A People of God
St. Joseph Church: A history
By Hermine Lees
Location: 5048 El Carro Lane, Carpinteria, CA
Santa Barbara Region: Deanery 2
Although there are seven parishes in the Los Angeles Archdiocese named for the patron of the universal church, this one established in Carpinteria -- a name that means "carpenter shop" -- appropriately fits the carpenter from Nazareth.
Old historical records recount an incident from around 1790 when the Spanish soldier and explorer, Gaspar de Portola, witnessed the Chumash Indians constructing wooden canoes, and chose the Spanish term for carpentry to describe the area. The Indians at that time used the gentle slope in the nearby waters and the mild waves to launch their boats along the coast that today comprises the town of Carpinteria.
Was the parish named for St. Joseph because of this connection? That history remains a mystery. Records show that the first American families came to the area in the 1840s, but the townsite was not laid out until 1887. Almost 50 years later the first parishioners struggled to construct a chapel so that a Catholic presence could grow. Parish records do not record the founding pastor; the first pastor listed is Father Leo Lambrick who served from 1938 to 1940 and died in 1972.
During World War II four pastors headed the parish: Father Bernard Butler, 1940-41; Father William O'Shea from Ireland, 1940-42; Father Thomas Lahart from Ireland, 1943-44; and Father John Rengers from Switzerland, 1944-47. They were followed by Father Thomas Tannyane who served as administrator and pastor until he died in 1951.
In 1951 Father James Dessert, from Kansas City, Missouri, assumed his first pastorate at St. Joseph's that lasted to 1955, followed by 23 years as pastor at three other parishes. Named a monsignor just before his retirement in 1978, he died in 2001 at age 96. Following him Father John McNamara of Worcester, Mass., served the parish for three years before founding the new church of St. Martha in La Puente and continued in ministry there for 23 years. He was also named a monsignor and died in 1991 at age 85.
The new parish property purchased in 1961 was first used as the site for the first school and was situated about two miles from the old church built by the pioneer parishioners. The Immaculate Heart Sisters staffed the school and within two years the classrooms doubled. Construction of a new church followed and Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Manning dedicated the striking brick and stucco structure in 1957. The interior of the church was fan-shaped with the pews oriented toward the circular sanctuary. A new rectory was also erected at the same time.
During those years of change and building, Msgr. Francis Roughan, a native Angeleno and a member of the first ordination class of St. John's Seminary, was the pastor, serving the parish for 17 years. At his funeral in 1992, Orange Bishop Norman McFarland said of him: "Msgr. Roughan was a warm and sensitive priest who dared to express his deep faith in words and deeds."
For 12 years, Msgr. Joseph Kearney of Spokane, Wash. - the former band manager for the Bob Crosby "Bob Cats" - instilled a sense of joy and enthusiasm as St. Joseph's pastor. He had also worked for 19 years with the Catholic Labor Institute and six years with Maryknoll missionaries in Peru. He retired in 1988 and died in 2004 at age 92.
Father Francis Seymour of New York was assigned to the parish in 1988; ill health limited his term to one year. Msgr. Michael Jennett, a graduate of St. Finbar School in Burbank and St. John's, headed St. Joseph's for eight years. Having served with the Trappist Monks of Utah, he is currently the pastor at San Roque, Santa Barbara.
Los Angeles native and St. John's ordinand Father David Herrera came to Carpinteria after 12 years as pastor of Nativity in South Los Angeles where he helped in the rebuilding after the Northridge quake. Ordained in 1969, he served just three years at St. Joseph before his death from cancer in 2000 at age 55.
His successor, assigned in 2000, is Father Jose (Berto) Blanco of Michoacan, Mexico, who is also fluent in Ethopian. He is the second pastor bearing the name of the parish patron saint, whose feast day of March 19 started in the early fourth century.
The parishioners will join the Carpinteria community in celebrating the 20th annual Avocado Festival Oct. 6-8, one of the largest in California and representing the rich heritage of crops that have made the city a California coastal landmark.