St. Therese Parish was born in a garage and raised on a dirt lot. It's grown into a vibrant Catholic faith community. The history of our San Diego church is more than just a dated list of locations, buildings & priest names. It’s the story of our people growing into a fuller communion with God and each other. To keep it simple, it's written in a chronological format. Although it's not all dates and names, we hope it includes enough of them to satisfy your curiosity.
The years between our beginning in 1956 and the present have brought many changes. No longer are our parishioners passive observers of the Mass and consumers of the Sacraments. We’ve all become more joyous celebrants of the Liturgy and more active members of the Body of Jesus Christ.
For that reason, we will celebrate on this page the results of our hard work in the vineyards of the Lord. We'll recount a few stories about our founding, notable events and some of our more amusing missteps.
Allied Gardens Community Development Led to St. Therese Parish
There is no church without people. And before 1955, this area of San Diego was coastal sage scrub populated primarily by coyotes and lizards. In that year Allied Contractors purchased 1,000 acres from the Waring estate. The company owners Louis L. Kelton and Walter Bollenbacher decided to build a 2,939 home development on the property. They named it Allied Gardens. “Where California, Ranch, Conventional and Contemporary Home Designs are as Fresh & Colorful as Spring”.
We've included a sales brochure for you to look at. Click on the Allied Gardens booklet image. Maybe you can find your home there?
One thing that you won't find in that pamphlet is St. Therese Parish.
By 1956 there were over a thousand new homes built in Allied Gardens. The Catholics within them were getting tired of driving long distances to attend Mass.
Fortunately, the first Bishop of San Diego, Charles F. Buddy, had noticed. On July 1, 1956, he authorized the establishment of St. Therese Parish to serve the residents of the new housing development.
Fr. James Booth presided over the first Eucharist celebrations for the new community. He later introduced Fr. William Kraft who was named pastor of the new “St. Therese of the Child Jesus” church.
St. Therese was chosen as our patron saint because she is a great model of simplicity in sanctity. She is also the co-patroness of missions. And San Diego's history is intertwined with that of the Catholic Missions in California.
Our First Parish Home Was A House
July 8, 1956
The first Mass at St. Therese parish was celebrated in the garage at 4811 Twain Ave. For 4 weeks that house served as both a temporary rectory and the church. The $90/month lease also paid for the parish worship space.
After a month it became obvious that a larger space was needed for the growing parish. With the help of parishioners, a home was purchased. Our second location was at 5402 Waring Rd. It was to be the rectory for a year and a half. One advantage, aside from not having to pay rent, was that it had a 2 car garage. It doubled the church's worship space! And because it was located on the corner of Princess View Drive, there was much more parking available.
Mass attendance increased later that year with large crowds spilling out of the garage and down the driveway. Daily Masses were held in the garage. But Sunday Masses were moved to Mission San Diego de Acala.
April 28, 1957
In early 1957 space was once again getting tight. On April 28th the parish moved to its third location, a vacant structure in a plant nursery at Zion Avenue and Mission Gorge Rd. The good news was that there was more space for celebrating Mass. And the rent was only $115/month. The bad news was that it was across from a dairy. And when the wind blew in the wrong direction, you knew exactly how fresh the manure was.
After 3 moves within one year, it was obvious to parishioners that St. Therese needed a fourth, permanent site with room to grow...and less distracting odors.
Was the Parish Land Purchase a Result of Divine Intervention? Or Just Good Timing and Hard Work?
In mid-1957 parish leaders finalized the purchase of an 11-acre parcel out past the end of Waring Road for the princely sum of $25,000.
But it didn't happen without plenty of hard lobbying and prayers by both priests and laity. And the whole enterprise ultimately hinged upon an unlikely act of generosity by the subdivision's developers.
Bollenbacher and Kelton originally valued the land at $50,000. It was a sum far out of the reach of the new parish. And the parcel needed to be sold as one lot. The pastor tried to find another buyer for half of the plot but did not succeed.
