marilyn Ernst, Paul Greedy, Susan Hammam, Eddie Horton, Kathy Kleine, John Moffett, Tom Pott, Mary Rizzardini, Al (Skip) Wiruth and Barbara Willis.
With the continued growth of the Catholic population in the Indian Wells Valley during the 1950’s, especially in Ridgecrest and China Lake, the parish facilities were becoming increasingly inadequate. The school building, built with only five classrooms, was now supporting an elementary school growing to eight grades by doubling-up two grades in one room.
The biggest problem, however, was the lack of a permanent house of worship – a suitable parish church. This condition had long been recognized by the pastor, the bishop and by the parishioners. Their common concern and desires lead to the formation in 1958 of a well-organized fund-raising effort to build a new church with a seating capacity for 700 persons, additional classrooms in a second school building, an administrative area and ground improvements. A committee of lay persons was established, under the chairmanship of Marshall Goulet, a long-time resident of Randsburg and Ridgecrest. The methodology used was such that the size of the committee grew as the fund raising effort expanded, thereby adding more force and impetus to the campaign. This effort met with a high degree of success. Sufficient monies and pledges were raised in the first year which, together with prior savings, enabled ground to be broken for site preparation and construction to commence in 1959. All construction was completed by mid-1960,with the dedication of the new Church of St. Ann by Bishop Willinger on October 23rd, 1960. The total cost of the project was $225,000. A total of $200,000 was raised from pledges, donations and prior savings, leaving $25,000 to be borrowed from the Diocese. That loan was repaid within the following year, leaving the parish debt free.
It was also during the latter part of the 1950’s, 1956 and 1958 respectively, that both Fr. Pointek and Fr. Ryan were appointed by the Holy Father as Papal Chamberlains, with the title of Very Reverend Monsignor.
This honor was very richly deserved by these two priests in recognition of the dedication, zeal and accomplishments in their ministries and the work of the Church.
The 1960’s saw other changes in the parish. The St. Joseph Mission in Boron had been transferred to the Parish of St. Francis in Mojave and later (1969) became an independent parish in its own right. A permanent military priest chaplain arrived at China Lake in 1963 to care for the Catholic military personnel, as previously described. This relieved the parish from the responsibility of celebrating Sunday Masses on-base in the All-Faith Chapel. Enrollments continued to increase at St. Ann School and, with the construction of the new classroom building and increase in the number of faculty, the double-grade classroom were slowly eliminated so that by 1968 each of the eight grades were in separate rooms. With the exception of the priest principal-teacher, the faculty were all lay persons. In the mid-60’s the parish acquired the old Mormon Church property on the corner of Norma Street and Church Ave., contiguous to the parish property. The LDS community had built a new facility in Ridgecrest and their old property had become excess to their needs.
Through the benevolent intercession of Mr. Joe Fox, a staunch member of that community serving as an intermediary, the parish was able to purchase the property and convert the old church building for use as a hall.
Following the completion of the new church in 1960, the parish was more and more being referred to as “St. Ann’s”, in lieu of “Santa Barbara Missions” or “Randsburg Parish”. While this trend had started in the late 1950’s, it accelerated with the dedication of the Church of St. Ann. Also, Ridgecrest had become the permanent residence of the parish priests.
The Diocese of Monterey-Fresno took notice of this in December, 1965 when its Bishop, the Most Reverend Aloysius Willinger, officially redesignated the parish as the Parish of St. Ann, Ridgecrest by issuing the following Decree:
“The seat of the parish heretofore known as St. Barbara, Randsburg is hereby officially transferred to St. Ann, Ridgecrest, by which name the parish shall henceforth be known; and the Parish of St. Barbara at Randsburg is hereby declared a mission of Ridgecrest”.
In October, 1967, Bishop Willinger resigned and moved into retirement. Concurrently the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno was divided into two Sees: The Diocese of Fresno, consisting of 8 counties in the San Joaquin Valley including all of Kern County and all of Inyo County to the east; and the Diocese of Monterey, consisting of the counties located along the central coast region of California. On December 15, 1967 the Diocese of Fresno was formally erected with The Most Reverend Timothy Manning, then Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, as its first Bishop.
