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Saint Malachy Church reaches 130 years

The Spirit of Tehachapi


Taken in 1936 before the church was torn down. The Rectory was built in the same year.

On June 13, of this year, 2017, St. Malachy Church will be celebrating one hundred thirty years as a parish. Long years ago on that date in 1887, a Bishop from the Monterey-Los Angeles Diocese trekked to the small mountain community to designate the small church as a parish. The little white frame building had been constructed by members of the community, of all denominations, who were anxious to help by "pounding a few nails" with the Catholics; their neighbors and friends.

St. Malachy Parish , in 1887, was part of a vast territory, with a few scattered families and all the problems that attend new beginnings. Those past years reflect the struggles, the faith and the sacrifices of a group of Catholics seeking to build a place of worship from the new paths they had traveled.

These were the same paths, through which, in an earlier time, many decades before, had been trod by Padre Francisco Garces, Jedediah Smith and Kit Carson. Later on, in the mid 1850s, settlers came to the valley: the Brites, Cummings, Freemans, Harts, Wiggins, Bancucci and Fickert families would become the first to be greeted by the Kawaiisu, the Native American inhabitants, who were also a peaceful people.

In 1879 through 1896, Father William Denpflin traveled a wide area of California, including the Tehachapi Valley. The local Kawaiisu Indians who called themselves NÜWA (the People), referred to him as Padre Blanco because of the white Dominican robes he wore.

The first record of a Catholic service in the area was on April 12, 1877 and was held by Father Matthew Marron who, at the time, was an Assistant Pastor at St. Mary's Church in Visalia. He visited twice a year offering Mass, baptizing children, performing marriages and blessing the graves of the recently deceased.

Whenever a priest happened to be traveling in the area, in the early 1880s, Mass was celebrated in the home of Anton Pauley. Mr. Pauley later donated the land, on F and Pauley Streets, as a site for a church. Finally in 1887, through the efforts of many townsfolk, and with considerable financial help from the Fickert family, the small, white frame structure was completed and dedicated that year on June 13.

Father Patrick Bannon became the first pastor but had an enormous area to serve which reached as far east as Needles, north to Lone Pine and south to San Fernando. It was not uncommon for him, or any priests traveling through the area, to "hop a freight" to their destination. The obliging train engineers welcomed the traveling clergy and allowed them to ride in the cab of the engine with them.

The only other church in town in those early days was the Methodist-Episcopal Church founded in 1881. It was located on the corner of D and Green Streets but in 1928 a new church was built on the corner of Green and E Street where it remains today and is known as the Community Congregational Church/United Church of Christ.

Having passed through World War I and during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the needs of a changing community and a growing parish became apparent. A new St. Malachy Church was built in 1936, under the direction of contractor, Vince Nineteman, for the cost of $6800. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve of 1936 at midnight. On June 13, 1937 Bishop Philip Scher dedicated the church's 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee. The new church was built on the same location which required the old structure to be dismantled. Father John O'Shea was Pastor.

The little F Street church had survived the earthquake of 1952 in fine condition but as the parish grew it was clear that a larger building would be needed. Father Harry Eggert began a pledge program for funds to build a new church on land along Mill Street which had been donated by Monolith Cement Company. In 1967 a fine new building came to fruition and a third St. Malachy Church was born. A concelebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass marked the opening for public worship by Bishop Timothy Manning on November 5, 1967.

Now, one hundred thirty years later from its early beginning, the decades have seen generations of parishioners being born and passing in a growing community. Those early people who worked hard forging a place for themselves are mostly forgotten but the place they forged for themselves and future parishioners did carry on.

Wars, also, have involved the citizens of the small town with a Memorial monument in Philip Marx Central Park listing the fallen heroes by name. The local stone (ryhyolite) monument was placed there by members of the American Legion Post 221.

To date St. Malachy Church has had twenty-nine pastors. Many other unnamed and unknown traveling missionaries and priests will remain so. We should all be thankful for those who came before us in order to make a place for us, who followed. May the footfalls of those folk that sounded before us forever live in our hearts.


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