All seemed hopeless when our people were asked to pray during a novena in honor of The Little Flower. The novena concluded with an evening Mass in the back yard of the rectory which was attended by about 100 people.
At the end of the Mass, the doorbell rang. It was Mr. DuQuesnay, the realtor for the sellers. They were willing to negotiate.
After much consideration, the pastor and laity concluded that all the parish could afford was $25,000. So St. Therese parish made the offer to purchase 5 acres at $25k if the developers would donate the other six. The plan seemed ridiculous and the priest left the realtor's office with little hope that it would be accepted.
A day or two passed by and their realtor sent word that there was an answer from the owners. "Father, you got yourself a deal" a smiling Mr. DuQuesnay informed him. A minor miracle had occurred. Or maybe it was just that the prudent developers didn't think that they could find a better buyer. Rising interest rates in 1955 & 1956 had slowed house purchases dramatically which would lead to the recession of 1958.
The purchase depended upon the land being rezoned to R-2. This was a problem because local homeowners objected to the rezoning, the extra traffic a church would bring to the neighborhood and the possibility that the property could be sold for commercial use. They had hired a lawyer to fight the purchase.
Several public hearings were held at the San Diego City Council Chambers. The opposition presented their case and carloads of St. Therese parishioners packed the room to argue for the merits of building their church. The final vote was unanimous in favor of the rezoning. St. Therese parish finally had a permanent home!
Plans Made, Construction Started
Plans for a 840 seat mission-style church were drawn up by Frank L. Hope & Associates. The architectural firm is best known for designing Qualcomm Stadium. But it also had a good track record with the diocese. They were involved in the construction of 18 other local churches plus the Carmelite Monastery of San Diego.
The exterior plan was highlighted by a blue-tiled belfry, front rose window and covered, arched walkways between the church and rectory/parish office. The interior design featured marble walls, altar rails, and Persian rugs.
On July 1, 1957, construction began on the permanent church. The site needed work. And there were also problems with accessing the site. Remember, this was well before either College Avenue or Navajo extended that far.
A dirt road was cut from Waring Road to the church building site.
Dynamite was used to terrace the property because there wasn't enough flat land to accommodate the church footprint.
Water, sewer, and power lines were extended from Allied Gardens.
The Priceless Windows of St. Therese Church
St. Therese's church windows, with the exception of the rear rose window, were commissioned from a Baja California craftsman. They were paid for through parishioner donations. But no one really knows what they actually cost. That's because there was a little snag during delivery.
The new associate priest, Fr. Lloyd Bougois, was given the task of bringing the windows north to the church. He was dispatched in a rented 2-ton truck to fetch the windows from Mexico.
After the windows were loaded into the truck he proceeded back up the bumpy roads with the fragile stained glass. Miraculously they were all intact when he got to the US border.
Unfortunately, the paperwork for the windows was 'wrong'. A Mexican border inspector declared that the windows were “Works of Art” instead of construction materials. Because of that classification a very large export duty needed to be paid.
The truck and its contents were impounded in Mexico. A very annoyed Fr. Bougois had to find another way back to the rectory without the windows and the truck. To make things worse, the rental charges relentlessly ticked upwards as time went by.
When the exasperated young priest returned to the parish many calls were made to people of influence both north and south of the border.
It turned out that the inspector was willing to “negotiate”. The windows were reclassified as building materials for an undisclosed fee for 'correcting' their status. After a couple of days Fr. Bougois was finally able to deliver the windows to the new church site and return the rented truck.
Because of this incident, no one really knows the total cost of those stained glass windows. So let's just call them 'priceless'.
Families donated money for stained glass windows. One family had a special request, “Put our mother on #8.” And since they were donating the money, the artist did so. Mom's in here somewhere among Jesus, saints and sinners.
Moving Into Our New Home
July 16, 1958
The priests moved into the new church and rectory. The windows were not finished and the permanent doors weren't installed. But the rent was being raised on the temporary rectory...again. So ready or not, the priests had to go.
