Chapel of the Holy Cross, Santa Cruz Island

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La Capilla del Rosario, Santa Cruz Island, 1991
Caire family members and guests,
Chapel of the Holy Cross, Santa Cruz Island, 1900
Altar, Caire ownership,
Chapel of the Holy Cross, Santa Cruz Island
Chapel of the Holy Cross, Santa Cruz Island

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Santa Cruz Island was designed and built under the direction of Justinian Caire. Construction was completed in 1891, and the first mass was celebrated in 1893. After the Caires sold the western 9/10th of Santa Cruz Island to Edwin Stanton, the chapel remained largely unused until 1968 when Msgr. Francis J. Weber invited himself to say mass in the island's chapel with permission of island owner, Carey Stanton. The tradition continued after Stanton's death in 1987. Mass continues to be celebrated on the Día de la Santa Cruz, May 3.

In 1988, rock musician Joe Walsh began playing music for the mass, a tradition he has continued since then.
Mass Celebration May 3, 2019Youtube-2.jpg

• Joe Walsh singing at Feast of the Holy Cross, 2016 Youtube-2.jpg

Chapel Artifacts

Invitations for Mass at La Capilla del Rosario, Santa Cruz Island, 1988-Present

D.O.M., Deo optimo maximo, Latin “To God, the best and the greatest.” Initials carved above the entrance to the Chapel of the Holy Cross on Santa Cruz Island by instruction of Justinian Caire in 1891. This was a common practice on many Italian Catholic churches.

November 23, 1936 [Letter by Delphine A. Caire]: “Reverend Father, In reply to your inquiries concerning the origin and history of Holy Cross Chapel at Santa Cruz Island where occasionally we enjoy the great privilege of assisting at Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I beg to submit the following notes:

Although this small shrine was completed only in the year 1891, my father, Justinian Caire, must have had the project in mind for a long time. Near the site it occupies, there once stood a small adobe house, and it is probable that with its hilly background it reminded him of the chapel which in the last century still dotted the slopes of his own beloved French Alps, also recalling to his memory the representations of the Nativity so dear to the Franciscans, to be found in the province of Liguria, Italy, where he spent a part of his young manhood. From the veranda of our island home, as his gaze rested on the simple little edifice on the opposite side of the valley, pointing to the lovely scene before our eyes, and combining two languages in one sentence as if to give expression to the double trend of his thoughts, he would say to me: “Ne dirait-on pas un présepio?”

When he had fully made up his mind as to the feasibility of his project, he decided that as a matter of courtesy or respect and ”pour etre en régale,” according to the saying so dear to a Frenchman, it would be well to secure the approval of the bishop of the diocese of Los Angeles. Consequently a letter was addressed to Bishop Mora who, not understanding the circumstance of the case, approved erection of a chapel provided the site and a right of way were deeded to the Church. These conditions could in nowise be complied with and we came near to abandoning all hope of ever seeing a chapel on this place which my father had grown to love so much.

But fortunately we found a friend when we most needed him. One day in the course of a conversation, I mentioned our difficulty to the beloved rector of Old St. Mary's parish in Oakland, Reverend Father King. This kind clergyman assured me that the answer of the bishop must have been the result of his misunderstanding our position, and he offered to settle the matter with the head of the Los Angeles Diocese. And he did.

All objections being thus removed, our men were put to work and acquitted themselves of their diverse tasks with courage and zeal. Practically all the building materials were produced on the Island itself. The bricks, from island clay, were baked by an expert Frenchman; the stone, quarried there, was worked by a very able Italian stone mason, while the lime used was burnt in a kiln which is still in existence. Even the wrought iron railing in the interior which, so to speak, separates the sanctuary from the nave, was the work of a Sicilian blacksmith, master of his craft.

The building, rectangular in shape, is of red brick, carved stone quoins decorating corners, ogival portal and windows, its shingled roof peaked, a small belfry for its mellow toned bell rising directly above the facade, surmounted by a cross. Other dimensions are roughly twenty-seven by eighteen feet, side walls some thirteen feet high, facade and rear wall rising to a maximum of about twenty-three feet. My father insisted that above the door be carved the three initials D O M, such as they appear on so many Italian churches. Above these appears a carved cross. The same symbol is chiselled on every alternate slab of stone. Whether through design or by chance, I could not say, the chapel is properly oriented, the sanctuary being towards the rising sun, and it stands symbolically in a vineyard.

As may be guessed, its capacity is about twenty-five or thirty souls. Besides a large open space in front of the building allows of doubling the congregation. THe straight white plastered interior walls rise from the cement floor to a gently vaulted blue ceiling studded with stars. The four windows, of colored glass, are recessed a foot, three feet wide, those on the epistle side measuring about five feet high, those on the gospel side about half that dimension. The chairs for the congregation face a raised wooden altar of which the tabernacle is surmounted by a large ebony-hued cross. The iron altar rail has already been mentioned. So much for the material edifice.

When the building was completed, my brother Arthur visited the Jesuit Father in San Francisco (he had been a student at St. Ignatius College) to ascertain whether they could spare one of their number to preach a Mission to our men. My father judged this would be a fitting way of inaugurating worship in the chapel. Father Genna*, a Sicilian, then giving a retreat to the Sisters at St. Patrick's Church in Oakland, was designated for the task.

