Our Lady of the Lake Parish

Our Lady of Fatima Shrine

Father Michael O’Duignan, made the announcement for the plans of an outdoor shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. Why Fatima? There was little known in the West about Fatima at that time and no one could recall having heard Fr. Luke indicate which of our Holy Mother’s titles he might have preferred for this altar shrine, but only months earlier Fr. O’Duignan had received a small Fatima booklet and letter from New York, sent by Rev. Joseph Cacella, a Portuguese priest. Fr. Cacella was born in Portugal, close to the village of Fatima. The message of Fatima was dear to his heart and he felt it was his mission to spread that message. So before long he secured printing presses and soon was writing books, leaflets and novenas, sending them throughout the Americas. One of these found its way to Lake Arrowhead in 1947. Fr. O’Duignan read it and put it aside for future reference. A year later when he started the plans for the Shrine to Our Lady, he recalled the little booklet on Fatima. Fr. O’Duignan, knowing that this was the most recent message from the Mother of God and of its importance for our time, felt it would please her to have a Fatima Shrine in these beautiful mountains. There seemed no other answer but Fatima. A letter was quickly on its way to Fr. Cacella and in return mail came a wealth of books and leaflets to be distributed to parishioners and visitors who came to mass.

Our Lady of Fatima had said to Lucia “Tell the people.” And the people of Lake Arrowhead were anxious to hear her message. Word spread rapidly and from then on Our Lady seemed to smile her approval. Enthusiasm for the venture spread, and many people came to offer their services and help. In October 1948, Mary Coony a summer resident, with a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, called a meeting to ask friends to assist the proposed project.

Mrs. Coony became a great fundraiser for the project, and she is credited with spreading the news of the shrine and gathering supporters. Mrs. Coony bought the first printed literature for the shrine. On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1948, Mr. and Mrs. R.C. Hartwell of Los Angeles, who were dining with Father O’Duignan, became so excited about the plans for the shrine project that they offered to donate the finest group of Fatima figures that could be found and the land to build the shrine. The Hartwells located Mr. Jose Ferreira Thedim from Fatima, Portugal. Mr. Thedim a famous painter and sculptor and a witness to the “Miracle of the Sun” in Fatima, achieved fame by his appealing statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, first prize winner at the Iberian Latin American Exhibition in Seville, and by another statue of Our Lady of Fatima fashioned for the Portuguese College in Rome. Mr. Thedim agreed to carve the white Estremoz marble, which is marble from the actual site of the apparitions. The set of figures, seven pieces in all include the following: Our Lady, Francesco, Jacinta and Lucia and three sheep. He sculpted the statues of Our Lady of Fatima according to his memory and written instructions received from Lucia, one of the children to whom Our Lady appeared. Lucia liked and approved of the statue, now known as the Pilgrim Virgin, the most authentic representation of Our Lady of Fatima, as Lucia saw her.

With the statues assured, Bishop Charles Buddy of San Diego gave his consent to purchase property for the proposed shrine. Out of love and devotion, Mr. and Mrs. Norris Nadeau dedicated their time performing the arduous task of tracing the owners of 19 separate lots. On May 23, 1949 the women of the parish under the direction of Fr. James Anderson organized Our Lady of Fatima Guild with the intention of helping with the shrine project. On July 5, 1949 the ninth day the Fatima novenas were initiated.

In the beginning, the rosary for world peace was held once a week in homes of members and a Novena to Our Lady was held each week in the church. The guild was responsible for fulfilling various duties in the church and raising money for the shrine by selling Christmas cards with a beautiful sketch of the proposed shrine, designed and donated by Mr. Paul Fehr an architect from Los Angeles.

