Theresa Enciso moved to North Phoenix 35 years ago with one requirement — to be close to a Catholic Church. That Church ended up being Our Lady of the Valley Parish, founded only five years earlier, on July 24, 1973.
Enciso recalls how warm and receptive the parish was under the guidance of founding pastor Fr. James Kelly, who would visit every parishioner’s home, often unannounced. That friendly, welcoming faith community still thrives at Our Lady of the Valley as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of their founding.
Jo Ann Burke, one of the founding parishioners, credits Fr. Kelly with building a strong community, an inclusive parish where everyone was made to feel at home.
“Fr. Kelly let us choose the style of the church building, whether we wanted a separate chapel, if we wanted a multi-purpose facility. We were all involved,” she said.
Fr. Scott Brubaker oversaw the renovation of the multi-purpose facility to a dedicated church in 2000. In the first days of the parish — before the church building was completed and dedicated on May 9, 1976 — Fr. Kelly would hold weekday Mass in his residence on 33rd Avenue.
Burke would help to bring everything across the street to Desert Foothills School, where they would celebrate Sunday Mass. “We used to call ourselves ‘St. Desert Foothills’ before we had a name,” she said.
Our Lady of the Valley used many borrowed spaces over the years.
“We have been a ‘pilgrim’ people,” said Anita Kilcran. “When we didn’t have a church to celebrate Mass, we found community in a public school. When we didn’t have a hall to gather for meetings, we used another church’s space; but we always celebrated as Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Community. We knew who we were.”
Holy Cross Father Ed Kaminski, pastor of the parish since 2004, noted that the anniversary “is an important milestone for our people to celebrate their Catholic heritage.” Our Lady of the Valley currently has about 550 registered families in the parish. Fr. Kaminski called the parish a “church of the people; a very vibrant faith community.” He is also pastor at nearby St. Raphael in Glendale.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the 40-year anniversary Mass on July 27, and attended a reception in yet another borrowed space for the parish, the social hall at St. Raphael.
“I feel blessed to be the pastor of two faith communities who have come together as sister parishes,” Fr. Kaminski said.
After Mass, Kilcran and Loretta Madden, members of the 40th anniversary committee, presented a framed official Papal Blessing from Pope Francis to Fr. Kaminski and the people of Our Lady of the Valley. Our Lady of the Valley is the first parish in the Diocese of Phoenix to receive such a blessing from Pope Francis.
“Being ‘God’s people’ inspired us 40 years ago,” Kilcran said, “and that understanding is what continues to inspire us today.”
At the reception, surrounded by photos documenting the history of the parish, current and former parish staff and many fellow longtime parishioners, Theresa Enciso smiled softly, “I would never go anywhere else. This is home.”