By NICOLE GREGORY     9/14/2023

On Sept. 2 and 3, the parishioners and clergy of St. Anne Catholic Church in Santa Ana celebrated the 100th anniversary of the parish. They enjoyed music from their school’s mariachi band and feasted on homemade tacos, nachos, tostadas, fried plantains and more. They walked in a solemn procession led by deacons and attended a solemn Mass with Bishop Kevin Vann and Bishop Timothy Freyer. Priests who’ve played key roles in St. Anne’s history also came to celebrate.

Today, the parish consists of approximately 5,000 people and offers six Masses— one on Saturday evening and five on Sunday, of which two are in English and three in Spanish. But it began as a small group of people who met in a private home.

St. Anne Parish was established on March 14, 1923, by Bishop John J. Cantwell of the Los Angeles-Monterey Diocese. Just a few days later, Reverend William F. Verhalen was appointed there and in the following month the first Mass was held in a parishioner’s home. They envisioned a building of their own, and not long after that, Fr. Verhalen announced that a site for a church building had been located.

At that time, Santa Anna was a fairly new city, having only been incorporated about 54 years earlier.

In July 1923, two local contractors were hired to build the church on the corner of  Borchard Avenue and Sycamore Street. It was a simple, one-story wooden structure with a few steps leading up to the front door.

“It looked like a big house,” said Fr. Mario A. Juarez, the current administrator at St. Anne, who has seen old black and white photos of that first building. Fr. Juarez grew up nearby and attended Saddleback High School and has happy memories of the festivals put on by St. Anne during his teenage years. He helped organize the 100th anniversary celebration which was coordinated by a team of his parishioners.

St. Anne was more firmly established after the appointment of Rev. Christopher J. Bradley as pastor in October of 1939, and a new and much larger church was built under his watch. It cost $35,000, and the 80-foot-high bell tower rose high above all other neighborhood buildings as if to announce the presence of the church in the community. A solemn Mass was celebrated on Nov. 30, 1941.

St. Anne School was added to the church campus in 1945 and began with the help of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today its principal is Sr. Teresa Lynch, CSJ.

A convent was built nearby in 1949 which included a chapel designed as a small replica of St. Anne Catholic Church. It is now the home for the Sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross.

Over the years the church building has undergone a number of renovations and expansions that doubled its capacity.

Additions included a new tabernacle, pipe organ, and marble altars, and aesthetic upgrades have been made, too. Most recently, the church acquired air conditioning after years of relying solely on fans and the breezes that came through its windows. But due to high cost of cooling the space, the air conditioning is used only in summer during the Mass that takes place closest to midday, said Fr. Juarez.

The church is beloved by its community.

Business manager Monica Aguilar was baptized at St. Anne’s in 1982 and began working there in 2000.

“I’ve grown up here,” she said. “It feels like home.”

Parishioners are primarily Hispanic.

“Our parish is 80 or 90% Hispanic-speaking and the rest is a mix of second and third generation Latinos who speak very little or no Spanish,” said Fr. Juarez. “We also have some Vietnamese, Filipino and African-American families.”

Like many other churches, attendance has been down from what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Fr. Juarez, though recently St. Anne’s has seen an increase.

“Some people are still afraid to return,” he added. Nevertheless, “the community continues to be vibrant,” he said.

In fact, the parish also recently recognized the Feast of St. Anne on July 26 with a joyous celebration. But the 100th-anniverseray milestone party for the church was much bigger and longer so that as many parishioners as possible could enjoy the event.

Multiple generations of families have attended St. Anne over the years. To honor them, the church asked parishioners to send in photos of weddings, baptisms and other momentous events that have taken place in the church through the years. These images will be transferred onto a banner that will provide a visual reminder of how long St. Anne Catholic Church has been an important part of family life in the community.

A papal blessing is on its way, said Aguilar, and will hang in the church to mark this milestone celebration.