In the fall of 1948, Captain William Haller, assigned to the 817th Army Corp. of Engineers, stationed at March Air Force Base, visited Our Lady of the Lake Church and learned of the plans to build the shrine. Fr. O’Duignan advised him that the work to prepare the site would involve more money than the parish could afford. In memory of his younger brother, who was killed in the South Pacific during the war, Captain Haller became dedicated to helping with the project and came to the church often to discuss plans for the project. Captain Haller was assigned to temporary duty in Texas, but on July 13, 1949, remarkably the last day of the first Fatima novena, he returned and organized a volunteer work force from the 817th Engineers Combat Unit and Airmen from March Field-Riverside. Obtaining permission from the commanding officer, the men utilized the heavy equipment needed to clear the site, built retaining walls and positioned boulders for the shrine. Week after week the twelve “boys” came with their captain up the mountain and spent days combing the hillsides for rocks and material with which to build the rock wall and stone altar. Sadly, before the completion of the shrine, Captain Haller was sent overseas to Japan and the boys themselves were sent to various assignments. They had accomplished a tremendous task, sacrificing all their free time and energy to a project they learned to love. It was with sadness and joy they departed: Happy they could have been some help and sad that they could not continue. All the men looked forward to a day when they might visit the completed shrine. Prior to construction the property for the shrine needed to be cleared of two wooden structures and two old street cars. Mr. Archie Johnston donated his time, labor and equipment for this immense task. Actual construction began on July 16, 1949, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Andy Ugrin, a 73-year-old retired stonemason, provided the leadership and experience for all the stonework for the shrine and the current rectory. He completed the stone altar and rectory stonework in the spring of 1951 after two years of dedication.
In May, 1951, Jose Thedim, the Portuguese sculptor, made a special trip from Portugal to survey the site of the shrine at Our Lady of the Lake. He spent many hours at the site, studying the terrain and sketching the shrine as it would appear when the figures would be in place. His original sketch hangs in our rectory today. On December 7, 1951, the eve of the Immaculate Conception, Fr. O’Duignan, who was hospitalized for a lung hemorrhage, received a cable from Portugal that the Fatima figures had arrived in New York. That cable from Portugal also brought the news that the huge figure of Our Lady was transported free of charge on the little ship named Harta. One of the directors of the Portuguese shipping company, Corregadores Aeoreanos had donated her passage. Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Lockhart went to the dockside when the figures arrived and welcomed them in the name of Our Lady of the Lake. The Lockharts were one of the first families of our parish and their support at Our Lady of the Lake has continued for many years. Mr. Lockhart was often seen at the site of the shrine helping or taking refreshments to the soldiers during the clearing of the site for the shrine. Mr. Lockhart also took rolls and rolls of colored moving pictures as the work progressed and some of those pictures were donated to our church. It was at this time that the Lockharts donated the Italian hand-carved wooden Stations of the Cross which still adorn our church today.

Mr. A.K. Fuesk, a friend of the Fatima project, donated his services as broker and made necessary preparations to have the figures transported from the East coast via the Panama Canal to Los Angeles. The figures arrived in San Pedro weeks later, but because of two heavy snows in the mountains, they were taken to Barstow by William Casey and stored. Prior to their shipment overseas Jose Thedim transported the figures, the first ever done in white Estremoz marble, to Fatima for a blessing by the Bishop of Fatima. In April 1952, Fr. Mike O’Duignan, out of the hospital, went to Barstow to inspect the figures and prepared to bring them to Lake Arrowhead. He was still making preparations when the Bishop, concerned for the priest’s health, sent him to a hospital in Tucson, Arizona to recuperate completely.The shrine seemed at a standstill. The summer of 1952 passed and winter set in. All work was halted. In the spring of 1953, Fr. Ray O’Donohoe, the new pastor, set out to complete the shrine. Mrs. Hartwell, donor of the figures, returned to the mountains for a few weeks to aid in contacting the people who promised to complete the project. Mrs. Hartwell secured hundreds of plants and shrubs and with the help and supervision of Fr. O’Donohoe helped place and plant them. Mr. William Casey loaded the figures onto trucks in Barstow. Because of unexpected engine trouble, the trucks with the figures arrived at 2:30 am on July 16, 1953, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, exactly four years from when the actual work on the shrine began.

