Msgr. Cleary arrived in July 1980 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. 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. But, 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 increasing 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,” provides 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 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 continued to operate with grades K through 6.
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 were most generous in supporting the needs of the parish. 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 ofSt. 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 money, however, was 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 establish 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. Site studies were completed and architectural designs initiated under the scrutiny of the Building Committee. All designs were completed, construction contractor selected and ground-breaking took place in early 1996. Sufficient funds were on hand to cover the greatest part of the cost. The Parish Center, to be completed by the summer 1997, will be a truly fine addition, provide much needed facilities, and a most fitting gift to the parish on its 50th birthday.
The parish community of St. Ann of 1997: 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; with 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.