Vallombrosa 300x100 12.2017

Archbishop celebrates with Nicasio parish on 150th anniversary

06 11.9.17_st.mary.nicasio.group PAGEParishioners gathered for a group picture outside the church in Nicasio to memorialize Archbishop Cordileone’s pastoral visit marking the 150th anniversary of the West Marin County parish. (Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

November 9, 2017 Christina Gray

St. Mary Church in Nicasio celebrated an historic occasion with another equally historic occasion when Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone spent a weekend in Marin County to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the rural church built to serve a then-booming community of dairy farmers, ranch families and lumbermen.

The archbishop timed his first pastoral visit to St. Mary, a mission of St. Cecilia Church in Lagunitas, on Oct. 28 and 29 to coincide with the anniversary. The archbishop has been making pastoral visits to parishes in all three counties for the last four years.

“This is a time of great gratitude for so many generations of Catholics before us who have lived and proclaimed and taught the faith here,” the archbishop said in his homily at the anniversary Mass on Oct. 29 to a packed church. “The Catholic faith has thrived here precisely because of their generosity of sharing all these blessings God has given them for the sake of serving the poor and building up the body of Christ.”

Father Cyril O’Sullivan, pastor of both St. Cecilia and St. Mary, welcomed the archbishop first to St. Cecilia on Saturday where he confirmed 10 young people from both communities. The archbishop was a guest that night at a private dinner at the Nicasio home of parishioners Daphne and Ken Massucco. A reception at the Druids Hall across the town square followed the anniversary Mass.

“If you ever want to get away from the tasks of being an archbishop, the sometimes arduous work it can be sometimes, out here you are always welcome to find a little bit of peace,” Father O’Sullivan said.

The church was built in 1867 of locally milled redwood. At the time, Nicasio, situated in the geographic center of Marin County, was expected to become the seat. It lost to San Rafael by one vote, perhaps because of the long winding country roads required to travel there. St. Mary has nonetheless continued to be a central feature of the small town and the spiritual heart for generations of local families.

St. Mary parishioner Martha McNeil’s great-grandfather Cornelius Murry, an Irish immigrant, bought property in Nicasio in 1863 and was a founding member of the church. Generations of her family have been baptized, confirmed and married at St. Mary.

“My mother was born in Nicasio and received the sacraments at St. Mary, and my parents were married there in 1928,” said McNeil.

The first pastor was a Father Herrington, who rode to Mass and sacramental events horseback over the hill from Petaluma, according to a parish history by parishioner Ruth Burke. In the early-1900s, the Sacred Heart Missionary Fathers from Belgium served the local churches in West Marin County.

Save for a new steeple added after a Christmas Day windstorm blew the church off its foundation in 1921, St. Mary looks much the same as it did 150 years ago.

Today it is a destination for Catholics from as far away as San Francisco, a popular wedding venue and a subject for painters, photographers and filmmakers.

At the end of the anniversary Mass “Father O” announced that he had just seen the church and the green, cow-dotted hills around it in a Volkswagen ad.

“We’re famous, I guess,” he said.


06 11.9.17_st.mary.1950s PAGESt. Mary Church as it looked in the 1950s. (Courtesy photo)


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