La Mesa Catholic community met in private homes with visiting priests helping out.
1920 – First regular schedule of Sunday Masses held in local undertaking parlor hall with Father McGrath celebrating.
1921 – Father McCormick builds first church building at Normal and La Mesa Blvd and is the first Pastor of St. Martin of Tours. The first Mass in the new church was held Christmas 1921.
1922 – Father Siebert – Pastor
1936 – Reverand Michael Flahive – Pastor
1948 – Original church building moved to new location on El Cajon Blvd. The building was cut in two and expanded at the new location, plus extensive remodel work done. First Mass at the new
location with remodeled church building was Christmas 1948.
1950 – Academy construction begins with classes starting September 1951
1964 – Groundbreaking for current church building with construction begun in 1965. First Mass was Christmas 1965.
1975 – current rectory built
1977 – Fr. Donal Sheahan – Pastor
1990 – Fr. John Sproul – Pastor
2005 – Fr. Jim Poulsen – Pastor
2017 – July 1 – Rev. Chris Kintanar – Pastor
St. Martin of Tours Church in La Mesa was built in 1921 under the pastorate of Father McCormick. The original parish church and rectory were built at the corner of La Mesa Boulevard and Normal Street.
The expansion was not possible at this site so the new property was purchased in 1948 at the intersection of La Mesa and El Cajon Boulevards, (one-half mile from the former site). The original church was moved to the new location and on Christmas Day, 1948, Mass was celebrated in the remodeled and enlarged church by Father Dennis J. Barry, pastor (1948-1977)
La Mesa’s early Catholic community first gathered to worship in private homes where, on special occasions, a visiting priest would celebrate the Mass or perform marriages and baptisms. At that time, priests were concentrated in more populous Catholic areas, and understandably, a little group of 50 families in the La Mesa area did not warrant the singular attention of a full-time priest. Those wishing to attend regular Mass had the option of traveling, either by train or horse and buggy, to the nearest Catholic church, located in San Diego or El Cajon.
In 1920, the first steps were taken to provide local facilities for Mass. Local Catholics began to investigate the possible locations for a worship center and were finally given permission to use the main hall of a local undertaking parlor. It was here the first regular schedule of Sunday Masses was begun. Father McGrath, the acting pastor of Our Lady of Angels Church in San Diego, agreed to personally minister to the extra congregation.
The faith community now encompassed the La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and Encanto areas, and constituted a sizable congregation. The time had come for construction of a permanent church. Father McCormick, Father McGrath’s successor, succeeded in securing the necessary funds from a prominent Catholic family in Los Angeles. The Cavano family had been instrumental in building many churches in the Archdiocese and were willing to undertake the work in La Mesa. A small lot at the corner of Normal Street and La Mesa Boulevard was purchased. Construction began in 1921. With their prayers, persistence, and efforts rewarded, Father McCormick and the congregation gathered to celebrate Christmas Mass 1921, in their new church.
In 1922, the beloved Father McCormick died and was succeeded by Father Siebert who completed the many unfinished details in the furnishing and equipping of the new church. A rectory was subsequently built and improvements were made to church buildings. La Mesa had grown to the status of a parish with a resident pastor. Father Siebert set to work developing the spirit of faith and programs of Catholic activity in the parish. The heavy work took its inevitable toll on his health and he was forced to give up the struggle in just a few years.
Father Joseph Mesny was appointed as pastor of St. Martin’s in 1925. The parish had a steady growth under the guidance of this well-loved priest. There are innumerable legends of his charity to the poor, his zeal for souls, and his quest for spiritual growth in the parish. Age and sickness made him more determined to spend his last ounce of strength doing good. In 1932, Father Mesney celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his ordination and the 27th year of his sacerdotal work in San Diego County.
The Reverand Michael Flahive succeeded Father Mesny in 1936. He was no stranger to La Mesa. He had acted as a substitute for Father Mesny on many occasions when the older priest was forced to rest.
In 1937, the four southern counties of California became the new diocese of San Diego. The new diocese and all of California entered a period of extraordinary growth and development which called for youthful energy and hard work. Father Flahive was selected to undertake the building of a new parish in Barstow.
Father Woodcutter succeeded Father Flahive in 1937. His time at the parish was also of short duration since ill health forced him to retire after less than 2 years of parish work. His short time at St. Martin’s was marked by many practical improvements in the church building and the rectory and in efforts to keep up with the needs of the ever increasing congregation.
In October 1938, Reverend Thomas Lehane was appointed pastor of St. Martin of Tours. Father Lehane brought the experience and energy needed to guide the parish through the crisis of abrupt growth and expansion brought about by World War II. La Mesa, with all of California, received an overwhelming influx of war workers and servicemen and servicewomen and their families. This influx caused grave housing shortages and strained community resources to the limit. St. Martin’s parish accepted the challenge of these times and grew in numbers and activity. Extra Masses were added to accommodate the growing congregation. Catholic men and women’s groups were organized. A comprehensive catechism program was organized for the youth of the parish. The number of marriages, baptisms, confirmations, instructions, and Sunday Masses surpassed all previous records. But, once again, the recurring problem of not enough room, too many people, surfaced. Another move was indicated.
In 1948, Father Lehane was moved to the parish of St. Mary, Star of the Sea at Oceanside. The preparations made by Father Lehane were assumed by the succeeding pastor, Father Dennis J. Barry, who was appointed from El Centro where he had built St. Mary’s Church. The location of St. Martin’s church did not hold any hope for expansion and more suitable sites were inspected.
