Enduring legacy – St. Patrick’s Catholic Church prepares to celebrate 150th, looks to future | TheUnion.com
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Enduring legacy – St. Patrick’s Catholic Church prepares to celebrate 150th, looks to future

Connie Henderson grew up across the river from New York City, where, she says, she became used to things having an aura of history about them.

So when she began attending St. Patrick’s Catholic Church six years ago, it didn’t take long for the Grass Valley resident to feel comfortable. After all, she was joining a congregation established during the town’s formative years, sharing pews with the descendants of miners and prospectors seeking new beginnings during the town’s birth more than a century and a half ago.

It also didn’t take long for Henderson, who moved to Grass Valley from the Los Angeles area, to shed “flatlander” status as far as her fellow churchgoers were concerned.



“This place has the most incredible sense of community,” said Henderson, a key cog in assembling activities commemorating St. Patrick’s 150th anniversary on June 10.

The historic benchmark gives area Catholics pause to celebrate an institution that has educated their children, brought parishioners spiritual solace and served as a beacon of hope through a tradition of community service.




Henderson, who moved from a place “where nobody shook your hand in church,” has become so appreciative of her spiritual growth here that she plans to be buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery on Rough and Ready Highway, even though she had already purchased a burial plot in Los Angeles.

“I could not spend my eternity looking at the Interstate 405 freeway,” she said. “I feel like I’ve found a home here, and St. Patrick’s is a large part of that.

“I’ve often gone to church because it’s my duty and obligation,” she added. “I don’t do that at St. Pat’s.”

The Rev. Larry Beck, who entered the ministry in Los Angeles, has embraced the history of St. Patrick’s, as well.

“Churches don’t necessarily endure,” he said. “It’s only the faith of the people that enables us to endure. Having faith is living it in your daily life, in your family and in your home.”

Imparting that message to 1,600 families at St. Patrick’s is key, Beck said. Increasing their spiritual faith includes encouraging members to volunteer at St. Mary’s Academy or the Manzanita Family Center, donate to the Interfaith Food Ministry and tend to those within the parish.

Members of the church will celebrate their history and contributions at a special Mass officiated by Diocese of Sacramento Bishop William Wiegand at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in August as part of the church’s sesquicentennial, provided the bishop recovers fully from his recent liver surgery.

Wiegand is likely to touch on the rich history of the church, which includes a chapter on the Order of the Sisters of Mercy, nuns who for more than a century helped educate children at Mount St. Mary’s School and minister to orphaned boys and girls. A member of that order is planning to return to take the helm of St. Mary’s Academy in the fall, four years after the last of the local nuns left Grass Valley.

In a sense, the order, like the people who attend daily and weekly Mass, is coming home to St. Patrick’s. Each pew, the altar, the baptismal font tells a story for those who attend services.

“I love being part of a church that has been so … involved with the history of Nevada County,” Beck said.

The church is indelibly linked to the life of Mary Grace Tassone, who was a child when her family moved to Grass Valley in 1942.

Her father, Salvatore, was a construction worker for the new church built in 1949. Tassone’s 12 siblings all attended Mount St. Mary’s for all or part of their K-12 education. One of Mary Grace’s brothers, Stephen, teaches eighth grade at the school.

“This place is home to me,” she said. Though she’s attended a handful of churches for brief periods of time, she has always come back to St. Patrick’s, attending daily Mass and receiving the Eucharist frequently.

“The church is very much and will always be a part of my life,” said Tassone, 68, a part-time surgical nurse at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “And I think we’ve tried to make it a place where people feel welcome. I’m just happy to be alive to see (this anniversary) happen.”

Grass Valley and surrounding territory belonged to the Catholic Diocese of Monterey. In 1851, the Rev. John Shanahan is sent to tend to the Catholics in the area. He resided in Nevada City. The first church in Nevada City was named Sts. Peter and Paul.

The Rev. Thomas Dalton appointed in March with primary responsibility of caring for mission in Downieville. On June 10, he became the first resident pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, which comprised nearly all of Nevada and Sierra counties.

New church was built on northwest corner of Church and Chapel streets and served the Catholic community for 90 years before it was torn down in 1949.

Sisters of Mercy arrived from San Francisco to take over a parish school started by the Rev. Dalton. That same year, a fire destroyed the Nevada City church, to be replaced the next year by St. Canice.

Mt. St. Mary’s Convent was completed. St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Girls and St. Patrick’s Orphanage for boys was established.

The Rev. Dalton died and was buried beneath the floor of the church’s sanctuary.

Groundbreaking ceremonies conducted to begin building a new Mt. St. Mary’s Academy.

Orphanages closed and residents were moved to St. Patrick’s home in Sacramento.

Current home of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church completed.

Mt. St. Mary’s school acquired by church from Sisters of Mercy.

Last member of Sisters of Mercy order leaves St. Patrick’s.

Parish celebrates 150 years June 10.

the parish celebrates 150th anniversary with receptions in the Parish Hall.

Bishop William Wiegand of the Sacramento Catholic Diocese is expected to preside over Mass at Nevada County Fairgrounds.


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