By BERN ZOVISTOSKI
Special to The New Vision
The region to the east of central Tucson, known as the Pima-East Vicariate, is served by seven parishes, one of which – St. Rita in the Desert – has a truly unique history.
St. Rita of the Desert Parish is in the rolling desert community of Vail, which is nestled in the shadows of the Rincon Mountains, southeast of Tucson proper. It began as a mission church in 1935 and was dedicated to the memory of a renowned Japanese scientist, Dr. Jokichi Takamine, by Bishop Daniel J. Gercke.
The mission was given as a gift to the people of Vail – which was just a hamlet at the time, occupied mostly by poor Mexican families – by Mrs. Charles Beach, wife of Dr. Takamine until his death in 1922.
Dr. Takamine is credited with isolating the active substance of adrenalin in 1901. The New York Times reported that Dr. Takamine had become a Catholic just six weeks before his death; his funeral Mass was celebrated at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Mrs. Beach, who married her second husband, Charles Beach, in 1926 at St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson, purchased stained glass windows from a dismantled Methodist church and had an architect design a modest structure with “a feeling of a rural Mexican church,” able to seat about 115 people. The original vestments came from Japan and the crucifix was carved at Oberammergau in Germany. Father Arnold Oscar, O.F.M., was the first pastor.
The little church served the people of the area for decades but then the surge of population growth called for a change, and a new multipurpose building was built and dedicated by Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas on June 15, 2006. The 4,800-square-foot structure on Colossal Cave Road became the church for weekend Masses, large weddings, meeting and other gatherings. The small church continued to be used for daily Mass, prayer, meditation and smaller weddings and funerals.
In Tucson, St. Cyril of Alexandria Parish was established on Dec. 30, 1947, and the first church, adapted from one of the barracks of a prisoner-of-war camp in Florence, opened in August of 1948. The first pastor was Father Francis X. Donnellan. The Paulist Fathers served the parish from 1974 until 2006 at which time the Carmelites assumed the pastoral leadership.
The parish moved into a new church for Christmas Mass in 1951 and the old barracks church was turned into a school. The school moved into a new structure a couple of years later and the Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Cross moved into a new convent in the complex. The school continues to serve both the members of the parish as well as neighboring parishes who do not have a school.
A new church was built in contemporary mission style at 4725 E. Pima St. in 1969 and was dedicated by Bishop Francis J. Green on Feb. 8, 1970.
As more and more people migrated to Tucson, St. Joseph Parish was established in 1953 by decree of Bishop Daniel J. Gercke, and Father Bernard F. Healy was appointed the founding pastor. The parish served an area previously served by St. Ambrose Parish since 1946. Initially Mass was celebrated at an adjoining parish, then at St. Joseph Academy. In May 1954, the first Mass was said in the new church.
Ground was broken in March 1965 for a new, much larger church, at 215 S. Craycroft Road, near East Broadway, and it was blessed and dedicated in March 1967. The former church was converted to a parish hall and later named Healy Hall in honor of the first pastor, who died of a heart attack in 1974.
The parish operates St. Joseph School, a Catholic elementary school.
Our Mother of Sorrows Parish was established in May 1958 at 1800 S. Kolb Road, Tucson, and the church was completed in August 1959. In the interim, Mass was celebrated at nearby Regina Cleri Seminary. Records show that the parish name, which is the same today as it was originally, was known for a time as simply Mother of Sorrows. Today some refer to the parish as “OMOS.” The first pastor at the parish was Father John Deenihan.
When Our Mother of Sorrows Parish celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1983, Bishop Manuel D. Moreno sent a message from Rome, where he was on a visit: “I greet the young and vibrant church of Our Mother of Sorrows from the ancient and eternal City and Church of Rome. You are linked in faith, hope and love to Jesus Christ through the Chair of Peter and the present universal shepherd, Pope John Paul II.”
The parish’s Silver Anniversary served as the time for an appeal to parishioners for their support for a new and larger church. Msgr. Tom Cahalane, the pastor then and now, said in the appeal that “the gift of your love and support is needed if we are to be truly successful as a total parish family in this great faith challenge.” Groundbreaking for the new church occurred in January 1984 and the church was dedicated on May 26, 1985.
Our Mother of Sorrows School opened in 1958 and continues to serve elementary grade students today.
St. Pius X Parish became the 16th parish in Tucson and the 53rd in the Diocese when it was established on Oct. 20, 1969 in an area east of Wilmot Road. Father Terence Sheridan was the founding pastor, but within weeks he became gravely ill and he died on Nov. 2, 1970. He was succeeded by Msgr. Robert D. Fuller, who came from St. Augustine Cathedral.
A church was built on North Camino Pio Decimo and the first liturgy was celebrated on April 29, 1972. In 1981, Father Brian Bell became pastor after serving as assistant pastor at Our Mother of Sorrows Parish.
The church underwent a major renovation in 2007 and was rededicated by Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, accompanied by Father Harry Ledwith, who was named pastor in 1992.
Just to the east of Our Mother of Sorrows, on South Camino Seco in Tucson, is St. Francis de Sales Parish, which was established in 1971. Father Thomas O’Leary, now a monsignor, was appointed the first pastor by Bishop Francis J. Green. Masses were celebrated at nearby Regina Cleri Seminary on East 22nd Street until the church was completed in May 1973.
Father Robert Tamminga was named pastor in 1984 when Father O’Leary moved on to found a new parish, St. Thomas the Apostle, in Tucson. Father Tamminga led in the renovation of the church and construction of a parish center at St. Francis de Sales in 1986. Father Tamminga continues today as the pastor.
St. Brendan Parish was the short-lived name of a parish established on Tucson’s east side in early 1999, and its parishioners celebrated Mass at Soleng Tom Elementary School cafeteria on E. Camino Quince. St. Brendan was changed to Corpus Christi Parish in August 1999 and the parish’s Southwest Mission-style church was built seven years later at 300 N. Tanque Verde Loop Road. Its pastor was Father Richard M. Kingsley, who still serves the parish today.
Corpus Christi Parish installed a “Sonoran Corpus” behind the altar in the sanctuary in 2010, made entirely from naturally found desert items, including prickly pear cactus and a hummingbird’s nest.
The face and heart are made of Ironwood, while mesquite tree branches form the rib cage. The hair is eucalyptus, the legs are prickly pear.