In the summer of 1946, the Catholics living in the South Bay area of San Diego County attended Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in San Ysidro. The parish was growing rapidly, and talk of a drive to enlarge the San Ysidro church set the gears in motion to start a new parish to serve the growing Catholic population of the area. The Egger Family, long time residents of the South Bay, came home from Mass one day and consulted with a number of the Catholics living in the area about starting a parish to serve the western area of the South San Diego County. People were elated and promised to give their support. The Bishop was approached and after a visit to the area with Mr. Egger, he approved the establishment of a new parish encompassing Nestor, Palm City, and Imperial Beach.
On Sunday October 6, 1946, his Excellency the Most Reverend Charles E Buddy, D.D., celebrated the first Mass of the new parish in a house donated by the Egger’s which was converted into a chapel, where he met thirty-six enthusiastic parishioners. Even before the arrival of their pastor the members of the newly formed South Bay Catholic Group had formed an Altar Society to provide for the altar in the chapel and to furnish the priests house, a residence provided by the Egger’s on Leon Street.
Father Cornelius J. Monoghan was appointed pastor for the newly formed South Bay parish. Meetings were held at the Egger home and on October 14, 1946, a formal Altar Society and Holy Name Society were organized and the South Bay Catholic community, consisting of thirty-five to forty members, began their plans for a church. The Egger Family graciously donated two and one-half acres of land to establish their parish and begin development. Due to illness, Fr. Monoghan was succeeded in November by Fr. Francis McGann, OSB, who was as enthusiastic as the new parishioners. Fr. McGann, a former Navy Chaplain, contacted Port Hueneme and was able to secure some surplus barracks for the parish. Mr. Egger traveled north with his trucks and some parishioners to pick up the disassembled barracks. They returned home ready to start construction!
Preparations were started and plans were made to have the first Mass in the new church on Christmas Eve, 1946. Construction began and the building was completed on time.
During the building period the people selected St. Charles Borromeo as the Patron Saint of their new parish. The name was presented to Bishop Charles Buddy who enthusiastically gave his approval. Thus, St. Charles Parish, Imperial Beach was founded.
As planned, the church building was finished and dedicated at the morning Mass of Christmas Eve, 1946, with Bishop Buddy and Fr. McGann officiating. The parish was honored with the Bob Mitchell Boys Choir of Hollywood singing the Mass. The day’s celebration ended with lunch at the Hotel del Coronado, a memorable day for the fledgling South Bay Catholic Community.
After a short time two buildings were constructed south of the church to be used as a parish hall and kitchen. They later became the first classrooms for the St. Charles School which secured the services of the Sisters of Mercy for its teachers. The Sisters started the school in September, 1948, under the direction of Father Cornelius Walto, OSB, our third parish priest. The Sisters were transported daily back and forth from Mercy Hospital in San Diego by parishioners. This was long before the time of Interstate 5 and the journey took more than one hour each direction. The majority of the original grammar school buildings were constructed during Fr. Waldo’s time as pastor.
In 1952 Monsignor Richard Daniels came to St. Charles as pastor and used the original house for a rectory. Msgr. Daniels began the job of constructing the convent for the Sisters of Mercy, eliminating the long journey each day from Mercy Hospital to the school. The parish growth necessitated the building of a larger church, so in 1954 construction was started on one. Ultimately, Services were moved from the corner of Eighteenth and Elm to the new building, where the present Nutrition Center is located. As the parish continued to expand, the Eggers donated additional land until the present eight acres which comprise the parish compound provided one of the most impressive parish sites in the Diocese.
Father Joseph Stadler came to St. Charles in 1955 and guided the parish through its most profound growth, including the Junior High School annex (Rooms 13, 14 and 15) in 1956. In 1959 a fire partially destroyed the original church building which was rebuilt and a two story addition to the convent was added in 1960 to accommodate the Sisters from Marian High School, which was being constructed across the street from the parish on a fifteen acre site, once again donated by the Eggers. Father Stadler and many St. Charles Parishioners were responsible for fund raisers for the construction of the first buildings of the new co-ed Catholic High School. Marian High School opened for classes in September, 1961. The last of the St. Charles Grammar School permanent buildings were constructed in 1962, on the corner of Eighteenth and Elm Avenue, consisting of four classrooms and business offices.
