Our Parish History
It was 1952, that Bishop Charles Francis Buddy, First Bishop of San Diego, his advisers and Catholic lay faithful of this new suburb of Oak Park came to dream. They envisioned a future site in which Jesus Christ would be proclaimed for all to hear and where people could come to pray. That vision included a church, school, rectory, convent, and hall, all on 5 acres of land. It was the last hill that overlooked the growing city of San Diego.
Fr. Edward Johnson was chosen as the founding pastor. First, he chose an Oratory in a converted garage at 5204 Maple Street. Then, he began working with the families in the area and soon they were invited to celebrate Sunday Masses at the El Morocco Club. With faith and joy they began the Holy Spirit Community. In early 1955, Fr. Edward Johnson transferred to found a new parish in Kearney Mesa.
We welcomed Fr. Joseph P. O’Leary as the second pastor of Holy Spirit. The men of this community united to help the contractors put together the church building. While women and children of the parish help feed every volunteer. Many of these volunteers would form the Altar and Rosary Society and the Holy Name Society. Together the people built this parish from the ground up. Which was dedicated December 11, 1955 by Bishop Buddy.
In 1956 the school opened. Staffed by a few Sisters of Mercy, from Sligo, Ireland. There was a rapid growth and the school expanded. The new extension was completed 1959. More Sisters of Mercy came.
The Parish Hall was built beginning in 1962 and dedicated by the now Msgr. Joseph P. O’Leary. We would often be seen working by lantern, flashlight, and car lights digging the foundation ditches for the Hall building. The hall was dedicated on December 12, 1963, In July 1964, Msgr. O’Leary retired and went to his native home in Ireland to live.
The third pastor of Holy Spirit, Msgr. William A. Bergin was appointed in July of 1964. He honored his predecessor by naming the parish hall as O’Leary Hall. Msgr. Bergin was instrumental in forming lay leaders to educate fellow Catholics not only for the parish but for the Diocese as well. He added the Bungalow that is to the east of the school.
The war in Vietnam was coming to a close and the United States welcomed many new immigrants. Many were Catholic. Holy Spirit was one of the first parishes to welcome and sponsor a family from Vietnam. Also during this time, Msgr. Bergin began the Los Lobos group as a response to the request for Hispanics of the parish to actively participate.
Seeing the need for prayer and in response to the spiritual needs of the parish and the church universal, Msgr. Bergin established the Perpetual Chapel of Adoration in 1984. To this day it is still operating, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Msgr. Bergin guided the parish into participating in the Renew Program and helped establish the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. He instructed the people to begin to take an active role in the parish as Lectors and Eucharistic Minister. He encouraged the choirs to sing with great love. He was pastor of Holy Spirit for 24 years when he retired in 1988.
In 1988, Father Dennis Mikulanis (later a monsignor) arrived to become the fourth pastor of Holy Spirit. This was his first time as a pastor. He set about the task of helping the school by forming an Education Committee and a Finance Council as well as help the parents find ways to keep the school open. He opened up the Sanctuary by removing the communion rails. He supported to the ministry of the Lay Faithful by making sure that there were more Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers. Fr. Dennis spent 4 years as a pastor of Holy Spirit, before he transferred in July of 1992.
The fifth pastor of the parish, Msgr. Roger A. Lechner, arrived that July. One of the first things he did was to begin to improve the parish grounds. Upkeep and improvements occupied much of his time. The challenge of changing a now very ethnically diverse group of people into a unified, faith filled community was facing the parish. With the help of the Finance Council and the establishment of the Pastoral Council of Ministries, the focus of ministry began to be the participation of the parishioners and enabling them to take ownership of their parish. With the Vietnamese community growing, the Bishop sent Fr. Doan Van Lai to be the associate pastor in 1993.