The old cabinet shop/barn/church on Zion was being dismantled and some of the larger timbers were going to be reused on the new church site. Fr. Lloyd Bougois was once again given a challenging transportation task. A 22-foot long beam needed to be moved to the new building site.
A truck with a trailer was rented. This time the company was taking no chances. They charged the church a $100 rental deductible.
Back at Zion, the awkward piece of wood was loaded and secured. The trip was going well until Fr. Bougois had to make the turn onto Waring Road. There wasn’t enough room! The beam bashed a station wagon and damaged the rented trailer. Bye-bye, $100 deductible!
July 20, 1958
Fr. Bougois presided at the first Mass celebrated in the new church. Parishioners still had to drive a dirt road to get to the parish grounds. But the faith community now had a permanent home to grow into.
St. Therese Church Dedicated and Renewal for the Worldwide Catholic Church
January 11, 1959
Bishop Charles F. Buddy, the first bishop of San Diego Diocese, formally dedicated our new church.
Parishioners expanded their involvement with the new parish by establishing local chapters of Catholic organizations.
Holy Name Society
Legion of Mary
St. William's Club (an organization for teens)
Boy Scout Troop 934
Cub Scout Pack 934
January 25, 1959
Second Vatican Council, also called Vatican II, (1962–65), 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, announced by Pope John XXIII as a means of spiritual renewal for the church and as an occasion for Christians separated from Rome to join in a search for Christian unity.
Sr. Constance and the Daughters of Divine Charity move into the new convent.
St. Therese Academy opens with 4 classrooms. Tuition was $10 per student or $25 per family per month.
1961 - 1969
San Diego city and St. Therese finalized an agreement. San Diego would extend College Avenue through to the Waring Road terminus. In return, the church donated a corner of their property for San Diego's Fire Station House 31.
August 1, 1961
Madonna of the Highway, National Shrine of Safety was dedicated in front of the church. It was an outdoor altar which featured a statue of Mary with a circular driveway in front.
Each Sunday at 2 pm, parish priests blessed cars that filed through the driveway. More than 7,500 cars were blessed before the altar was removed in 1970.
January 1, 1962
Construction of the church and campus were almost complete. Total building costs totaled $611,700. Fund-raising efforts including tithing and twice-weekly Bingo continued for the rest of the decade.
4 more classrooms were added to the school. Excellent Catholic centered education was now available for all of the elementary school grades from 1 through 8.
St. Joseph's Chapel and an addition to the convent were completed.
Two playgrounds were graded and the parking lot around the church was repaved.
Two more classrooms were added, advancing toward the goal of providing two classrooms for each grade at St. Therese Academy.
Auxiliary Bishop John Quinn was appointed pastor. Fr. Malachy McGinn was appointed Administrator. Bishop Quinn later went on to become the Archbishop of San Fransisco in 1977.
On October 6, 1969, the last of the original church building debt was paid off. The check was for $25,000.
Plans for a grand social center with a kitchen (to support a restaurant) and a bowling alley were submitted to Bishop Buddy. They were not approved.
1970 - 1979
1970 Vatican II Design Changes
In accord with the intentions of Vatican II, the church interior was remodeled to include the congregation more fully in the celebration of the Eucharist.
The rails dividing the congregation from the altar were eliminated. Marble walls and worn Persian rugs were replaced with wood paneling and gold wall-to-wall carpet. The wood improved the acoustics of the sanctuary and helped parishioners hear the word of the Lord with more clarity.
And most importantly, the priest celebrating the Mass now faced the congregation.
Msgr. Sean Murray was appointed St. Therese's 3rd pastor.
He was responsible for the expansion of the school's recreational facilities as well as the expansion and renovation of the meeting hall (now known as Murray Hall in his honor) attached to the church.