As growth in the South Bay continued, the Catholic census soon numbered eleven hundred families and our church building bulged at the seams. Plans were made to build a new church, and money was raised through the sale of bonds which were purchased by the parishioners to be redeemed at a later date. Construction of the new church began in 1965. The architecture of the church conformed to the changes of the liturgy brought about by the Second Vatican Council which allowed the priest to celebrate Mass facing the congregation and increase the participation of the people. West Coast Construction, owned by parishioners, supervised the building of the new church, and the architectural design and original decorative grill work behind the altar was also produced by parishioners.
The new St. Charles Church at Nineteenth and Elder Street was dedicated on Sunday, January 23, 1966 at 5:00 o’clock in the evening by the Most Reverend Francis J. Furey. The new church was built in a contemporary architectural style composed of a cross formation which focused attention to the altar from all sides.
The Bell tower, containing four mission style bells, is a landmark in the South Bay. The present rectory on nineteenth street was built later on with the help of parishioners.
In 1970, Fr. Stadler moved on and Fr. Timothy Harnett came to St. Charles. His nine year period was an increase of spiritual and material growth. Our census showed over twelve hundred families and was growing rapidly. It was Fr. Harnett’s concern for the Senior Citizens of our community that the South Bay Nutrition Program was established in 1974, which continues to flourish to the present day in the Old Parish Hall and former church building.
As is the practice of the diocese to move priests periodically, Fr. Harnett was succeeded as pastor by Fr. Patrick Mullarkey in 1979. The growth of the parish continued with more than two thousand registered families! In accord with the continued liturgical changes taking place in the Church, Fr. Mullarkey added a Blessed Sacrament Chapel to the west side of the church and made other sanctuary changes. With the sad decline in religious vocations and numbers of sisters available for teaching, the convent was no longer needed by the Sister of Mercy. Consequently, the convent was renovated into a Retreat Center which is available to all groups in the diocese. The Retreat Center is used regularly for lenten retreats, gatherings of women religious, Engaged Encounter, Bible Study, R.C.I.A. and many other activities. However, the still growing number of parishioners necessitated the need for an adequate Parish hall, so ground was broken in 1988 for a Parish Center. When completed, the new building consisted of a spacious meeting hall with stage, complete kitchen, meeting rooms to accommodate the various parish organizations and, upstairs, an expanded Catechetical Ministry Center, meeting rooms, Youth Ministry office, School Library, Faculty Lounge and Computer Room.
Shortly after the completion of the Parish Center, however, Fr. Mullarkey was transferred and Monsignor Richard Duncanson was appointed pastor in 1990. Msgr. Duncanson was the eighth shepherd of St. Charles Parish since its inception in 1946. The parish, rich in history and ethnic diversity, with many national backgrounds, and cultures represented, continued to grow during his time as pastor. In 1992 Fr. Dennis Mikulanis was appointed by Bishop Brom, the fourth Bishop of San Diego, to continue the leadership of the most southwestern parish in the United States, with a census of almost thirty-five hundred registered families! Father Dennis encourages the parishioners to participate in a wide variety of programs and activities that are offered through the different ministries and organizations. Working together, the parishioners create an atmosphere of Christian faith, hope and love. All of this finds its finest expression in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. Fr. Mikulanis and the other members of the parish staff continue to work together to facilitate and coordinate all these efforts, so that St. Charles Parish will continue to grow as a faith community for many years to come.
It is with a feeling of great pride that we acknowledge the people, priests, deacons, sisters, and parishioners over the years whose strength, determination and courage built St. Charles into the parish it is today – fifty years of dedication, service and love of God and His People, the Church!
Ad Multos Annos!
Click here to read more…of the Life of Saint Charles Borromeo
Image credit: Portrait of Carlo Borromeo by Giovanni Ambrogio Figino, 16th century. Public Domain via Wikimedia.