Following 14 years of service, the time had come for Msgr. Ryan to depart. His accomplishments were most noteworthy: Growth of St. Ann School to the full eight grades, with additional classrooms; the building of a large, permanent parish church; and bringing the Sacraments to the Catholic Congregation of the China Lake Naval base as Auxiliary Chaplain for the military personnel. His transfer in June of 1968 to the pastorate of Sacred Heart, Exeter, California was met with much regret by his parishioners, but also with sincere best wishes of “Ad Multos Annos”.
The Reverend Dino Riccomini arrived in June, 1968 to be the pastor of the parish, now called St. Ann. Fr. Riccomini is a native of Bakersfield, a member of an extended family located in the southern San Joaquin Valley. He was educated at St. Joseph’s School, Bakersfield, then entered the seminary at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. He was ordained in 1957 and served in various assignments in the Diocese of Fresno.
The number of priests assigned to St. Ann’s at any one time had been reduced substantially in the latter part of Msgr. Ryan’s pastorate. Fr. Godfrey Raffel was the only assistant when Fr. Riccomini arrived and left shortly thereafter to become the chaplain at the State Correctional Institution in Tehachapi. After a several month break, Rev. Raymond Duffy was assigned for a 1 year period. Another break, then Rev. George Abou Moussa, for 1 1/2 years. Rev. Jack Smith was posted at St. Ann’s for a temporary period pending his commissioning as a military chaplain. All in all, St. Ann’s was a one priest parish for about 50% of the time during Fr. Riccomini’s pastorate. This forced the curtailment of services at the outlying missions. The regular Sunday Mass at Santa Inez Chapel in Inyokern had been discontinued in Msgr. Ryan’s time, the mission deactivated and the property ultimately sold in 1969. (Santa Inez chapel was small, old and, with the improved roads in the area, the commute time from Inyokern to Ridgecrest was only 15 to 20 minutes). Sunday Masses in the Santa Barbara Church in Randsburg were reduced to an intermittent schedule, then ceased except for special occasions. Another important factor was the migration of the civilian employees at China Lake from residency on-base to residency in Ridgecrest which had commenced in the late 1960’s Whereas 85 to 90% of the employees lived on-base and 10 to 15% off-base before, by the mid-late 1970’s that ratio had reversed.
The impact on St. Ann School was very substantial. By this time, the principal and faculty was 100% lay persons and the enrollment rising. The Pastor’s persistence, and good fortune, in searching for teaching Sisters resulted in Sister Mary Claudine and Sister Mary Becker (later replaced by Sister Gabriel) from the Order of the Sisters of the Holy Names arriving at St. Ann’s in 1969. Sister Claudine served as principal and also taught in the classroom. Sister Barbara and Sister Joan of the Dominican Order arrived in 1970 to join the faculty, which now consisted of 50% religious, 50% lay. Enrollment continued to increase, with the school reaching a record high of 256 students and stayed at maximum capacity levels for the next several years.
The life of the parish continued with vigor. The strong Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) program was further enhanced with the teaching Sisters joining the lay volunteers as instructors. A Legion of Mary chapter was established and continues to this day.
Lay persons began to serve as lectors for the Readings at all the Masses and a liturgical music Leader of Song was appointed. The main altar in the Church of St. Ann was repositioned to more directly face the congregation. The original convent building, which had been converted into a rectory during the long absence of Women Religious, was reconfigured to create a small lobby, an office for the parish secretary and a private office for the pastor. The old Mormon Church, serving as a parish hall, was extensively remodeled internally and an extension built to accommodate a kitchen and restrooms. The parish cooperated with the City of Ridgecrest in its project to realign Norma Street south of Ridgecrest Boulevard by relinquishing a small portion of the property on which the parish hall (the old Mormon Church) stood, thus enabling the curved intersection with Church Avenue to be built. In return, it received the sidewalks and curbs which were built as part of the project. The old wooden building which had served as the St. Jerome Church was put to use as the Thrift Shop. And the parish participated in the Diocesan development program designated Project COPE. The funds raised by this appeal were shared between the Diocese and the parishes, with St. Ann’s receiving $20,000. These monies were utilized to rebuild the entire parking lot, install sidewalks and curbs along Church Ave. and the balance placed in savings reserve.