Due to low enrollment and ongoing financial problems, the Bishop decided that the school would close at the end of the school year of 1994. The convent was closed in 1995 and reopened as Mercy Hall, the new Pastoral Center for the parish. Conference rooms and all parish offices are located in the old convent. The school building was used by exchange students, our Vietnamese Eucharistic League held camp outs for youth. It was also occupied by Washington State Catholic parishes, while they did missionary work in Mexico. In September of 1996, Lutheran High School became tenants of the school buildings before moving to a campus in Chula Vista. Since then, the school buildings have been rented by Nativity Prep Academy. The parish also uses the school buildings for our Religious Educations programs throughout all the communities. Holy Spirit has also become home for Holy Spirit Ministries, their offices are located on the bottom floor of Mercy Hall.
In July of 2015, we welcomed our sixth and current pastor, Fr. Joseph Freeman. He is joining our Holy Spirit family who have been under the guidance and prayers of Msgr. Roger Lechner for 20+ years. We welcome him with open arms. and look forward to what the future holds. We have faith that he will continue to shepherd us in one community continue the work of his predecessors.
Over the years Holy Spirit has had many organizations grow, these groups have made a huge impact on the church, as well as the community. Catholic Daughters Court #2218, Knights of Columbus, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul Group, and Catholic Conversion Encounter are just the few of the groups that still remain active in the parish. We cannot forget the groups that helped Holy Spirit become what it is, such as Altar and Rosary Society; the Holy Name Society; Los Amigos, and Alpha and Omega. These and other groups may not be active, but they have left their impression on our parish.
Our youth have seen many things made available for them and have matured because of dedicated adults working with them. Our Teen Youth Group has grown and gets stronger every year. They attend spiritual retreats that help strengthen their faith in preparation for Confirmation. As well as journey to different countries for World Youth Day, to meet and pray with the Pope and youth around the world. The have become missionaries for the Lord. Our Vietnamese Youth are succeeding in bringing the faith to the younger generations too.
Seeing how the cultural demographics had changed in the Oak Park area of San Diego, in which Holy Spirit Parish exists. Msgr. Lechner, with the Pastoral Council of Ministries brought about ways to help the parish grow spiritually. One of the first changes was the Passion Play in 1993. It was staged as a drama, using the parishioners acting out the Passion of Jesus Christ. This brought about a spiritual renewal and many more people coming to the parish. The Passion Play happened for the next 10 years. Children returned to the parish with their parents, no cost for religious education happened. Baptisms began to happen more frequently, marriages were being blessed. The three major languages, English, Spanish and Vietnamese began to be used in a single liturgical ceremony on major feast days, thus uniting the parishioners all the more as a One Faith People with many languages.
In 1998, finding a source of why the roof of the church leaked it was discovered that all of the stain glass windows of the parish were in need of repair. So the roof was re-roofed, all the windows repaired, one at a time.
In the summer of 2007 a gas pipe leak was discovered that began a series of changes in the parish. To repair the gas pipe line the area between the church and the rectory had to be dug up so that the gas pipe line could be repaired. All of the communities worked together to dig and repair the pipe line, thus saving the parish a tremendous amount of money. In this process termites were discovered in the south wall of the church. Realizing that major work had to be done, the parish decided to use the professionals, in the parish, who knew how to repair the area and to fix the problem. The church building was then re-stuccoed to its present three color exterior. This gave us the opportunity to build the Garden of God’s Love and God’s Forgiveness that we have today. Shortly after this garden was built, and the ceramic tiled rosary, with the Hail Mary prayer being in 40 different languages, being placed on the south wall and the Tree of Forgiveness being planted and the Fountain of living water being built, the Parish had another place to pray and welcome one and all. At the base of the Forgiveness Tree were placed all the names of the parishioners past, present and un-named future ones along with the names of the priests from San Diego to Los Angeles at the root of the tree. This garden has become a place of wonderful gifts of God’s Love and the Power of God’s forgiveness.
As we look over the years, you see what Holy Spirit has become. It is a house of God, but not only that, it has become a home. We have become brothers and sisters, as well as friends in Christ. Holy Spirit has changed lives, and in return has been changed by lives. It has become a home to many, and it will forever grow strong. With 1500+ families strong, we have become a strong community, a strong family, and strong believers.