History of St. Michael's Church

San Diego’s Bishop Francis Buddy appointed Father Michael Coughlan to start a new parish in Poway in August 1959. In those days, most people didn’t know where Poway was, not however Father Coughlan, as he was an assistant priest at St. Mary’s Church in Escondido. At that time, St. Mary’s in Escondido served the entire area north of Miramar.

When Father Coughlan first arrived, there were only 125 Catholic families in the area south of Lake Hodges and north of Miramar. Today five other parishes serve this same area: St. Gabriel’s, Poway, established in 1973; San Rafael in 1974, Good Shepherd in Mira Mesa, established in 1970, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Rancho Peñasquitos in 1976, and St. Gregory the Great in Scripps Ranch in 1985. Some have noted that St. Michael, St. Gabriel and San Rafael parishes are named after archangels, causing the area to be referred to as the "Valley of the Angels."

On August 23, 1959, the first Masses were offered in the Big Stone Lodge on Pomerado Road. In June 1960, the present rectory building was completed on seven acres donated by Mrs. Josephine Friedricks on Pomerado Road. The garage of the rectory served as the gathering place of the parishioners for Mass, Religious Education and meetings until part of the present school was opened in December 1963. By then, the parish had grown to 400 families and the present seventh and eighth grade classrooms served as the Church.lIn July 1964, four Sisters of the Poor Clares arrived from Ireland to staff the parochial school, which opened in September. The Sisters lived in a home on Del Norte until the present convent was built in 1966. In 1971, the Sisters of Mercy, also from Ireland, replaced the Poor Clares and still serve in both the school and parish. It pleased the pastor, Monsignor Coughlan to be able to tell his parishioners on September 24, 1967, "We are happy to announce that approximately one year after completing our convent and classrooms and after meeting our commitments, our parish debt has been completely liquidated! This is indeed a great tribute to the generosity of our good parishioners."

The parish was still without a permanent Church, so a building fund drive got underway as Monsignor Coughlan bought an additional three acres for the church site. On September 20, 1970, Monsignor broke ground for the new church.
It was indeed a happy day for the then 1,000 families when Bishop Maher, formally dedicated their first permanent place of worship described as a "simple structure with dignity providing an atmosphere of devotion," on February 20, 1972. However, the first Mass was offered in the new 750-seat church on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1971. It was situated on what is now the school playing field.
In March 1974, an outdoor statue of St. Michael the Archangel, placed in front of the Church by Pomerado Road was dedicated and watched over both the church and street. It was moved to its present location on the Feast of St. Michael, September 29, 1996.

The parish now had a church, school, convent and rectory. Only one building was lacking to complete the parish plant – the Parish Hall. The parish plant was completed in 1977 with the opening of the Hall, which also serves as a basketball and volleyball gymnasium. After celebrating the silver jubilee of the parish and being its only pastor for those 25 years, Monsignor Coughlan moved to St. Didacus Church in San Diego.

On July 1, 1984, Father Joseph Finnerty succeeded Monsignor Coughlan as pastor of St. Michael’s. Father Finnerty was well aware of the rigors of establishing a parish, having founded Resurrection Church in Escondido beginning in 1970. Since this parish was built, he looked forward to relief from fundraising and meeting with building committee architects, contractors, etc. However, since there was a need for a kindergarten room, more office space and meeting rooms, plans were formulated for the Parish Center. Bishop Brom broke ground for the new building on May 29, 1990. He also officiated at a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of St. Michael School.

In the early hours of July 25, 1990, parishioners coming to morning Mass discovered smoke coming from the church. They called the fire department but all they could do was contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to other buildings. The church was completely destroyed with all its contents. The building was not equipped with a fire alarm, smoke detectors or a sprinkler system, as none were required when the church was built in 1971. A steel cross was saved from the fire and is now located on the right front entrance of the new church. The other item was a statue of our Blessed Mother, which is located in the Holy Family Shrine of the new church. Monsignor Finnerty was in Ireland when the fire occurred, said, "While it was a tragedy and great loss, thank God there was no loss of life or limb. The physical building, where the Church of St. Michael worshipped, was destroyed. The Church of St. Michael still exists - the Church is the people. Obviously, this has disrupted our lives and routines. I pray that out of this tragedy some good will come and that it will be a time of spiritual growth for all of us." Luckily, the Parish Hall was large enough to accommodate the Sunday congregations with the same schedule of Sunday Masses. It served as a church until a new one could be constructed.

In 1991, the Parish Center was completed and in addition to housing the kindergarten and offices for our Youth Minster and Religious Education Director, it also served as a daily Mass Chapel until the new church was completed.

Parishioners had input regarding every aspect of the replacement church and its location. The City of Poway strongly recommended the Church be moved away from the street to minimize parking on the street. It was decided to rebuild in the center of the campus away from the school playground and the noise from Pomerado Road. With moneys from insurance of 1.135 million and building fund pledges of 1.5 million, the dream of the parishioners came to fruition. The first Masses were fittingly said in the new church on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1993 less than three years after the former church was lost in the fire. On April 25, 1993, Bishop Robert Brom presided at the dedication ceremonies.

This merely chronicles the physical growth of St. Michael’s and does not, nor cannot, record the spiritual growth that has occurred over those almost 40 years. At this time, St. Michael’s has over 3,000 registered families. There are about 520 students in the grade school, which began expansion to serve the needs of the community in 1997 which then had about 320 students. The school expansion was completed in Spring, 2003 with the first groups of upper grade students enjoying the space and new play field. Beginning in Fall, 2005 each grade level has two classrooms of children following the addition of one yearly since 1997.

There are over 900 students attending public schools who receive Religious Education each week in after school sessions. As you can see from this web site, there are many parish organizations and areas for service as the parish continues to respond to the needs of this growing community. 

On July 1, 2001, Msgr. Joseph Finnerty retired as pastor of St. Michael's Church.  He has been succeeded by Msgr. Neal Dolan.

Thank you for your interest in the history of St. Michael Parish. And thank you for visiting our web site!


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