Mary, Star of the Sea lights tree for first time in decades

Note: The printed version of this story incorrectly stated the amount paid for the lights. The Church paid $4,000 for the lights and installation.

In honor of its 110th anniversary, and to celebrate the Advent Season, Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Girard Avenue lit the tree in front of its parish for the first time in at least 20 years. The switch was flipped during a celebration Dec. 10 and the tree will continue to be illuminated by white LED lights from dusk until 11 p.m. through Jan. 14. In a ceremony between its Spanish and English services, parishioners read seasonal Scriptures, sang songs, blessed the tree and then lit it up. 

“We try really hard to keep the church involved with the community,” said volunteer Tresha Souza. “We wanted a reason to light the tree as a gift to La Jolla and thought this anniversary would be a great opportunity. Everyone who drives by or walks around to go shopping will see this tree.”

According to Pastor Fr. James Rafferty, the Newport Pine tree (one of the largest in the area) was considered “the community tree” and decorated each holiday season. “The fire department would come and help us. They would string the colored lights and put up the ornaments and then take them down every year,” he said. “But as I understand it, the reason this stopped was that the fire department would (accidentally) break the tree branches (and it became bare). From there, the La Jolla Rec Center tree became the community Christmas tree.” 

But as to when exactly this transition took place is a bit of a mystery. La Jolla Historical Society archivist Michael Mishler said, as far as records go, the Community Tree was at Mary, Star of the Sea until at least 1983. Fr. Rafferty concurred the change may have taken place some time in the 80s.

But now that the tree has regrown, and to avoid possible breaks in the future, the lights that were strung will remain up indefinitely and only lit during the holidays. The church paid $4,000 for the lights and installation.

This year, the Mary, Star of the Sea tree was lit for Gaudete Sunday (the Latin word for ‘rejoice’). “Imagine at Christmas time, about a week before, your mom lets you open one present. It’s not Christmas yet, but it’s almost here and that one present gets you excited and brings joy. The third Sunday of Advent is our rejoicing Sunday when we are almost to the light (birth) of Christ,” Rafferty said. 

The tree will cease to be illuminated Jan. 14, the feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. “White lights on the tree represent the light of Christ, which goes past Christmas Day,” Fr. Rafferty explained.

Souza added the glowing tree will draw attention to the Church, which is launching a capital campaign to make some necessary repairs. Designed by architect Carleton Winslow, Mary, Star of the Sea was built in 1906 in a Mission Revival-style. Some of its features, particularly the red-tile roof, have never been repaired or replaced. “We want to raise awareness of that, so our church can continue to be part of the community. There is a lot that needs to be fixed up. We also need the bathrooms to be bigger to accommodate more people,” she said. 

Those interested in making a donation to the church restoration can call (858) 454-2631.

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