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St. Teresa of Avila Church, Bodega
Saint Teresa of Avila is a Roman Catholic church. The white wooden church with a steeple sits on a hilltop above the small rural town of Bodega. Jasper O’Farrell, for whom O’Farrell Street in San Francisco is named, donated the redwood lumber and a lot from his 1843 Mexican Land Grant, Rancho Estero Americano, to construct the church. Legend has the church built by New England shipbuilding carpenters in 1860. Upon completion the lot and church were deeded as a gift from John O'Farrell (Jasper’s brother) to Archbishop Alemany of San Francisco. The Archbishop dedicated the church in Bodega on June 2, 1862 under the name of Saint Teresa de Avila, patron saint of Jasper O’Farrell’s sister. A young French-Italian priest, Father Louis Rossi, was appointed pastor.
The O’Farrell graves can be found in the Calvary Cemetery, a short distance west up the road from the church. The oldest date found of a burial is 1860.
Subsequent to the building of the church, the population of the Bodega area grew rapidly. Italian immigrants began coming into the region in the 1880s and continued well into the early 1900s. They came primarily from Lombardy in northern Italy and Ticino, the Italian region of Switzerland, to pursue dairy farming. However, the 1870 census showed the largest groups of foreign born residents in the county were Irish, most of whom were Catholic. It became evident the Catholic community was growing and the little church needed to be enlarged.
In 1872 it was decided that it was time to expand the building. Applying some very innovative thinking, the expansion was accomplished. The structure was cut in half, separated and a new section was inserted. The junction points in the ceiling and floor are still visible. After the expansion, additional stained glass windows were installed. Over the years other windows in disrepair have been replaced with memorial windows donated in honor of members’ loved ones.
At the same time the church was expanded a choir loft and church steeple were built. In 1967, the choir loft was judged unsafe and was dismantled. 1992 the area was modified to provide a sound chamber for the new organ and installation of a furnace.
In 1886 a new 850 lb. cast iron bell was installed in the church tower. It was soon discovered the bell was too heavy for the tower, so it was taken down. The bell was relocated to a new bell tower at the rear of the church property, which eventually deteriorated.
In the 1940’s & 50s the church was in severe disrepair. There was a movement afoot to dismantle the old church. In 1954 the church members agreed to rescue the church. The project included a new foundation and external concrete buttresses to strengthen the aging structure. June 12, 1955, marked the end of a year-long restoration.
When Saint Teresa of Avila was designated a State Historic Landmark on June 2, 1968, the bell finally found a permanent home at the entrance of the property.
Another restoration on a grand scale took place from 1967 to 1974, its goal being the maintaining of the beauty and simplicity of the original church. At this time, replicas of the old carved front doors were put in place.
Behind the church is a grave which frequently prompts questions from visitors. Ellen Orr, a first cousin to Mrs. Jasper O’Farrell, is buried here. She died after giving birth to her third son, James Sheridan Orr, who later became a merchant for many years in Duncans Mills, a town on the Russian River.
Saint Teresa of Avila began as a mission of the church in Tomales and the San Francisco Archdiocese. In 1963, shortly after the formation of the Santa Rosa Diocese Saint Teresa of Avila became part of the Parish of Saint Philip the Apostle in Occidental.
Throughout the years the church and grounds have continued to be maintained by the members of the congregation, Ladies Guild, and Restoration Committee. Saint Teresa is the oldest Catholic Church in continuous use in Sonoma County.
Ansel Adams made Saint Teresa of Avila the subject of his black and white photograph in 1953 “Church and Road”. Prints are available.
Saint Teresa of Avila is located next door to the Potter School, which was the setting for the schoolhouse scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds”. The Church can be seen in the film. Locals tell us Hitchcock attended church services during the filming of his movie.
St. Teresa of Avila is California Registered Historical Landmark No. 820.
Who Was St. Teresa?
Born in Avila, Spain in 1515, St. Teresa entered the Carmelite Order at the age of 20. She initiated major reforms within the Order, which greatly influenced both men and women religious. She also wrote extensively on spiritual and mystical subjects. Saint Teresa was canonized in 1622 and was proclaimed the first woman Doctor of the Church in 1970 for her writing and teaching on prayer. Her feast day is celebrated October 15.
“To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that.” Saint Teresa 1515—1582
St. Teresa's Mass Schedule
Sunday - 9:30 AM
Saturday - 5:00 PM
Tuesday & Thursday - 9:00 AM
Ansel Adams Print - Free With Your Donation to the St. Teresa's Restoration Fund
Donate to the St. Teresa's restoration Fund and receive an exclusive, limited edition print of Ansel Adam’s original photograph of St. Teresa Church from 1953. All proceeds will support needed restoration of St. Teresa of Avila Mission. Only 500 prints have been created from Ansel’s original negative. Each reprint is individually numbered. Prints are available for a tax deductible donation of $175. Frame not included.
Use the PayPal "DONATE" button below or contact our restoration committee members for your limited print: Joe Nuss 707-875-9654 or Bob Tiller at 707-875-9148.
History of St. Teresa of Avila Church
Below is a link to an interesting history of St. Teresa of Avila Church that includes early documents from the 1860s and biographies of the people who the stained glass widows of the church are dedicated to.
St. Teresa's Decorated for Christmas
Click on a photo below to enlarge.
Saint Teresa of Avila Featured in Alfred Hitchcock's “THE BIRDS”
The Birds is a 1963 suspense/horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on the 1952 story "The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier. Saint Teresa of Avila is located directly next to the Bodega Schoolhouse, which was the setting for the schoolhouse scene in Alfred Hichcock’s film The Birds. The Church can be seen in the film. Hitchcock attended services during the filming.
St. Teresa of Avila Location
(no mail delivery to this address)
17242 Bodega Highway
Bodega, CA 94922