In 1971 the parish observed the 25th anniversary of its original founding. A Mass of Thanksgiving was concelebrated by the Most Reverend Hugh A. Donohoe, Bishop of Fresno. Joining in the concelebration were Fr. Riccomini and the former pastors Msgr. Francis Pointek and Msgr. John F. C. Ryan. Several former assistants to the pastors were in attendance, as well as other clergy, including Msgr. Roger Mahony of the Chancery Office (now Cardinal-Archbishop of Los Angeles). A banquet followed in the Knights of Columbus Hall, filled to capacity with parishioners and friends. Honored guests included Ridgecrest Mayor Ken Smith and Captain and Mrs. G. W. Jauchler representing the Commander, Naval Weapons Center.
Singular honor was bestowed on Fr. Riccomini in February 1972, with his formal investiture as a Monsignor by Bishop Donohoe. The ceremony took place in the Church of St. Ann with members of the new Monsignor’s family from Bakersfield present, together with other visiting clergy and 200 parishioners. The appointment of Msgr. Riccomini, especially at his relatively young age, an indication of the high esteem in which he was held by his peers, his bishop and the Holy See.
One additional event during the time of Msgr. Riccomini, which merits inclusion in this historical account, is the project undertaken in 1975 to structurally stabilize the Church of Santa Barbara in Randsburg. As previously noted, the church was built in 1904. Of all wood construction, it was well built and still remains functional. It was, however, poorly anchored (more accurate to state that it was not anchored). The church was held up by a large number of vertical wooden supports which simply rested on the ground. As one might expect, the building developed a pronounced list to one side. By 1953, the county building inspector was concerned and the insurance company would not renew its coverage until the building had been stabilized, fearing that the next strong wind would topple it. A team of laymen installed two diagonal utility poles, solidly braced against the ground and attached to the leaning wall. The building inspector and insurance company were sufficiently satisfied and time moved on. Fast forward to 1975.
The Knights of Columbus Father Crowley Council of Ridgecrest undertook the project to make a permanent “fix”. The building was jacked up, concrete footings poured, steel saddles fabricated and installed, strong vertical uprights placed to level and anchor the building to the footings, rustic siding reinstalled, electric wiring brought up to standards and fresh paint applied inside and out. The diagonal utility pole braces, while not now needed, were left in place for cosmetic reasons and traditional correctness. The small house to the rear of the church, purchased by Fr. Phelan in 1924 as a rectory (Fr. Pointek called it a “wrectory”), was rehabilitated. The collapsing porch was torn down and replaced, electrical system rewired, modernized and improved interior plumbing installed in bathroom and kitchen, improvements to the cooling and heating facilities and fresh interior paint applied, with a general clean-up around the premises. And so the 92 year old Mother Church and its rectory stands to this day.
The nine years from 1968 passed by all too swiftly. Monsignor Riccomini left St. Ann’s at the call of his bishop in January of 1977 to accept a new assignment as the pastor of St. John’s Parish in Wasco, California. Sadness by many, a good friend to all and a strong and dedicated priest at all times.
The Reverend Joseph Heffernan arrived in January, 1977 to be the pastor of the Parish of St. Ann.
Fr. Heffernan, a native of Chicago, was raised in Oregon. When a senior in high school, his family moved to Fresno where he enrolled in Ryan Preparatory School, then the Diocesan Junior Seminary. Upon completion of high school studies Fr. Heffernan entered St. John’s College in Camarillo, the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He was ordained for the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno in May, 1965. Prior to his arrival at St. Ann’s, Fr. Heffernan was pastor of St. Mary Parish in Taft, that being his first pastorate. His tenure at St. Ann’s was relatively short (3 1/2 years), but much occupied with a large expansion in the parochial school. Also, St. Ann’s had become a “one-priest” parish through out all of Fr. Heffernan’s tenure, and continuously so to the present time.
