A History of The Church of San Agustin

San Agustin Catholic Church in Scotts Valley

The Church of San Agustin, nestled in the hills above Santa Cruz, is named after the original Mexican Land Grant, “San Agustin Ranchero,” which comprises all of the Scotts Valley area. The parish was established in 1969, three years after the small community of Scotts Valley incorporated into a city. A house on the property was remodeled to become the parish rectory. The first Mass was celebrated in a field next this house on June 8, 1969 by our first pastor, Father Michael MacDonald. Mass was also celebrated at the Scotts Valley School and then in an enlarged converted barn/garage on the property until ground breaking for the new multipurpose building began in September of 1969. The building was completed the following year in September of 1970. Our beautiful Spanish mission style cross was fashioned by the San Agustin Men’s Committee from a Santa Cruz Mountain redwood tree. Its dedication in April 1971 marked the first Easter in the new chapel. The Sante Fe train bell hanging over the church was given to the parish by the Weinmann family and installed in April of 1972 and later dedicated to the memory of our first pastor, Father Mac. 

Soon after, our second pastor Father Joe Leonard came to shepherd our parish in 1971 and did so with an Irish charm for the next eight years. Father Joe helped the parish grow in community corralling volunteers to use their talents and resources. He called the women of the parish to organize an Altar Society to help keep God’s house in order. Father Joe’s famous St. Patrick’s Dinner Dance was attended by all of Scotts Valley’s honorary leprechauns. His legacy is the famous parish FIESTA which is held annually in September.

The new decade brought Father Martin McDonald as our third Irish priest to watch over the flock. Our small community began to grow, and changes were made to the building to enhance the worship space, provide for religious education classrooms and parish social events. The original 30 plus families grew to over 150 plus during these years.

The next eight years brought even more changes with Father Mike Adams as pastor. The Pope visited the Monterey Diocese in 1987 and many parishioners took part in the Liturgies during this historic event. A St. Vincent de Paul Conference was established to help those less fortunate in our immediate area. Skylights were installed in the sanctuary along with a 150 year old pipe organ. Outside, the parishioners created a playground below the rectory and dedicated it to Father Joe Leonard. When the Loma Prieta earthquake shook our area on October 17, 1989, people came to the church to seek refuge. Many spent several nights feeling safe in God’s house. Miraculously, the building only had minor cracks in the floors. The rectory wasn’t so lucky. The warm community spirit continued as more families came to worship.

In 1994 Father Marvin Steffes came as Administrator to help lead the parish until our new pastor would arrive. Father Marvin helped the parish celebrate its Silver Jubilee 25th Anniversary with a grand celebration and a new parish anniversary directory. Later that year, Father Matt Pennington came to shepherd the flock. For the next 12 years, under his guidance, the parish community grew by leaps and bounds to over 600 families. Father Matt continued to bring the Spirit of God to live among us. His knowledge and love of Liturgies is still reflected today. The building and grounds were upgraded, a parish office built and the Sanctuary changed again temporarily to make everyone feel a part of the Liturgy. With Father Matt's drive and enthusiasm, the Angels' Auction, which first took place just before his arrival in 1993 to fund a Director of Religious Ed., grew to become one of the main events and fundraisers for our parish. It became so fun and successful that many other local schools and organizations modeled their auctions after ours. The Angels' Auction helped fund parish programs for 20 years.

In 2005 under Father Matt’s direction, the parishioners rallied to create the “Lift up our House to the Lord” campaign and raised $1.5 million to update the church to be an environmentally beautiful and welcoming place. The plans were drawn, construction started, and the roof raised by installing a dormer. During construction, the parish rented the Scotts Valley Community Center from the city and held weekend services there. The project was completed in October 2005. Soon after, Father Matt said his good byes.

In 2006, Irish priests came back to attend the flock. Father Derek Hughes was appointed Administrator and served the parish for a year whereupon Father Jerry Maher was appointed pastor. The famous St. Patrick’s Dinner Dance was resurrected in full Irish style. Even with the bad economy, the community pulled together as a family ready to help anyone in need. Father Jerry’s Irish wit and loving and compassionate personality helped us to sustain our community and spirit of faith.

In 2010, the Catholic Community of San Agustin celebrated its 40th Anniversary! Father Jerry Maher left to follow a new calling, so we welcomed, Father Seamus O’Brien as our 6th Irish priest. Under his direction, our annual San Agustin Golf Tournament was born. With his encouragement and guidance, the Knights of Columbus began establishing roots for a local council. Fr. Seamus helped us to make progress in continuing to pay off our building debt and balance our budget.

After 3 years, we welcomed our current pastor, Fr. John Griffin. Fr. John brings a background of love of music and architecture. He has inspired and encouraged the reconfiguration of our worship space during the various Liturgical seasons to enhance the sense of community during the Mass. Today our parish is comprised of about 500 individuals and families. Although considered a small parish, San Agustin is flourishing with new ministries, community outreach, parish activities and faith sharing. We are excited to celebrate our 50th Anniversary this year and welcome all who come to serve and worship the God who lives among us.

Mary Telles is the San Agustin Parish Historian and was Church Secretary from 1972-2004.

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