St. Theresa Catholic Church grew with South Lake Tahoe
Long before the big casinos and South Lake Tahoe’s famed ski resorts, a tiny Catholic church anchored the center of town.
But Lake Tahoe’s South Shore wasn’t really a “town” in 1951, the year St. Theresa Catholic Church was born. When the Rev. Patrick Lyons inaugurated the house of worship, the area was more of a hamlet.
“There were very few business of any kind. There was a store where the ‘Y’ is, and a Shell station and a Bank of America. There were probably 300 to 400 permanent residents when the church started,” said the Rev. John J. Grace, St. Theresa’s retired priest.
The diocese called Grace, now 87, to the parish in 1956 after Lyons died of leukemia.
About 20 families were members at the time St. Theresa was built. Now, the congregation has more than 2,000 families.
The church grew over time as the South Lake Tahoe and Stateline areas expanded, Grace said.
Today, under the direction of Father Michael O’Reilly, St. Theresa continues its long Catholic tradition by educating young children, ministering to the faithful and feeding and clothing those in need.
The very first issue of the Tribune, on June 26, 1958, contained a front-page story about the church and a change in the summer Mass schedule.
Through the years, the church has changed with the times, as has the South Shore. Father Grace grew to expect the unexpected as he became accustomed to Tahoe, according to the book “Rejoicing in Freedom: Saint Theresa Catholic Church Bicentennial Celebration and Silver Jubilee.”
“He had seen a quiet, peaceful rural community transformed into a thriving city torn between the demands of an ever-increasing population and the desire to preserve the environment which brought them here,” according to the book that chronicled Grace’s years as priest.
Tahoe continues to deal with many of the same issues it has had since the 1950s.
The one constant, though, has been the continued faith and devotion of St. Theresa’s parishioners. A hallmark of the church and Grace’s legacy was the building of St. Theresa Catholic School in 1960.
The April 17, 2000, issue of the Tahoe Daily Tribune highlighted the festivities as St. Theresa Catholic Church blessed its new church building. It began a new chapter in its life from the small parish that it was in 1951 on Lyons Avenue, named after the first priest.
Since Grace’s retirement in 1993, the parish has had three other pastors: Monsignor Murrough Wallace, who facilitated building the new church; Father Mark Richards; and now Father Michael O’Reilly, who became pastor in July 2006. Before that, O’Reilly was an assistant at St. Theresa from 1996 to 1999. O’Reilly left for seven years to work at other parishes before returning to Tahoe.
While O’Reilly wasn’t a direct witness to the church’s 50-plus years of growth, he sees St. Theresa continuing its parish tradition. The membership is younger but equally faithful and passionate about its community.
Perhaps there’s no better evidence of that than how the parish handled last year’s devastating Angora fire. The church distributed more than $50,000 to 50 families in the aftermath of the blaze that burned more than 250 homes. The church also helped feed families and firefighters as the events unfolded.
“The community certainly has its challenges that it faces in the future,” O’Reilly said. “I feel, though, after the Angora fire, there has been a desire for the community to be more bonded and in spirit with each other.”
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