St. Therese embraced by community of worshippers

When the tall wrought-iron doors open at St. Therese of Carmel Catholic Church, joyous music leaks out before the parishioners do. At a Friday morning mass, there's a large crowd of people filing out into the open arms of the piazza. Couples holding hands and businessmen on their way to work mix with Notre Dame Academy students heading to class in the blue jumpers, jackets and ties of their school uniforms.

The church on Del Mar Trails in Carmel Valley is coming up on its two-year anniversary in October and it didn't take long for it to achieve that comfortable, lived-in feel.

"From the moment you walk into that church, there's just a sense of love," said 14-year parishioner Sharon Wuest. "Everybody's just so open to everyone, it's just a very welcoming parish and I feel so lucky to be a part of it."

To celebrate their two-year anniversary, St. Therese is holding their first-ever Oktoberfest event on Sept. 13. The parish-wide event will feature music, a sports center and obstacle course, carnival games and vendor shopping from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be a mass at 5:30 p.m. followed by a barbecue dinner with live music and bingo. Tickets need to be purchased before Sept. 8 for the catered dinner.

The church is easily seen from Highway 56, with its copper dome peaking at 57-feet. While the structure is shiny and new with stone archways, wrought iron doors, beautiful stain glass windows and a huge open window that looks to the hills, this is a parish that has been in Carmel Valley since 1985.

Beginning with three families meeting in the restaurant, the parish then known as St. William of York and bounced around to various office buildings, schools and hotels as their congregation grew. They built their first permanent home on Del Mar Trails in 1997, only to move again to Carmel Valley Middle School when they broke ground on their new 17,000 square foot parish in 2004.

The church is built on land formerly occupied by the Sisters of Mercy, who ran a dairy farm. The remnants of the sisters still exist in a white Victorian home across the freeway and in a small graveyard below the church.

The congregation explosion

Since holding their first mass in October of 2006, the congregation has boomed. The church can sit 1,000 people and it is often packed, and not just on Easter and Christmas.

"It has grown very rapidly," said Paula Salinas, church administrator. "Thishas turned out to be a very vibrant, young and excited community. It seemed like the church opened and our congregation just exploded."

St. Therese's congregation has grown from 300 families in 2003 to now 2,600 families. If they get much bigger, Salinas said they might have to add a fourth mass to their weekend schedule.

A lot of the standing-room only masses are attributed to Reverend Nick Dempsey, an Irish native known to most as Father Nick.

"He's so charismatic," said Salinas. He has been the catalyst for the whole area, for this church to grow."

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