Caring, active, involved, progressive, vital-these are the characteristics that have made St. Philip the Apostle Parish prominent in the Fresno Diocese.
The new parish was so named in memory of St. Philip the Apostle, one of the twelve apostles from Bethsaida in Galilee, who is mentioned in the gospels and who is said to have been martyred at Hierapolis of Phrygia. The name also held historical significance in that Padre Francisco Garces gave the name of Rio de San Felipe to the Kern River (Which runs North of the Parish property) on first seeing the waters at the mouth of the Kern canyon.
Established on May 31, 1968 when St. Francis Parish was divided to create a new parish for the rapidly growing Southwest area of Bakersfield, St. Philip the Apostle acquired 11.2 acres which included four classrooms.
Since its inception, the parish has been energetic and innovative. Under the guidance of Rev. (later Monsignor) James Logan (pastor from 1968 to 1981), St. Philip the Apostle was the first Bakersfield parish to institute a Saturday evening Mass to fulfill the Sunday obligation and to offer the first Folk Mass in Bakersfield.
The ensuing years have seen much dedication, determination, and dynamism at St. Philip the Apostle Parish. Nearly 5000 families now comprise the parish. These families have continued to work hard and long to improve the parish. A fund-raising campaign directed by the late Pat Haenelt and George Haller was undertaken to raise money to add rooms to the existing center. In later 1981, the effort and energy of these men and many other parishioners culminated in the opening of four new classrooms on the church grounds. The much needed rooms, along with the original rooms are never idle. Seemingly every hour of every day finds one or all of the classrooms at St. Philip's in use.
Primary use of the rooms continues to be for the Religious Education program. Under the guidance of our RE Director, this program has grown to such an extent that it literally has something for everyone. Sunday mornings find the rooms bustling with activity to accommodate the nursery set and a dynamic program for three-, four-, and five-year-olds. The Elementary Religious Education accommodates many students from Tuesday through Thursday afternoons under the guidance of volunteer teachers. The Junior High program instructs sixth, seventh, and eighth graders on Wednesday evenings. In addition, the High School program meets at the Youth Center on Wednesday evenings along with the Confirmation candidates meeting on Sundays. Added to this are several adult programs - Scripture study, RCIA, and others - which convene during the evenings or in the morning hours. There are also many social organizations that conduct meetings on a regular basis. There is virtually something for everyone who wants to be a sharing member of the family that makes St. Philip the Apostle Parish a unique and very special parish.
In early 1981, the families of St. Philip the Apostle were asked once again to pull together and pool their energies. Under the direction of a committee headed by the late Pat Haenelt and Lloyd Plank, a building fund campaign was initiated to raise monies for the erection of a multipurpose hall. The burgeoning parish population had outgrown the available facilities. After several phases of fund raising, $750,000 was raised and/or pledged and permission was granted to go ahead with actual construction of the new hall.
With Colombo Construction Company erecting the building from plans drawn up by architect Len Schroeder, the much needed and long-awaited multi-purpose building became a reality. The building housed the parish offices and a youth drop-in center until the Youth Center was built. A fully equipped kitchen and a multi-purpose room to accommodate 650 people (350 seated) completed the complex which has approximately 10,000 square feet. Additional parking and outdoor basketball courts on the East side of the building create a total facility that is a notable asset to St. Philip the Apostle Parish.
Long ago in the land now called Bakersfield, a wild, unharnessed body of water, whose long downstream journey began in the Sequoias following an ancient fault onto the western slopes of Mount Whitney, descended through canyons and grasslands and finally drained into Buena Vista Lake - all the while forming its delta. This delta gave birth to the great central valley that today we call the San Joaquin. Buffalo and antelope roamed this rich land surrounding the villages of the Kohut Indians. The rancheria San Miguel De Los Noches Por El Santa Principe was positioned along the banks of the untamed river where it divided into two branches, the site today of Garces Circle, Bakersfield.
Seeking a passage between the Missions in New Mexico and those in California, Padre Francisco Garces came to the river from Aragon on May 1, 1776, the first white man ever seen by the Yokut. Desiring to cross and finding the current very rapid and impossible to withstand, Padre Garces, a nonswimmer was "...convoyed across between four of them (Yokuts) by swimming, two taking me by the arms, and the other two by the body". Padre Garces, the first to describe this famous and noisy river, called it the Rio De San Felipe. Traversing the river and abundant pastures, woods and heavily irrigated land, he continued his exploration. Two days after his initial crossing, Padre Francisco Garces baptized an Indian boy "...administered the sacrament with great consolation; I blessed him and called him muchachito (little boy)." This sacrament administered by Padre Garces marked the beginning of Catholicism in Kern County.
