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Santa Rosa Church in Lone Pine hits century mark

The Spirit of Tehachapi


September 14, 2019

Gayla Wolf

From left, Clergy present: Father Jorge Roman, Father Mark Maxon, Father Doug Walker, Bishop Emeritus Armando Ochoa, Deacon Clyde Davis, Bishop Joseph Brennan, Father Kris Sorensen, Monsignor Patrick McCormick, Father Rayoma Pudota, Father John Gracey, Father John Burns and Father James Cavanagh.

On Aug. 23, the Feast Day of Saint Rose of Lima, a small parish in the Owens Valley, Santa Rosa Catholic Church in Lone Pine, Calif., celebrated its one hundredth birthday. Twelve clergy were present to assist in helping to unfold a period in history. The main celebrant of the Mass was Bishop Joseph Brennan, Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno. Presiding was retired Bishop Armando Ochoa. Music offered by friends of the parish enhanced the scene. Father Doug Walker, Pastor of Santa Rosa Church, speaking of the Centennial celebration, stated, "It is a wonderful thing for this valley and for this parish."

Founding Pastor of Santa Rosa in 1919, was the legendary Father John J. Crowley whom history has named, "The Desert Padre." Gifted with a winning personality and a quick mind that could turn a conversation to his advantage, he was to make a great difference in the land between the great Sierra Nevada Range on the west and the White and Inyo Mountains to the east – the Owens Valley.

His first automobile, a Model T Ford, took him to Bishop and Shoshone in Death Valley, as well as to Santa Rosa Church in Lone Pine. He was able to put 50,000 miles on the vehicle in sixteen months. He had contrived a small sleeping space in the back of the little Model T for times when he couldn't make it home.

The Santa Rosa parish boundaries can boast that it contains the lowest and highest points in the contiguous United States. Latest facts state Badwater in Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level and the highest is Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet above sea level. Father Crowley was the first and perhaps the only priest to say Mass at the summit of Mt. Whitney.

After five years in the Owens Valley, Crowley was to be transferred to Fresno for ten years. Upon returning to the Owens Valley he was shocked to see how desert-like it had become. The water that had been diverted to Los Angeles had turned farmland into a wasteland.

Father turned to the people of the Valley to unite and help one another. An article in the Saturday Evening Post, written by Irving Stone, pointed out that, "He (Father Crowley) worked constantly for religious tolerance. Protestants forgave him for being Catholic and the Catholics forgave him for having so many Protestant friends. Somewhere along the line the Padre became the understanding father to whom the frightened, the weary and confused could come for comfort and help."

With the people of the Valley behind him, Father was able to encourage the water commissioners to consider building a dam to catch the run off waters from the Sierra to help restore water to the desert-like land. The Long Valley Dam when completed created a reservoir which was called Crowley Lake.

Father Crowley was killed in an auto accident in 1940 on Highway 14. For decades there was a small monument marking the spot where he died but recently the road was widened and the memorial was taken down.

Santa Rosa's Catholic Church has seen many changes and has had many Pastors and parishioners. On the day of the one hundredth anniversary, a special guest was present.

Mrs. Kathryn Chwaz, a Tehachapi resident who is 101 years of age, was driven to the celebration by Deacon Clyde Davis, also of Tehachapi. Bishop Brennan was quick to greet her and say, "Kathryn, you're older than this church!" She certainly is and her birthday is coming up on January 15, 2020.

Events don't just happen. The expert planning by the Saint Rose Society can be attributed to a flawless celebration St. Rose Society President Laura Blystone said that the inspiration included Father John Crowley and the rest just followed.

Santa Rosa Church was the first church in the Owens Valley. One hundred and still going.


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