Mr. Nishan Toor, an Altadena artist and sculptor promised to erect the figures and was notified and prepared to begin work. Mr. Jack Hoenig of Lake Arrowhead who had done much work on the rectory began construction on the outdoor pews. Venetian-like blinds were attached on poles above the pews and could be adjusted for protection from the sun during hot summer months. Mr. F.B. Nightingale, of Altadena came and gave hours or his time and materials to light the shrine site. Mr. and Mrs. B. Ethier donated materials specifically so the altar could be finished and within a few weeks the work was completed. On Sunday July 19, 1953, Rev. Msgr Thomas Mathews, pastor of the Holy Rosary Church in San Bernardino came to bless the new chapel and the stone altar. Msgr. Thomas had established the original mission church twenty-five years earlier and spoke of mountains as expressing the Majesty of God. Christ himself had fled from the cities and villages to be alone in the mountains to commune with God. Our Lady had also chosen the mountainous terrain of Fatima and Lourdes. Msgr. paid tribute to the many priests who had served in the parish and the hundreds of people both Catholics and non-Catholics who labored so lovingly and contributed so much.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima was dedicated on Sunday, August 16, 1953. Hundreds attended the ceremony. A High Mass was celebrated in the outdoor chapel by Fr. Ray O’Donohoe, and Fr. Mike O’Duignan delivered the sermon. He recalled the summer, five years earlier, when the plans were announced and when the site was covered with boulders, dead wood and street cars. Now after those years of willing labor, a dream is realized to honor the Mother of God.

Soldiers from the 817th Division of Engineers "the boys" with Fr. Mike O'Duignan.
Captain William Haller organized the 817th Division of Engineers.
Mrs. Mary Coony enthusiastic supporter for the Shrine. Donated the Shrine's first liturature.
Sculptor, Jose Thedim, his secretary Ms. Heather Woods, Fr. Mile O'Duignan and Maria Thedim, Jose's daughter.
Mr. Archie Johnston removed two old street cars from the area and cleared the ground in preperation for the Shrine
Fr. Mike O'Duignan and Andy Ugrin, master stonemason who created all the stonework for the Shrine and rectory.
Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Lockhart recieving the statues for the Fatima Shrine in New York City.
Mr. and Mrs. R.C. Hartwell doners of the seven Fatima figures, with Fr. Mike O'Duignan.
Statue of Our Lady of Fatima
The original sketch of the shrine by sculptor Jose Thedim. It hangs proudly in the rectory.
The outside shrine shown with the Venetian- like blinds and wooden benches for summertime services.
Rev. Luke M. Studer O.M.C. First Pastor- Our Lady of the Lake Parish
Inside of Mission Church-1944
Until 1939 the few Catholic families in Lake Arrowhead were served by visiting priests on irregular schedules. From 1926 to 1939 these families would meet to celebrate mass in a top floor classroom of the old school house, which is now fire station #1 located on Hwy 173 near the entrance to the village. As the natural beauty of the area attracted more people as permanent and part-time residents, the need for a permanent location was filled by leasing a small wooden structure that had been used as a boy scout lodge and a restaurant called the Larriet Café. The structure was located in Meadowbrook Woods, later to become known as Crest Park and is now considered part of Lake Arrowhead. The property was later purchased and remodeled, and in 1939 the little wooden structure in Crest Park was named Our Lady of the Lake Church. It did not have a resident pastor at that time and was served by various priests assigned by the Bishop to celebrate Mass on Sundays only.

 In September,1943, Our Lady of the Lake became a formal parish with the assignment of Father Luke Studer as resident pastor. He first rented a small cabin to live in, but within a few months a little white house was purchased a short distance from the church and was established as a rectory. Fr. Studer was known as a fine priest. Unfortunately not well, he hoped that in the beautiful mountain community he would regain his health. Fr. Studer had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother and spoke of her as “Our Queen.” It was his dream to build a shrine to her honor on this mountaintop. Even though his health was failing, he daily talked and planned for the shrine while working to improve the humble church he loved. On September 24, 1944, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, Father Luke Studer died at the age of 43, just one year after his assignment to Our Lady of the Lake.

