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."
While the setting and Father Nick have made a great impression, parishioners say that the congregation is what has made it so special.
"It's a warm community of people, very friendly and welcoming," said parishioner Bill Sullivan who has been a member with wife Eileen since they moved to Carmel Valley from Long Island, New York two years ago. "Everyone always seems to be cheerful and everybody's got a smile on their face. It starts your day off pretty good."
Something for everyone
St. Therese offers lots of different ministries, from the Great Adventure bible study group to groups for singles and teens. Faith Formation for elementary school children is held on Mondays and Thursday nights and a Chinese Catholic group holds service on Sundays.
"There's something for everyone here," Salinas said. "I think that's what we strive to accomplish."
The one thing left to accomplish for the church is their parish hall. The space is set, a vacant lot in front of the parish and close to Del Mar Trails Road. Plans are still in progress but the hope is that they will break ground within the next year.
Once the hall is built, Salinas said they would be better able to be what a church is all about: Reaching out to the community.
"It's about reaching out beyond yourself," Salinas said, "and helping the community and being a part of the community, not just taking care of your own."
To learn more about St. Therese, go to