A new site was found on El Cajon Blvd and contained the necessary space for present needs and future expansion, was close to public transportation, and held a commanding view of the city. The immediate need for St. Martin’s in 1948 was expanded facilities for Sunday Mass. The parish which thirty years before did not warrant a full-time pastor, now found that even with four Sunday Masses it was almost impossible to obtain a seat in the church. One thousand people were seeking to attend Mass every Sunday in a church that measured 70 by 40 feet. To reduce the cost of construction, it was decided to use the materials in the old building as far as possible.
First, the Normal Street church was moved to our current site on El Cajon Boulevard. In a spectacular feat of “moving” engineering, the church was rolled from its former location and placed on the new site. It was then cut in two and expanded to twice its original length. To preserve the salient features of the former church, the interior structural design was left almost untouched. The exterior had to undergo extensive alterations to bring about the desired Early California Mission effect. Flying buttresses were retained and increased in number. The tower was completely redesigned to balance the enlarged nave. The church roof was given a mission tile cover and the tower was crowned by a tiled dome of soft blue and gold. The building presented a striking appearance in a commanding position over the junction of the two main boulevards of the City of La Mesa. In conjunction with the reconstruction of the church, work was rushed to prepare a new rectory on the grounds. With slight alterations, an existing building (a sanitarium) became a spacious rectory with ample accommodations for church group meetings and parish parties. This project took six months to complete. And so, once again, Christmas Mass, 1948 was celebrated in a “new” church.
In 1950, it was obvious to all that a parish school was an absolute necessity in a growing and expanding parish. In the fall of 1950 construction was begun on St. Martin Academy, and a suitable convent for the staff of sisters who were promised to the new school by the Mother General of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, St. Louis, Missouri. In September 1951, the doors of the Academy opened to the first classes – grades one through eight in elementary education. This was followed in later years, with the introduction of a kindergarten. In May 1952, San Diego’s first Bishop, the Most Reverend Charles F. Buddy, dedicated the school and conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation on the two senior grades.
The parish social hall was completed in October 1952. It included a cafeteria to supply hot lunches for the students. In 1956, four new classrooms were constructed and the school enrollment reached 500.
La Mesa continued to expand at a rate until it became apparent that the church could no longer accommodate the congregation on Sunday mornings despite the increase in the number of Masses. Consequently, a new church became an obvious necessity. On June 28, 1964, in the presence of a large group of parishioners, the ground was broken for our current site by the pastor, Father Dennis Barry, and the ground was blessed.
On April 5, 1965, construction was started by the Riha Construction Company, with an architect, Arthur D. Decker, AIA, directing operations. Throughout the long spring, summer, and fall the building gradually took shape and in a masterly drive, the work was completed in time for Christmas Mass, 1965.
The original, renovated church building remains in use and is now known as Barry Hall. The current rectory with parish offices and conference room was completed in 1975.
Some of the outstanding features of St. Martin’s church include 22 memorial stained glass windows which were donated by families of the parish.
In the terrazzo floor, in the center aisle, there are seven 10 foot panels, each containing a symbol of St. Martin. The fourteen Stations of the Cross, also donated by families of the parish, are mosaics imported from Italy. The Mass Altar is of imported Carrara marble of white and gold. The broad sanctuary leads back to the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament which in turn follows the design and form of the Mass Altar.
The tabernacle brought from Rome is of heavy bronze encrusted with Venetian mosaic. The matching candlesticks flanking the tabernacle are also in the motif of the bronze and mosaic tabernacle. On the epistle side of the sanctuary is the glassed-in children’s chapel. On the gospel side of the sanctuary, a side chapel big enough to accommodate over 90 people. An extensive roomy choir loft provides a location for the liturgical music. The eight hand-carved wooden statues from Italy, chosen by their donors, are placed on the Carrara marble altars circling the nave of the church.
St. Martin of Tours Academy …… Since 1951
In the fall of 1950 construction was begun on a school and convent. Five School Sisters of Notre Dame, (from Louis Missouri), and one lay teacher opened St. Martin Academy on September 19, 1951. There were 327 students in Grades 1-8 and a kindergarten. The school consisted of six classrooms with classes combined. Grades and enrollment: 8 (21) and 7 (32), 6 (31) and 5 (34), 4 (46), 3 (21) and 2 (37), 1 (51) and kindergarten (33).
The first graduation was on June 9, 1952. Nineteen graduates received diplomas from Father Dennis Barry, pastor and Sr. Alphonsus, principal.
In May 1952, the Most Reverend Charles F. Buddy dedicated the school and conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation on the students in seventh and eighth grades.
In 1956 four new classrooms were added and by that time the enrollment had increased to approximately 500.
Father Barry retired and Father Donal Sheahan took over as pastor in 1977. Father Sheahan was moved to Our Mother of Confidence in 1990 at which time Fr. John M. Sproul began his duties as pastor.
When Fr. Sproul past on in 2005, Father James Poulsen was assigned to our parish and we welcomed him into our parish family. Father Jim equally has been a good fit in our parish and again we are blessed.
When Fr. Jim retired, in 2017, Rev. Chris Kintanar became our pastor. Rev. Chris came to us in January, 6 months earlier, to assist Fr. Jim who had some health issues at the time. We are very thankful to be blessed with a great pastor once more.