One of La Jolla's most photographed and treasured buildings is the white Spanish Mission-style Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Girard Avenue. Although the main church building is 77 years old, it’s possible to imagine it existing 250 years ago when the Franciscan friars built California’s original missions.
Today, of course, the roads around it are paved and filled with traffic, but Mary, Star of the Sea continues to offer both parishioners and visitors a sense of peace in the heart of the busy Village. The church welcomes up to 800 worshippers per weekend, according to pastor Rev. James Rafferty. Its overall membership includes approximately 1,000 families, with 400 regular contributors.
These members gather under the red tile roof to worship, to learn and to put their teachings into practice, said Rev. Rafferty. “Every church is different, we all have personalities,” he said, “but the Catholic Church, as a whole, carries to the world the biblical understandings of our scripture scholars for centuries and their application to present-day life. The mission of the church is to celebrate the sacraments within the community and to do works of charity and service, based on our faith in Jesus Christ as in Matthew, Chapter 25.”
The church offers Mass daily. The Mass at 6:30 p.m. Saturday is celebrated in Spanish. In addition, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is held Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and extra services are celebrated at Easter and Christmas.
In addition to worship services, Mary, Star of the Sea provides its members and would-be members with a variety of educational programs, including Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (how to become a Catholic); English and Spanish faith formation groups for children; The Gathering, a youth ministry; prayer groups; and the affiliated parochial school, Stella Maris Academy, for grades K-8.
The church’s many social ministries include Care Ministry for those in need; Our Lady’s Guild offering hospitality lunches; So Others May Eat, community suppers for the homeless held twice a month; Knights of Columbus; Culture of Life Family Services, offering crisis pregnancy counseling and support; and outreach programs to community centers in Tijuana and San Diego (Bayside Community Center) and to prisoners and those needing grief support.
At Christmas, the church sponsors a gift-giving program for those who attend the community suppers. “We let them know they can ask if they want to receive a gift,” said Rev. Rafferty. “It’s usually a gift card or practical items such as footwear. We put their names on a tree in the church and our members pick a name, buy a gift, and hand them out at a party.”
During the year, the church also distributes pastries and socks to those needing help, alternating weeks with La Jolla Presbyterian.
Currently, there is no central ecumenical coalition or interfaith community support with regular gatherings, explained Rev. Rafferty. This is something he would like to see in the faith community, in addition to individual efforts. “It would be good for all of us,” he said.
Rev. Rafferty has been the pastor of Mary, Star of the Sea since July 1, 2008. Born in Inglewood, California, he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of San Diego and a master’s degree in divinity from St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park.
After serving as an associate pastor for several years, he was assigned to the Church of St. Timothy in Escondido, where he served for 21 years, and then St. Pius X in Chula Vista for almost two years. He expects this will be his last assignment.
He joined the La Jolla parish just two years after its 100-year anniversary. It was formed in 1906 when several Catholics gathered regularly at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. V. Mannix on Coast Boulevard, where they persuaded a friend, a Catholic priest, to say Mass.
As the area grew and a formal parish was established (called Mary, Star of the Sea in honor of the Blessed Virgin), a subsequent pastor purchased three lots on Girard and built the first church in 1909. The current church was built in 1937, designed by architect Carleton Monroe Winslow (1876-1946) of Los Angeles, who also designed many of the buildings in Balboa Park for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
The large fresco above the main entrance, titled “Our Lady, Star of the Sea,” was painted by Alfredo Ramos Martinez (1871-1946), a Mexican-born painter and muralist who was called the Father of Mexican Modernism.
Soon after the new church opened, the old church building was torn down, making room for the current parish house. In 1947, the church added the Stella Maris Academy and a convent for the academy’s teachers, Sisters of the Holy Cross (now the Pastoral Center).
Further additions in 1952 included a 500-seat auditorium and a parish hall with a solid brass mission bell. The bell’s inscription reads “Jesus 1690 Maria” and it is thought to be original, carried from Spain by the Franciscan friars.
Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church
Address: 7713 Girard Ave., La Jolla
Phone: (858) 454-2631
Year established: 1906
Members: 1,000 families;
400 regular sustainers
Average Weekend Attendance: 800
Worship Services: Mass 8 a.m. Monday-Friday; 5 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday;
7:30, 9, 10:30 a.m. noon and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Sacrament of Reconciliation 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Community Programs: Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (becoming a Catholic); English and Spanish faith formation groups for children; Stella Maris Academy (grades K–8); The Gathering youth ministry; prayer groups; weddings, funerals and baptisms; social ministries, including Care Ministry for those in need; Our Lady’s Guild hospitality lunches; So Others May Eat, community suppers for the homeless; Knights of Columbus; Culture of Life Family Services; outreach programs to needy community centers, prisoners and those needing grief support.
Leadership: Rev. James E. Rafferty, pastor; Jimmy Vargas, deacon