Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
It’s nice to get away from the city and find a peaceful church in which to pray. The following are some Catholic churches on the West Coast in remote settings.
Blessed Sacrament Church (Elk, California)
Elk is a small, seaside community in Northern California. Blessed Sacrament is a historic parish in the Diocese of Santa Rosa, which stretches up to the Oregon border. The church was built in 1896, and is the central historical feature to the town of Elk, which is home to a few hundred people. The church today looks much like it did more than a century ago, including a traditional altar and many traditional statues. It also has a terrific ocean view.
Fr. Louis Nichols, an eighty-something priest, drives in to celebrate a Saturday vigil Mass. The Elk Altar Society holds fundraisers to do repair and maintenance work on the church.
Queen of Peace Monastery (Garibaldi Highlands, British Columbia, Canada)
Queen of Peace Monastery is the home of a group of Dominicans nuns of the Order of Preachers located in the Upper Squamish Valley north of Vancouver. It is one of three monasteries in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
The monastery has a church with a beautiful view and a five-room guest house. Visitors are welcome to come individually or in groups to participate in Mass and prayer, or on retreat (offerings requested). Come for the day, or stay overnight. You are asked to remain silent during your time at the monastery, which includes turning off cell phones and other electronic devices. There is a gallery on the grounds where you can buy religious items, including monastic arts created by the sisters.
The area has a magnificent view, and there is a Blessed John Paul II trail on the monastery grounds if you’d like to take a walk through the beautiful fields and forests of Canada (look out for bears!) In addition to prayer and walks, you’re welcome to assist the sisters with some manual labors on the grounds (e.g., gardening or splitting wood). The nuns wear the full habit and have a traditional community life. Mass is 8:30 a.m. daily, 10:30 a.m. Sundays. See the website for daily prayer schedule and a map to the monastery (http://www.dominicannunsbc.ca/Queen_of_Peace/Queen_of_Peace__.html).
Mission San Javier (Baja California)
This impressive old church is located 22 miles inland from the coastal town of Loreto, Mexico. The church serves the small town of San Javier, with residents who have been living there for generations. The townspeople farm and raise livestock, and also cater to the smattering of tourists who make their way up to see the mission. Much of the road to San Javier is paved, but a portion of the way is still on dirt roads. A priest drives in from Loreto to celebrate Mass.
Mission San Javier was established by Jesuit priests in 1699. It is located in a valley in the Sierra de La Giganta (a mountain range). Construction of the current church began in 1744, and was completed in 1759. The area around is desert; the priests first had to build an aqueduct to capture enough water to sustain the small community. The priests planted crops and began raising livestock. Along with the priests were soldiers, which protected them from the hostile Indians. The church is built of stone, brought in from the surrounding areas. Walls are as much as 7 feet thick, keeping the interior of the church cool during the region’s hot summers. The insides are decorated with Spanish and Italian art which is older than the building itself. These include oil paintings and statues. The church also has glass windows, not often found in early mission churches. The church is named for St. Francis Xavier, an early Jesuit known for his missionary work in India. The church is an architectural gem, one of the best preserved in the region, and still draws many tourists each year.
Chapel of the Holy Cross (Sedona, Arizona)
This chapel has no resident pastor and does not offer regular Masses, but deserves an honorable mention for its uniqueness. Completed in 1956, this chapel is built up high within Sedona’s famous red rock mesas. It commands a stunning view of the valley below. Its most prominent feature is a large exterior cross, which seems to be wedged in between two large red rocks.
The idea for the chapel came from Marguerite Brunswig Staude, an artist and philanthropist from New York. Arizona’s senator at the time, Barry Goldwater, helped her obtain the necessary permits from the Secretary of the Interior to build. Staud said of her desire to build the chapel: “That the church may come to life in the souls of men and be a living reality—herein lies the whole message of this chapel.”
It is part of the Phoenix diocese and is overseen by St. John Vianney Church in Sedona, which is about 5 miles away. There’s a gift shop below the chapel. You park below and walk up to the chapel; there is a golf cart service up if you don’t like the steep walk. The location of the chapel and its small size make it impractical for regular services—go to St. John Vianney for the Mass and sacraments—but it is a nice place to pray. Go early on the weekday mornings and you’ll miss the crowds.
Immaculate Conception Church (Downieville, California)
Downieville is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains northeast of Grass Valley and Nevada City in the Diocese of Sacramento. It resembles a small Vermont town; it’s at the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains covered with pine and oak trees. Two rivers come together in the middle of town.
Immaculate Conception is a quaint little church, and a City of Downieville landmark. It is a Gold Rush era parish, established in 1852. The first church burned down in 1858, and the current church was erected the same year. The community was once bustling with active timber and mining industries. Both have closed down, and now most of the younger families have moved away. (Downieville is the County seat, so government is still a growth industry in the area!) It is still a tourist region, however, with mountain biking, hiking, fishing and skiing.
Elk has no resident priest; priests from St. Patrick Church in Grass Valley visit to provide the sacraments. A few decades ago, when the local economy was better, the church was filled to capacity; today, it draws about 15 or 20 seniors. Volunteers keep it open. Its features include a traditional white wood altar with gold trim.