Not long after Fr. Heffernan’s arrival the local Public School Board decided to reorganize its high school and junior high into three-year schools (Grades 10 through 12 and 7 through 9, respectively), effective with the school year commencing in the fall of 1979. The Parish School Board subsequently recommended, and the Pastor concurred, that St. Ann School be expanded by the addition of a 9th Grade to create a junior high division of Grades 7, 8 and 9, plus the addition of a kindergarten class to the first six grades. A fund-raising campaign was organized with a target goal of $200,000 for a new school building with three classrooms, a science laboratory, restrooms and office spaces. Ground-breaking took place in April, 1979, with completion in September, in time for the start of the new school year.
Changes in the school faculty were also taking place at this same time. Sister Mary Claudine and Sister Gabriel, the Holy Names Sisters who had been at the school since 1969, were recalled by their Order for reassignment in July, 1978. They were two wonderful ladies, beautiful in spirit, devoted to their teaching vocation, their students and their religious life. Much regret on the part of parishioners, and the Sisters themselves, at their departure.
The parish was most fortunate, however, with the arrival in the summer of 1978 of three teaching Sisters: Sister Kay, Sister Frances and Sister Paula of the Dominican Order. All were highly experienced in school operations and, with Sister Kay as principal, instrumental in organizing the faculty and facilities to start the new junior high school and kindergarten classes the following year.
By the end of the 1970’s most of the mass migration of navy civilian employees from living on-base at China Lake to residency off-base, mainly in Ridgecrest, had taken place. One effect of this migration was that the Sunday Mass attendance at St. Ann’s increased and decreased at the All-Faith Chapel. The decrease in attendance on-base was so large that a single Mass, in lieu of the current two, would be adequate. In scheduling this single Mass at the optimum time, the Catholic chaplain had to coordinate the use of the chapel with the Protestant congregation.
Also, to avoid having one of the Masses in Ridgecrest at the same hour as the on-base Mass, the St. Ann Sunday Mass schedule had to be changed. While such a change is not a profound event of great import or consequence, it did have its effect on a number of parishioners, some real, some simply the trauma of change.
Thus the decade of the ’70s ended and the brief tenure of Fr. Heffernan came to a close in July of 1980 with his transfer to serve as pastor of the parish of St. Joseph in Los Banos, California. The trials and tribulations of the bishop of a diocese are many, and one of the most important of his responsibilities is the assignment of his priests in a time of shortages – decline in vocations, deaths, retirements, and all of the factors that the bishop has to take in consideration when changes have to be made. A tough job.
The Reverend Monsignor Kevin Cleary reported to Ridgecrest in July of 1980 to become the present pastor of the Parish of St. Ann.
Msgr. Cleary was a native of Ireland, educated in Irish schools, attended All Hallows Seminary in Dublin and ordained in June of 1948 for the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno, reporting “on-board” in September of 1948. He has served in many assignments throughout the diocese, including several pastorates, and was appointed to the rank of Monsignor in 1968 while serving as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Visalia. His arrival at St. Ann’s parish in 1980 coincided with the retirement of the Most Rev. Hugh Donohoe and the appointment of the Most Rev. Joseph J. Madera, M.Sp.S. as the Third Bishop of Fresno.
Msgr. Cleary arrived at a time of extremely rapid growth in the city of Ridgecrest. The population had increased steadily subsequent to the establishment of the naval base at China Lake, however the most dramatic increases occurred in the decades of the 1970’s and 1980’s In 1950, the population was 2,000; 1960: 5,500; 1970: 7,600; 1980: 15,700; 1990: 27,700; 1995: 29.600 Although precise statistics are not readily available, there also has been significant residential growth in the county area surrounding Ridgecrest and in the Inyokern area, especially to the north along the old Brown Road.
While these statistical numbers reflect a migration of on-base China Lake personnel to off-base residency in the 1970’s, as well as inclusion of all China Lake residents in 1982, the most significant component of the growth was new arrivals to work, live or retire in Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley, especially in the decade of the ’80s. Accordingly, the Catholic population of St. Ann parish grew proportionally, with the number of Catholic families currently estimated to approach or exceed 2,000, all of which has imposed a greatly increased workload on the pastor as the sole priest.
