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St. Raphael’s Church

St. Raphael’s Catholic Church has been at the same location on Hollister Avenue for as long as most of us can remember. But the church has a long history in Goleta that goes back to another century and a few different locations.

During the mission period, small chapels were built to serve the faithful in remote areas.

In the early 1800’s, a chapel was built near the slough to serve the Western Goleta area. This was the first catholic church in the Goleta Valley, and it was named San Miguel. According to historian Justin Ruhge, San Miguel Church was probably located on today’s Hollister Avenue near David Love Place. It served Goleta from 1803 until 1812, when a massive earthquake shook the chapel to the ground.

In the mid 1840s, a small chapel was built near the intersection of Modoc and Hollister, at the location of the former Modoc Motel. While very little is known about it, the name was recorded as St. Francis Xavier at Cieneguitas and it was under the care of the Mission. It seemed to fall into disrepair and was no longer used by the 1880s. These small chapels were used by both the Chumash and early settlers.

By the late 1870s, the Italian population in Goleta exploded, taking advantage of the local opportunities in fishing, agriculture and stone masonry. With the new population, came a need for a Catholic Church in Goleta. They were devout Roman Catholics, that found themselves in a Goleta farming community that was mostly Protestants. About once a month a priest from the Mission would make the trip out to Goleta to say Mass in a Goleta home or backyard, but by the 1890s, the Catholic crowd was getting pretty big, and a proper church was desperately needed.

In 1873, Father Polydore Stockman came to the United States from Belgium and went right to work establishing churches in Southern California. He started at least 10 churches in the San Bernadino area and in 1895 he came to Santa Barbara, where he became the pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, shown here in the 1920s.

In 1896, on a small lot donated by Daniel Hill‘s widow, Raphaela, Fr. Stockman had a small chapel built and he named it St. Raphael’s. (Maybe her name was the inspiration for the church name?) Today this is where the Jiffy Lube is, on the corner of Fairview and Hollister.

While the donation of land was surely a blessing, the location was somewhat of a mixed blessing. Being on the northeast edge of the slough, the lot was a marsh a lot of the time. Built on stilts out of necessity, when the winter rains came, the marsh became a lake. According to Walker Tompkins, children were known to have caught fish off the front steps of the church!

Despite the swampy conditions, the first St. Raphael’s served the Catholic community in Goleta for 34 years. Due to the lack of local priests, mass at the little church was only held about once a month. The priests traveled from Our Lady of Sorrows to Goleta by horse and buggy and occasionally Mass was highlighted by the Our Lady of Sorrows choir.

A fundraiser picnic at Tuckers Grove provided funds for a fine organ around 1910 and the growing parish was eventually able to assemble their own choir.

By 1928, things were really picking up at St. Raphael’s. Two weekly masses were available, one in Spanish and one in English, and weekly catechism classes were held. It was time to find a new, larger location for the church. By this time, the Parish served the area from Gaviota to La Cumbre Road, and it included 100 families. Father Alfred Boedekker used his Dodge Touring Car to drive between the Old Mission, Goleta, and Gaviota.

In 1929, the old location was sold to Seaside Oil Company and a new location was secured just a few blocks away.

The church building was lifted and moved to a new location in downtown Goleta. Number 1 shows the first location, and number 2 was the next location, on Mandarin Drive, between Magnolia and Nectarine.

Today, a large apartment building is at that location.

Shortly after the old church was relocated, work began on a Parish Hall for the new location. Originally built for social gatherings and special events, it would later become the second church. Most of the labor and materials were donated by the community, finishing the construction in only 54 days.

On December 8th, 1929, the new hall was dedicated with a well-attended formal ceremony, featuring a speech by Edgar Stow.

By the 1930s, St. Raphael’s was flourishing. A popular religious education program brought in kids from all walks of life.

Fundraisers held at Tuckers Grove would draw as many as 1,000 people, eager to share in the good food, entertainment and activities.

The Parish had become a social center for Goleta residents of all faiths as well as a religious center. They held dances, fashion shows, card parties and stage plays. All were invited and they met at a variety of locations, including Dos Pueblos Ranch beach. By the late 1930s the church population was growing at an amazing rate, even doubling in one year.

For the life of the church, the pastor had always lived at St. Vincent’s School or in a rental house in Goleta. In 1939, that changed when a Parish House and Rectory were built on the same property as the church.

A huge ceremony was held for the opening. This new house gave the Pastor of St. Raphael’s Church a permanent place to live.

With the ever-increasing attendance at St. Raphael’s, in 1941 the decision was made to switch the church into the newer hall building and make the old church the hall. By the summer of 1942 the transformation was completed, increasing the capacity of their church.

World War II brought an influx of young men and women to Goleta, many of whom were Catholic. In August of 1942, St. Raphaels held a special mass to welcome the soldiers to the community. Two Marine Captains from the Santa Barbara air base served as altar servers and a big breakfast was held afterwards with the mayor and other prominent citizens speaking the attendees. Later, the Pastor from St. Raphael’s was appointed Auxiliary Chaplain at the Marine base. He caused some concern when he requested additional insurance for the church due to the intense military activity in the area. His wish was granted, and thankfully it was never needed.

