In the 1870′s Catholics in the eastern San Joaquin Valley were served by visiting missionary priests from Visalia. They came to Centerville and other inhabited places in the area, before railroads determined which cities should grow and which should stagnate.
In 1888 the Southern Pacific Railroad laid its lines between Fresno and Bakersfield and Sanger came into being. Sanger was guaranteed its future when the young city was chosen as the terminus for a lumber flume early in the 1890′s. The community thrived on the lumber industry and later became an important agricultural center.
Sanger’s first place of Catholic worship was the result of efforts of “Aunt” Mary Lafferty in 1901. She solicited funds from among her Catholic and non-Catholic friends and a mission church was constructed on Seventh Street, between N and O Streets. This first church was served by Fr. Gerald Gay of Fresno and over the next 20 years was a mission of the parishes of St. Anthony in Reedley, St. Alphonsus in Fresno and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Clovis. It was not until August 10, 1922 that St, Cary’s church was established as a parish of its own with the Rev. J. W. Smiers as its first
Having benefited from mission service, St. Mary’s offered its help to others after being established. First it offered service to Clovis and later, under Fr. P. F. Casey, to St. Rita’s in Squaw Valley. St. Rita’s was established when Fr. Casey received help from the Bureau of Catholic Missions and Mrs. Mary Overholser donated land for a church. The mission has seen continued development through the help of volunteer labor from the parish and funds from the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. For the past 15 years the children and adults of St. Rita’s have benefited from the instruction of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Fresno.
Fr. Robert H. Lewis came to St. Mary’s in 1935 and under his guidance a mission was established in Del Rey. Fr. Lewis was succeeded by the Rev. Michael Mangan during March 1945. It was under his leadership that the present church and rectory were constructed. The first Mass was said in the church on April 6, 1947.
In the postwar years, the city of Sanger grew rapidly so that it was deemed necessary to provide more adequate facilities for the parish. When Monsignor Joseph Losada arrived here in 1959 there were over 1,000 families living within the parish boundaries. He negotiated the purchase of 10 acres of land at North and Bethel Avenues where St. Mary’s hall now stands. Fr. Losada never saw the fruits of his labors among us. He was killed in an automobile accident while visiting Spain in September 1, 1961.
St. Mary’s Hall became a reality under Fr. Francis J. Gallagher, who succeeded Monsignor Losada. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on February 10, 1963. Through the generous efforts of members of the parish the building was finally completed and the first banquet was held in the hall in October 1963. This spacious structure was used for Masses on Sundays until 2000, for catechetical instructions, and for general parish functions.
Also under Fr. Gallagher’s pastorate St. Mary’s Church was renovated. New altars were installed to comply with the teachings of Vatican II. In the old church ;located at the rear of the O Street property was torn down and the basement filled in. This area is now our church parking lot. The grounds on the North Avenue side of the Hall were filled in and an irrigation system was installed and the property landscaped. also during this period chimes were installed in the church through the generosity of a parishioner.
The Rev. Harry L. Eggert became the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish on December 1, 1969. During his short stay among us, an airconditioning system was installed in the church hall and the hall’s parking lot was paved. Fr. Eggert’s stay at St. Mary’s was brief but he helped develop the parish spiritually and financially. His tenure was noteworthy in that he was elevated to the position of Domestic Prelate with the title of Monsignor while here.
Monsignor Maurice Lahey came to Sanger from Sacred Heart Parish in Fresno, succeeding Fr. Eggert. Under his leadership our parish celebrated its Golden Anniversary.
Any history of the parish would be incomplete without taking note of the significant contribution of the good sisters of the Holy Family who have served as catechists here since 1929. Likewise we recognize that parish efforts are the work of the “people of God”. So many lay persons have made contributions to the development of our parish that we hesitate to mention them by name, for we would not know where to end the list.
Succession of Pastors
1922-1924 Rev. J. W. Smiers
1924-1925 Rev. Joseph B. Howard
1925-1927 Rev. A. A. Muro
1927-1935 Rev. J. J. Carr
1935-1945 Rev. P. F. Casey
1945-1949 Rev. R. H. Lewis
1949-1953 Rev. Michael Mangan
1953-1961 Rev. Joseph Losada
1961-1969 Rev. Francis J. Gallagher
1969-1971 Rev. Harry L. Eggert
1972-1976 Msgr. Maurice Lahey
1976-1978 Rev. Ignatius Loughran
1978-1981 Rev. Salvatore Ciranni, RCJ
1981-1984 Rev. Luigi Lazzari, RCJ
1984-1992 Rev. John Bruno RCJ
1992-1993 Rev. Salvatore Ciranni, RCJ
1993-2000 Rev. John Bruno, RCJ
2000-2003 Rev. Vito Di Marzio, RCJ
2003-2007 Rev. Phillip Puntrello, RCJ
2008-2012 Rev. Peter Quinto, RCJ
2012 Rev. Rene Panlasigui, RCJ, Admin.
2012 to present Rev John Bruno, RCJ