The decline of mining and the growth of agriculture founded the second wave of Catholicism in the valley and the ranchers brought their religion with them. Six catholic families, a few cattlemen and sheep men in the vicinity were present when Bishop Amat said the first Mass in Bakersfield in October of 1871, in the rear of Pablo Galtes' general merchandise store on 19 th Street.
Three years later in 1874, the parish of St. Francis was established. The church had come to stay. The banks of the Rio De San Felipe, today called the Kern River, became the road that formed the historical relationship of land and water and wealth which fostered the development of the Catholic Church in Bakersfield.
Tracing the historical development of the church, we find that Catholic families in central and west Bakersfield were served solely by St. Francis Church and School for some time. A new parish was needed for the rapidly growing southwest section of Bakersfield and on May 31, 1968, Bishop Timothy Manning announced he was dividing St. Francis Parish to fill that need. Father James Logan was assigned the task of building a new church community in the southwest.
The site of the new parish was to be located south of the Kern River on 11.2 acres of land St. Francis had purchased from the Kern County Land Company. An annex of St. Francis' School, a single building with classrooms, was the only existing structure on the site. Stories are told of this acreage becoming a grazing land for cattle, a place to gather mushrooms and a great location to hunt jack rabbits. The first station at that time was the last stop for water when youngsters rode their bikes out of "civilization".
Legends abound surrounding the selection of the name for the new parish. It is believed that the name of St. Philip the Apostle Church was taken from Padre Francisco Garces: "...where man find his highway beside the river of his discovery (Rio De San Felipe, River of St. Philip) and thus become imbued with a portion of that universal faith..." (Ardis Walker). Biblical texts tell us that St. Philip was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus and came from Bethsaida in Galilee. St. Philip is said to have been martyred at Hierapolis of Phrygia.
Within two weeks Father Logan gathered with 600 families, the parish pioneers, in the cafeteria of West High School to say the first Mass in the newly established parish of St. Philip the Apostle. Mike Moore and Frank Ripepi, Jr. were altar boys and remember dressing in the closet for Mass, while other pioneers remember the hard chairs, no kneelers, no fancy sound system, but friendly, caring and energetic people singing their hearts out at the first youth Mass in Bakersfield. Collections were taken in bread baskets and the baptismal font was a stainless steel salad bowl. Edward Ochoa remembers feeling like such a part of the church when his family would bring up the gifts at Mass at West High. Saturday afternoon Masses were held at All Saints Episcopal Church, while two classrooms at St. Philip School were converted to a "make-do" chapel for daily Masses, first communions and baptisms. One of the pioneers stated that parishioners were like vagabonds, going from here to there to celebrate the liturgies. These pioneers, under the able leadership of Father Logan, were a hardy and determined lot. The lack of a "proper" church building did not hinder the growth of this new parish. If anything, it was hastened.
The teamwork was evident in the willingness of parishioners to get involved and facilitate CCD classes, which one younger pioneer felt was a great thing, especially for children who did not attend Catholic school. Others worked on the building fund. Members of the parish went out in pairs to every family home in the parish. Pinky Holbrook remembers a cookout, and event organized for the build fund, where everyone who came paid to attend and brought the meat they ate. Six couples attended. Energetic and innovative, the members of St. Philip's, now friends, had made great strides in their fund rising for the building of the new church.
It was April, 1973, when Bishop Hugh Donohoe approved preliminary plans for the new facility designed by Parish member, Robert F. Stuhr, A.I.A. The new church was to be in the shape of a cross with the sanctuary and nave becoming the vertical part of the cross, while the chapel and north transept were the horizontal arms. An upswinging roof, which was terminated by six main beams ended in the form of a crown and met above and in front of the altar. St. Philip's was to be a modern church building with the focal point on the primary symbols of the church - the altar and the ambo (pulpit). The absence of an altar rail was intended to draw the people closer into the worship. The fruits of the labor of countless people were realized at the ground breaking ceremonies on April 21, 1974. Pioneer George Pinheiro would often visit the church during the construction period and noted that the beams symbolized for him clasped hands, praising hands. Celebrating this first Mass at the newly constructed church at 7100 Stockdale Highway with Father Logan on January 25, 1975 was described by one pioneer as "going from the tent to a house...it was like a castle." (Dan Panero) Frank Munis, another pioneer, was familiar with the crucifix, but seeing the Risen Christ for the first time in the new church was different. "The hands pointed to Heaven and the feet to earth - Christ points to Heaven and Earth".
