Parish History

Parish History

By the Fall of 1960, families were moving onto the Platt Ranch daily. On August 4, 1962, His Eminence James Francis Cardinal McIntyre moved to activate the parish of St. Bernardine of Siena, whose boundaries included parts of both Woodland Hills and Canoga Park. Father Richard Murray rolled up his sleeves and set to work purchasing a house on Calvert Street just below Valley Circle Boulevard as a temporary rectory. Funds to build a church and permanent rectory and school were going to have to come from the parishioner, and his first task was to find these people. Finding parishioners meant making house calls. Father Richard Murray made them promptly and judiciously, in the evenings when everyone was most likely to be home.

 

The front of the Church

Father Murray listened with good nature to the outpouring of suggestions, desires and recommendations that his future parishioners had been anxious to communicate since their arrival, regarding how things should be done. When he himself had the chance to speak, he stated his clear and simple policy: his formula for a good start for everyone. There would be a Men's Club and a Women's Club and neighborhood guilds, There would be the Sacraments. And when the time came that there was at last a school, there would be far more applicants for admission than space for students, Father Murray set up a committee of volunteers to carry out a parish census whose members went house-to-house within the boundaries to ask if there were any Catholics living there. The census revealed no less than 1700 Catholic families, who would form the nucleus of St. Bernardine's Parish, and who would now cease attending Our Lady of the Valley or other churches in the area and become a part of a parish of their own, St. Bernardine of Siena.

 

Inside the Church

With no church building yet available, St. Bernardine's worship activity wandered about. The site of the first parish Mass on August 26, 1962 was the Chaminade High School Library. As the parish continued to grow, the library became too small to hold its community of worshippers, and Sunday Masses were moved to the Canoga Park High School auditorium. This necessarily nomadic period was greatly eased by the acquisition of a special two wheel trailer loaded with portable altar, linens, and other sacred accessories pertaining to the Eucharist, which could be pulled up alongside whatever structure was currently providing the parish with worship space. Father Murray and other members of the priesthood who came to help with the multiple Sunday Masses vested in the wings.

 

The Church on the left and the Classrooms on the right

The third and last move for Mass was to Hale junior High School Auditorium on Califa Street in Woodland Hills. Meantime, the Building Fund Campaign Committee had come into being. Its objective was a pledge drive in which parishioners would pledge a specific percentage of their wages, a percent they felt they could afford, to the fund for construction of parish facilities. The goal of $604,458 was met. On March 1 ,1964 official ground breaking ceremonies for rectory, school, and parish hall were held atop a grassy knoll overlooking the dirt road that would become Valley Circle Boulevard. In September, 1964, the school building was completed and staffed by Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.


Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in front of the  Classrooms with the Church in the background

Grades 1 through 4 were filled immediately. The nuns were by then lodged in a house on Bessemer Street, immediately across the street from the school, which had been purchased as a convent for them. Steadily but surely the - parish physical structure continued to take shape, and as it did so too did the surrounding Catholic population, not only in the earlier tracts, but on the hillsides west and , east of the parish plant. By the spring of 1966, the second parish school building, containing Sisters offices for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) staff, as well as classrooms, was functioning. Some 650 students were enrolled in St. Bernardine's School and more than 1300 attended the CCD classes conducted on weekends and evenings for those children who could not be accommodated in the parochial school or whose parents preferred to send them to the local public school.

 

The side entrance to the Church

In October of 1964, the Parish Hall was ready for use. It was to serve as a temporary church until the permanent church could be constructed at the corner of Valley Circle Boulevard and Calvert Street. It was a joyous occasion for all when Father Murray assisted by Father Havel, celebrated the first Mass in the hall. On October 16, 1966, His Eminence James Francis Cardinal McIntyre came to St. Bernardine's and formally dedicated the parish to the glory of God and the memory of St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1450), most noted in the hierarchy of saints for his lifelong devotion to preaching the Good News of the Gospels and extolling the Holy Name of Jesus.

 

 

The Classrooms in the foreground and the entrance to the Church in the Background (far left)In April 1968, the parish rectory was finished at 24410 Calvert Street, and Father Murray moved up the hill to the new dwelling. Also in 1968, the Sisters of Notre Dame succeeded the Immaculate Heart Sisters in the administration of the school. They remained there until 1990 when the principal, Patty Baldwin, assumed that position. Within the landscape of their parish hall, their priests house, school, and grounds, St. Bernardine's community worshiped and worked and played together as their children grew and their members increased.

In 1983, recognizing his dedication to this parish and to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Father Murray was elevated to the rank of Prelate of Honor, with the title of Monsignor.

In February of 1989, Monsignor Paul Dotson was named the second pastor of St. Bernardine Catholic Church. Monsignor is a native son, even to the degree that he was raised in the San Fernando Valley.

In 1991, after two years of long range planning, the parish launched an ambitious Parish Development Program culminating in the opening of our present parish center, the church bell tower and vestibule additions. The parish center, with 22,050 sq. ft. of space, includes critically needed meeting and conference rooms, day chapel, full kitchen facilities and ministry offices. Parish administration offices were relocated from the rectory. The main social hall has withstood a major earthquake. It can accommodate up to 700 people and is very useful for additional Masses on crowded Holy Days, parish celebrations, school functions, plays, choir practice, parent conferences and myriad uses by the parishioners. The people of the parish benefit daily from the sacrifices of those who made this possible.

In 1999 plans were made to build a new church. The design goal was to have all parishioners in attendance at the mass as close to the altar as possible.  The design became one that has six sections all facing the altar. It was decided that the best way to construct the new church was to retain the bell tower (1991) along with the old sacristy and to re-orient the church so that its entrance was on the north, whereas the old church entrance was on the west. The new church had approximately 5000 square feet additional space. The demolition of the old central section of the church and the subsequent reconstruction occurred in early 1999 to mid 2000.

Prior to the demolition of the old church, a tent was purchased. This was not your family camping tent, but was a significant 4000 square foot white tent that would be used as a temporary church during the reconstruction of the church. This tent could not interfere with the construction so it was located on the north-east corner of the property near the corner of Valley Circle and Calvert. Air conditioning, lights and a sound system, indeed most of the comforts of a brick and mortar church were installed.  The tent experienced some difficulties of nature where it endured heavy rains, some slight flooding and strong winds. It survived and served the parish well until the new church was available for mass. The tent was considered by many parishioners to be a very comfortable place to worship God.

 The new church was completed in July 2000. The new church was dedicated by Cardinal Roger Mahoney Sunday July 23, 2000.

In July 2001, Father McNamara was named the third pastor of this parish.

 

 


 

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