This aerial shot from 1948 shows the church on Mandarin with the old church building partially obscured by trees on the right.

This photo shows all 3 buildings in 1952. The church, the rectory and the original old church. It also shows the whole church property, from Mandarin Avenue at the bottom to the railroad tracks at the top.

Throughout the 1950s, countless Goleta families celebrated special events at the church on Mandarin Avenue. This 1955 photo shows the marriage of well known Goleta locals Herb and Ginny Kunze.

The priests were part of the community, were treated as family, and were often invited to parishioner’s homes for Sunday dinners. Here, Father Dougery enjoys the company of a church family, despite the kid with a rifle at the table!

The completion of Lake Cachuma brought a huge housing boom to Goleta in the 1950s bringing too many new parishioners to fit in the little church on Mandarin Ave. Shown here is Father Dougery and his dog Dominic in front of the church on Mandarin Ave. in 1955. By the late 1950’s, UCSB had also come to Goleta, bringing hundreds of more Catholics to the church.

In 1959, the new Pastor, Reverend William Harvey, wrote that the existing property was no longer sufficient to provide for the growing community. The church on Mandarin Ave. only seated 170, so he proposed a new church with 500 seats be built on a piece of property already purchased in Eastern Goleta by the Archdiocese.

The new location was a 10-acre parcel on the 5400 block of Hollister, previously owned by the Sexton family. This area was where the Sextons had laid their pampas plumes out to dry for their lucrative business in the 1890s.

In 1957, this well-maintained ranch home sat at that location with a lovely row of palms planted along Hollister.

In 1960, construction was underway on the new church and the first mass would be held on February 26, 1961. The old Mandarin church continued to have daily masses until a rectory, (the priest’s home) could be built at this new location. The dusty little lane to the left of the church would become a new road, named St. Joseph’s Street by the county, at the suggestion of the Pastor. By 1963, St. Raphael’s Catholic school would be completed behind the church.

This 1966 photo shows the finished church, the rectory to the right, and the school behind it. The arrow shows the old Mandarin Avenue church that was moved to the new location to be used as the Parish Hall.

The old 1929 church building remained in service until being replaced by a new multi-purpose building in 1982. It remained in its new location until being demolished in the early 1990s.

Immediately upon opening, St. Raphael’s School was well attended, with children sporting their brand-new uniforms, like these happy Cavaletto kids. The school started in 1963 with 189 students, grades one through four.

In 1968, St. Raphael’s School had its first graduating class. It continues to this day. (That’s my sister holding the sign on the right.)

As always, St. Raphael’s continued to be very active in the community, providing volunteers for numerous charities in the area. Throughout the 1960s, St. Raphael’s ran a thrift store in Old Town Goleta on behalf of Catholic Charities.

In 1970, the author celebrated his First Holy Communion at St. Raphael’s Church. Shown here with my proud Italian grandparents.

This aerial photo from 1983 shows the state of the church and the school at the time. Looking very well maintained with the old Parish Hall still standing on the right side of the parking lot.

In 1996, St. Raphael’s church celebrated 100 years in Goleta. A lot of festivities and ceremonies were held, and this plaque was mounted on a large rock outside the church.

As Goleta continued to grow, so did St. Raphaels church and they continue to thrive and continue to serve the Goleta community to this day. You can visit their website Here.

Sources: Walker Tompkins, Justin Ruhge, Goleta Valley Leader, The Spirit, UCSB, St. Raphaels Centennial Yearbook, Shirley Kunze, Bud Rinker, Deacon Wayne Rascati, Joe T. Kovach, Santa Barbara Public Library, Adam Lewis, Neal Graffy

Categories: Goleta History

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Tom Modugno

15 replies

  1. Tom – Thank you for this well written article on St. Raphael’s Church. This is where my family attended church after moving to Goleta in the early 1960’s. Keep up the good work with your writing of Goleta’s history.

    ps – Nice to see my brother’s name listed as one of your sources for this article!

  2. Awesome a classic photo history of our beloved Saint Rapheals church with great personal stories . I remember all the wide open space behind the school in the 1970’s when I was going to CCD and we would go try and catch lizards and snakes before class. The shot of the Airport Drive In theatre was great bringing back many good memories.. Thank You very much you Rocking Surf Cat Tom Modugno.. Local Surf Bro Patrick Donohoe Airport Drive in Fan and Baptised Confirmed and grateful to be stlll attending Saint Rapeals Parish 58 years later since 1964.Christ be with you Tom.

  3. Saint Raphael’s rich history has been well documented in your finest historical article. That the author was sharing a piece of his life makes this magical. The memories of each parishioner must return to there brains as they read this documentary. How many confessions must have been heard at this church. I have a fond memory of the author becoming a Godfather at this historic house of faith.

  4. tom, we are fortunate to have you as our local historian. your documentation on st. raphael’s recalled many personal memories – and “confessions”.

  5. Tom, my parents have been parishioners there for 60 years. All six of us kids went to school there.
    Great fun reading this and seeing all the pictures you assembled.


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