This workload has resulted in the participation of increasingly larger numbers of lay persons in the liturgical, educational, socio-communal and administrative activities of the parish, a participation which continues to the present time. The Eucharistic Minister program was greatly expanded, primarily to assist in the distribution of the Eucharist at the Sunday Masses. The Lector program has a larger corps of readers for all daily and Sunday Masses. The CCD program has grown, with all lay instructors. Lay persons also assist the pastor in conducting the RCIA classes and the pre-baptism orientation sessions.
The liturgical music program under the leadership of a Music Director was expanded to include the traditional choir, contemporary music ensemble and several soloists. Parish sponsorship of Scout activities, which had been established in the past, was reactivated and the number of scouting groups increased.
In 1984, a group of lay persons was formally established under the auspices of the St. Vincent De Paul Society to serve the needy of the parish and the community by providing assistance for food, shelter, clothing and other similar necessities. This work is funded totally by voluntary contributions and donations. Another group, not as large or as formally established, called “Mary’s Helpers”, provide meals to the sick, shut-ins and others in time of need.
All of these, as well as other organizations such as the long established Parish Council, Finance Committee and Parish School Board have been instrumental in the successful operation of the parish.
A well-received addition to the parish plant was the construction of the Grotto in honor of the Virgin Mary during the Marian Year 1987-1988. Of simple, but dignified design and construction, the Grotto serves as a pleasant outdoor stopping point for a brief prayer or meditation.
After two years of operation the 9th grade of St. Ann School, which had been initiated in 1979, was discontinued. Expenses for its operation had been higher than anticipated, with difficulties experienced in obtaining teachers for the specialized subjects required to be taught at that grade level. Also, the 9th grade students could not fully participate in the sports program because of their ineligibility to compete in the public school interscholastic events. Thus, in 1981, the school reverted to a K through 8 grade structure. Concurrently the Dominican Sisters Kay, Frances and Paula, were reassigned by their Order to other posts. In 1982 grades 7 through 8 were dropped due to declining enrollment, the school continuing to operate with grades K through 6, and at the present time, K through 5.
St. Ann’s entered the decade of the 1990’s with a burgeoning parish population, many active and well-attended organizations and its permanent church, hall and rectory facilities three decades old. The three weekend Masses (one Saturday evening and two on Sunday) were invariably filled to near capacity – and “over-capacity” on major feast days. Major repairs were required in certain of the facilities, and the old Mormon church building, even though modified, was woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the parish as a Center or Hall. The parish Finance Committee and pastor initiated an “Offertory Appeal” program in 1990 to raise the monetary resources required for the work which had to be accomplished. From the earliest days the parishioners had been most generous in supporting the needs of the parish: in the first years for the initial facilities in Ridgecrest and outlying mission stations, to the building of St. Ann Church in 1960, to the expansion of school facilities in the ’70s. The Appeal program was designed not as a one-time appeal for donations or pledges, but as an appeal for an increase in the regular Sunday offerings as individually determined by each to one’s own ability. The Appeal was conducted “in-house” by letter and pulpit announcements describing the need and reasons in a simple, direct and forthright manner. The response was astounding. The generosity of the parishioners cannot be overstated. The offertory collections jumped by over 30% and this increase has been sustained for the past six years.
Events were taking place at the diocesan level also. In 1991 The Most Reverend Joseph Madera, who had been the Bishop of the Diocese for the prior 11 years, accepted a position in the Military Ordinariate for the ministry established to serve the Hispanic members of the military services. His replacement as Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno was the Most Reverend John T. Steinbock. Bishop Steinbock , a native of Los Angeles, attended St. John’s College and Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1963 for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. After serving in a number of pastoral and administrative posts in the Archdiocese, he was consecrated Bishop in 1984 and appointed as Vicar General for the Diocese of Orange.
In 1987 he became the third Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa and on October 15, 1991, was appointed the Fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, a position which he holds at the present time.