On May 20, 1976, Olivia Ochoa, another pioneer, remembers the first Confirmation which was combined with the church's dedication and celebrated by Bishop Donohoe. The Bishop presented a special medallion commemorating the event to each of the newly confirmed.
By 1983, St. Philip the Apostle was the fastest-growing Roman Catholic parish in Bakersfield. Under the leadership of Father Craig O'Neill, S.T.D., who laid the roundwork for expansion in programs and staff, plans were drawn up by Leonard J. Schroeder, A.I.A. for a new multipurpose social hall. This new facility would contain the church administrative offices for the increasing staff, along with an assembly and dining hall with kitchen. These would facilitate the numerous large group activities now being conducted. The Fireside and Youth Rooms were designated for smaller group activities.
The champagne reception to celebrate the dedication of the new Logan Hall, named in honor of Monsignor Logan, was held on May 16, 1984. Sister Delores was quoted in 1984 as having experienced among the parishioners at St. Philip "the hunger for a close relationship to God, for understanding the Roman Catholic faith...never have I seen a more alive church"!
The Catechumenate Process (RCIA) described by Marydith Chase "is the ministry with people, not to people." Other programs such as Religious Education, Youth Ministry, Music Ministry, Health Care Ministry, Evangelization, Social Outreach, Support Groups, Baptismal Seminars and Community Service groups were added as the parish expanded. Yes, we the members of St. Philip the Apostle Church are many parts, and yet all one body. This one body is today very capably led by Fr. Sal Gonzalez, who was ordained in 2001.
These friendly people and their meaningful interactions that existed in 1968 still exist today. Several pioneers noted that Barry Sullivan, Sacristan, was on person who has always been present to the people of St. Philip's. When 81 year old Felix Weber was asked why he stayed at St. Philip's all these years, he remarked, "That is where I belong now, isn't it?" Others noted that the shared energy and innovation coupled with the closeness of the members bring the feeling that this is our church! In the fall of 1993, "our church" led by Monsignor Swett, held a celebration to commemorate the Silver Anniversary of St. Philip the Apostle Church. This "happening" was celebrated with a reunion of former and current priests and parishioners. A Sunday Mass with Bishop John Steinbock of the Diocese of Fresno presiding on September 11, 1993 marked the end of the annual Parish Awareness weekend. Another chapter in the history of St. Philip's closed.
Looking to the future Monsignor Swett launched in the spring of 1993 a $1.8 million dollar drive to build St. Philip's Buena Vista Center. The first structure was to be a multi-purpose hall, initially to be an annex to St. Philip's to ease the overcrowding that is occurring due to the expanding 4,300 family membership to the parish. Masses, activities, and religious education were to be conducted in this first structure.
Today, the older generation sees the cycle starting over as their children take over the more active roles they once held. "The reality," said Monsignor Swett in early February, 1994, "is that priests are not going to be as available. Member will see an emphasis that will be on the enhance ministry of the lay person". A very introspective pioneer reflects on his view of the future of St. Philip: "The southwest is booming, new ideas, new people - southwest expansion presents different problems: people moving in, moving out - no roots! Prime agriculture turned into real estate." Change is ongoing. It seems that resent circumstances confirm it is happening and faith is required to guide us forward.
One million dollars was collected for the Buena Vista Fund - ten acres of land on Buena Vista Road between White Lane and Pacheco. In 2005, Monsignor Swett made the decision to sell the Buena Vista land to invest in the existing Stockdale Hwy property. In 2013 Monsignor Swett retired and Msgr. Raul Sanchez arrived as thenew pastor of St. Philips. Msgr. Sanchez immediately took to task the need of renovating the then thirty eight year old church and building a beautiful new chapel. With the project complete, St. Philips now accommodates over 1,000 people.
"We should look into the future; we should prepare for things which are not to be realized in a day. Small beginnings may secure great results, and now is the time to lay out the foundations. We much look further...We are but the pioneers of a great settlement and we much anticipate the wants of those who are to come and who will be here before we are ready for them..." These words were spoken by Bishop Thaddeus Amat in the Kern County Weekly Courier, October 7, 1871, when he met with citizens of Bakersfield to consult on the feasibility of raising means for the founding.
We, not unlike Padre Garces, often find the road is long along the spiritual bands of the Rio De San Felipe. As we gain strength from the waters that flow from the past which have thrust us into the present, and as we sail onward toward the future, may we, the members of St. Philip the Apostle Church and all humanity increase in faith and love for our Heavenly Father.