Now, once more the Rev. Father King came to our assistance. He obtained for us a consecrated stone from St. Mary's Cathedral and was kind enough to lend us a chalice with its paten, and a monstrance, each in its respective leather case, censer, some incense and a supply of altar breads. The other requisites which could be handled by the laity were purchased. The altar linens were, of course, prepared by the "Marthas" of the family, and even comprised an alb sent from an aunt of our living in Paris (her handiwork). These different objects confided to my care reach the island a short time previous to the arrival of the missionary who spent about ten days with us.

The good Father received a more cordial welcome than would ordinarily be expected from men who often boasted of their anticlericalism. He knew how to deal with these humble tillers of the soil, and my mother with exquisite tact paved the way to a better understanding between the shepherd and the flock. Exercising what I think may be called a feature of Catholic Action, she visited the men at their meals and urged them to follow the Mission which was given solely for their benefit.

During the days that Father Genna spent at the Island, we naturally assisted at an early mass every morning. But after sunset, the chapel was closed to all but the ranch hands: sermon and prayers were intended for them exclusively. As Father Genna desired that we should have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, towards the close of the Mission, our little tabernacle had the great honor of harboring our Lord for a few hours. At the ceremony which appeals so strongly to Catholics and often to non-Catholics, besides the customary hymns, the zealous Jesuit Father insisted that my youngest sister Heléne, who had a fine contralto voice, should render the Ave Maria of Mercadante. Finally, on the last day, a large Mission cross was carried in procession to the accompaniment of hymns and pryers, and set up in the vineyard as a memorial of this great religious event.

How the zealous Franciscan Friars who had gone to their heavenly reward must have thrilled with joy on knowing that after a lapse of eighty years, the praises of the Most High were sung over the land where they had hoped to establish a mission! The dream of Father Tapis had not been realized, of preaching the word of God to the poor ignorant Island Indians whose honesty in restoring to Captain Perez in 1769 a cross forgotten in their midst, won for ancient Limu the name of Isla de la Santa Cruz. But a number of men from the continent which had given birth to the intrepid missionaries of our own California and some in whose veins ran a strain of Indian blood were privileged to receive their God. The date of this mission can be set about the year 1893. On the return of the family to Oakland, I restored to the Rev. Father King all the objects he had so generously lent us and expressed as best I could the deep gratitude we felt for all his kindness.

For several years no priest visited the island, and in 1897 we lost our beloved father who died after an illness which lasted about eighteen months.

At a date which I do not exactly recall, but which goes back to the first decade of the present century [1908*], nine clergymen obtained a permit to camp in one of the numerous little harbors on the northern shore of the Island. These worthy gentlemen came up to the hacienda on two consecutive Sundays, thus affording us an opportunity to comply with the first commandment of the Church. On the first Sunday, three masses were celebrated; the second, only one was said, but Father Kennedy added to the solemnity of the occasion by accompanying a part of the ceremony with the strains of a portable organ. Here are the names of the clergymen that my mother was very happy to entertain at dinner: Monsignori McCarthy and Sullivan (the latter now of Mission Dolores), Dr. Cotter, Rev. Fathers Harvey, Brockage, Kennedy, Riordan, Conaty and Moloney.

Later, at a time that my brother Frederic and his family were summering at the ranch, three Franciscan Fathers of the Santa Barbara Mission, spent several days at the Island, and as a matter of course offered up the Holy Sacrifice, Fathers Turibius, Modestus and Francis. With them was Rev. A. Serra of Montecito, the first "Archbishop of Santa Cruz Island."

After the death of my dear mother in 1924, vestments, altar linens and other things connected to the service of the altar were disposed of by being sent to poor churches. In April of 1925, I brought back to the Cathedral in San Francisco the altar stone which I delivered into the hands of Msgr. Ramm.

1929 found the majority of the family planning to spend the Christmas holidays far from the confusion and bustle of civilization. But what about mass and all the religious obligations incumbent on the faithful at this time of year? No priest attached to a parish could at such a solemn season absent himself from his church in order to satisfy the longings of less than a score of persons. All felt this keenly, but Divine Providence opened up in a way for them to spend "La Noel" in a fitting manner. Father Thomas Sherman, son of the famous general of the Civil War, was then living in Santa Barbara and was easily prevailed upon to cross the channel to minister to the spiritual wants of the family. A vivid essay, entitled Christmas at the Island, written by my niece, Heléne, was published in the 1933 Jubilee Edition Christmas number of The Monitor.

It is not for me to state how often in late years our Holy Cross Chapel has witnessed the offerings of Mass, and that owing to the zeal and friendship of the Rev. Father Phillips. But I cannot refrain from mentioning one thought that has impressed me strongly. Do you not think, Rev. Father, that under Divine Providence, it is to St. Joan of Arc that we owe your ministrations at La Isla de la Santa Cruz? Was it not when a Triduum was held at St. Mary's Church in honor of the heroic young daughter of Lorraine that the Caire family became better acquainted with you? And I rejoice to think that it was while sojourning in this quiet spot, far removed from the mainland that you received your nomination as pastor to the church you had faithfully served as assistant. Allow me to assure you that as a former parishioner of St. Mary's for thirty years, I still nourish a deep affection for the Mother Church of the growing metropolis of the East Bay.

Hoping that for many years to come you will be spared to minister to its people, and that you will meet with great success in your projected work among the Mexicans of your parish (pobrecitos!).

I remain respectfully,

(Signed Delphine A. Caire)

Oakland, California

23 November 1936


Chapel Artifacts

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Invitations for Mass at La Capilla del Rosario, Santa Cruz Island, 1988-Present

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