In the meantime, work had been progressing following the Offertory Appeal. Much needed repairs to the facilities in Ridgecrest were accomplished. The interior fixtures of St. Ann Church were rehabilitated and improved and the Santa Barbara Church thoroughly cleaned and repainted inside and out and its bell steeple repaired (but the telephone pole diagonal braces deliberately left untouched!). A substantial portion of the monies, however, were being deposited in a savings fund to accrue enough capital to eventually build a new major Parish Center in Ridgecrest. In early 1994 a Parish Center Exploratory Committee of lay persons was established to define the functions, required capabilities and special features of the new Center.
This committee met on a number of occasions and also traveled to several other parishes in the diocese to inspect their recently built halls and centers. The committee completed their work before the end of 1994. In early-mid 1995 this committee was reconstituted as the Parish Center Building Committee and commenced its work to established the requirements in detail for the new Center. Initial approval was received from the diocese to proceed with the project. An architect was selected and retained. Siting studies have been completed and architectural designs initiated under the close scrutiny of the Building Committee. It is anticipated that all designs will be completed, construction contractor selected and ground-breaking taking place in early or mid-1996, with sufficient funds on hand to cover the greatest part, if not the whole, of the cost. The Parish Center will be a truly fine addition, provide much needed facilities, and a most fitting gift to the parish on its 50th birthday.
Any historical account of the life of a parish would be incomplete without recognition of those of the parish who have entered the religious life and priestly vocation. Included in this group are Sister Anastasia of the Order of Immaculate Heart, Sister Christopher of the Sisters of Mercy and Monsignor James Petersen of the Diocese of Fresno, all being children of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Petersen, early residents of Randsburg. Also Sister Antoinette Marie of the Franciscan Sisters (daughter of Mr. Cliff Clay of Ridgecrest); Rev. James Frerkes of the Diocese of Monterey; Rev. Don Bernard, Oblate Fathers; Rev. Howard Fath of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (son of Mrs. Lucille Fath of Ridgecrest); Rev. Harold Pearce of the Diocese of San Francisco; Brother John Schneider (in Pennsylvania); Brother Ernie Pilati (at the Trappist Abbey in Gethsemane, Kentucky); Sister Dominica Wise, OSB; Sister Gertrude Hennessy of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth. An honorable roll call.
The Parish of St. Ann: A community of the faithful from many different backgrounds, origins and experiences: The early residents of Randsburg, who formed the core of the faithful at the time that Fr. Pointek arrived, many who soon relocated to Ridgecrest to become merchants, businessmen, artisans with new opportunities. The Navy personnel, men and women, arriving in force in 1943, 1944, 1945, remaining in the area after the conclusion of WW II to become, in most cases, civilian employees of the new Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake. The many who had relocated to Ridgecrest from other parts of the country during those same years to help the war effort – and remained after it was all over.
Many of those who arrived thusly and were here in 1946, or earlier, are still present in 1996. Too numerous to name individually, but you know who you all are – and you should be justly proud of your participation during these past 50 years in the birth, growth and stability of the parish.
renew its coverage until the building had been stabilized, fearing that the next strong wind would topple it. A team of laymen installed two diagonal utility poles, solidly braced against the ground and attached to the leaning wall. The building inspector and insurance company were sufficiently satisfied and time moved on. So too are your descendants and the descendants of those who have gone before us, still present here today, many in number. To these “old-timers” must be added the many who have arrived over the intervening 50 years. They have brought new insights and vitality to the life of the parish; the old and the new; the best of both worlds.
Much gratitude is due all of the priests who brought the Sacraments to us over the years. In Randsburg, Johannesburg, Red Mountain, Atolia, Boron, Cantil, Saltdale, Muroc, Isabella, Inyokern, China Lake, Ridgecrest. Yea, even into the canyons of the Sierras and the mines of the El Pasos, no place was too far or too remote. Also to the Sisters and lay teachers who patiently taught many of us or our children the tenents of our faith, the three R’s, the difference between right and wrong and why.
The parish community of St. Ann of 1996: In harmony with its pastor; a full and vibrant religious life; widespread participation in the liturgical and educational parish functions and organizations; a well-operated parochial school; excellent administration; a sound debt-free financial position; and the respect of its fellow citizens in the secular world.
St. Ann’s looks forward to the future with confidence and great expectation. Fast forward to 1975.