Social Center Constructed. Plans for a more conservative parish events building were approved by the Bishop in late 1970. The construction of the 11,500 sqft Social Center was started shortly after. The project was finished in September 1971.
St. Therese Parish Council Established. Bishop Quinn approved the formation of the lay Council. This group became a model for churches attempting to involve lay persons more in the day-to-day life and management of the church within the spirit of Vatican II.
The St. Therese Parish Council was charged with identifying the needs of the parish and developing programs to fill those needs. In addition, they administer the physical plant and coordinates all activities and organizations within the parish.
Martha & Mary League established to serve parishioners who were grieving the loss of loved ones.
Cursillo. Parishioners started to participate in this program which focuses on showing Christian lay people how to become effective Christian leaders over the course of a three-day weekend.
Italian Catholic Federation established at St. Therese.
Bob Ekhaml ordained deacon.
Parishioners were included in Masses as Lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, and Cantors. Folk Masses, weekend retreats, and prayer groups were introduced. Bingo stopped because the building loans had been paid off.
Leo Dube ordained Deacon. He served for 27 years before retiring.
1980 - 1989
25th Anniversary of St. Therese Parish.
Knights of Columbus established at St. Therese.
Church Renovation The interior of the church was painted and the threadbare gold carpet was replaced with green.
Msgr. William E. Elliott became the new pastor. He had been Vicar of Education for the Diocese of San Diego. He reorganized and modernized many church procedures and also served as a member of the Board of Trustees at the University of San Diego.
1984 - 1989
The St. Therese fountain in front of the church had developed plumbing problems. Because of the extensive damage, the waterworks were replaced with a rose garden surrounding the statue.
St. Therese Grotto and fountain and garden were constructed with funds donated by Denver & Lenore Busby.
St. Therese Academy returned to one class per grade, but also added kindergarten, pre-school, music and a computer lab.
1990 - 1999
Msgr. Frederick Florek becomes our pastor. He had previously served as an associate priest from 1968-1972. He served us as pastor for 21 years at St. Therese until 2011.
35th Anniversary: Between 1956 and 1991 the parish had celebrated:
3,935 1st Communion
1990 - 1992
Two General Assemblies were held to get input from parishioners and create a list of parish priorities and goals.
Our electronic Allen Organ was purchased and installed.
RCIA The first adults to journey through the faith formation process of the Rite of Christian Initiation as Adults were confirmed during Easter season.
Youth Group expanded to include "Life Mass", THOP (Teen House of Prayer) and house building in Mexico
55 Plus Club established.
2000 - 2009
Adoration Chapel built for 24-hour Blessed Sacrament Adoration and prayer.
Colorful murals were added to our Children's Chapel which is located on the left side of the church interior.
December 31, 2005
Deacon Leo T. Dube retired from active ministry at the age of 87. He had generously given 27 years of service to St. Therese parishioners.
2010 - Present
The Youth Center attached to the Social Center was completed and dedicated by Bishop Robert Brom. It was dubbed "Fred's Place" in honor of the retiring Rev. Msgr. Fred Florek.
Fr. Bruce Orsborn was appointed as the Canonical Pastor with Fr. William Stevenson as Pastoral Administrator. Fr. Daniel Nganga was appointed our Associate Pastor.
Fr. Michael Pham served as pastor. He spearheaded the installation of solar power panels to supply school and church.
Fr. Peter Bosque became our pastor.
Belfry Renovation. Extensive dry rot and termite damage had been discovered beneath the stucco in the church bell tower in 2017. There was also much "evidence" of occupation by generations of owls deposited on the belfry floors and walls.
Over several months the tower was dismantled and rebuilt. The original blue-tiled cupola was carefully removed, reinforced and replaced so that it would last another 61 years. And screens were installed so that the birds could not roost there again. In 2018, this project was completed.
Our owls were not made homeless. Nesting boxes were installed in several places throughout the parish grounds to keep our natural rodent controllers on site, but out of the belfry.
And the story of our St. Therese faith community continues...