 Father Michael O’Duignan was assigned pastor on November 16, 1945, he was also a sickly man and had spent many months in a hospital in Denver for lung trouble. The parishioners told Fr. O’Duignan of Fr. Luke’s dream and what he had hoped to accomplish. A year passed and Fr. O’Duignan’s health improved. He too learned to love the rustic church. Although the church itself was more than adequate for the long winter months, the summer was difficult because the crowds were extremely large. Many attendees were known to faint because of the heat. Slowly an idea began to take form: An outdoor shrine and altar for the summer months seemed a logical answer. Fr. Mike dedicated himself to fulfilling the dream of Father Luke and to building a shrine to Our Lady. In August of 1948, plans were announced to build an outdoor shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. Big plans for the little wooden church would also be in the future.

Fathers James Anderson, Ray O’Donohoe, William Clavin and Patrick Linneman all served as pastors from 1952 until 1969. It was then time to enlarge the church from the small wooden structure that would accommodate about 300 people to the large church we now see. In 1969 Father William Savord set about to complete this monumental task. He walked the mountain to raise funds, carrying a scale model of what the new church was to look like, but Fr. Savord was transferred to another parish before the rebuilding could begin. It was then left to Msgr. Tullio Andreatta, who saw to the completion of the remodeled church. Father Andreatta turned down 3 bids which were beyond financial capabilities, and then he came in contact with Mr. Lee Chereskoff, who not only was in line with financial resources but daily directed the great project. Good fortune continued as Architect Mr. Vernon Johnson of Lake Arrowhead, Structural Engineer William T. Altmeyer of Lake Arrowhead, Mechanical Engineer Stan Solot of Crestline became the nationally awarded design team that built the new church.

Our Lady of the Lake Church was built in the shape of a cross and the laminated arches in the church were designed to resemble a nun’s habit. At midnight mass on Christmas Eve 1973, with no heat, windows, or furniture, and standing on cement floors,700 people celebrated the first mass in the new church. The first official mass was celebrated on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, 1974 and the new church was dedicated on June 30, 1974. Msgr. Andreatta left the parish in 1980 and was followed by pastors Joe Stadler, Geno Spino, John Harmon, Ivan Fitzwilliam and Bob Erickson.

In August 1993, Fr. Bob Erickson commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Our Lady of the Lake Church. Thanks to Walter and Dorothy Brule, a video of the milestones of our parish community was compiled from donated pictures and old films that had been stored in the church archives. The video presented by Ross and Charmaine Johnstone, who at that time had been parishioners for 45 of the 50 year history of our church. The video was a highlight of the celebration.

Through the years Our Lady of the Lake Church has needed many improvements and upgrades. Because of dedication and hard work from our past and present pastors and with contributions and support from parishioners and friends of our church, numerous improvements have been realized. In 1987 the addition of the Children’s Chapel was accomplished thru the support of the Fatima Shrine Guild. In 1996 the upper room of the church was completed under the direction of Fr.Bob Erickson and is used for the children’s liturgy. Support for many projects have come from unexpected places. Windows that were in the chapel of our now Mountains Community Hospital, which was originally operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, were ruined during a remodeling and painting project at the hospital. The sisters, who also taught religious education at our church, gave the windows to local stain glass artist, Kay Fulton. She in turn gifted them to one of her students, Charmaine Johnstone, an original member of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine Guild. Charmaine cleaned and removed paint from the damaged glass and for ten years the windows sat in the Johnstons’ garage.

Father Tim Keppel, CR. came to our parish in 1997.With the continuing spirit of improvement, akin to our past pastors, Fr. Tim, with the ever-present support of our parishioners and friends, began to make more improvements to the church. When it was made known that new doors in the church would be a project, Mrs. Charmaine Johnstone and Kay Fulton took to the task of completing the restoration of the chapel windows. They donated the windows, in 1998 and Mr. Pat Brennan installed the windows. Other improvements to our church include new landscaping, underground sprinkling systems, new lighting in the church, new sound system and recently in 2005 new carpet in the church, new pews and individual seating in the church, making room for handicapped access.

 In July 2009 Fr. Leonard Kryzwda, CR became our present pastor and continues the spirit of improvement and the spiritual guidence to our parishioneers. Our Lady of the Lake Church was founded on love, hard work and dedication, a Parish Community erected to the greater honor and glory of God.