WEST HAVEN — Back in 1945, the Most Rev. Duane G. Hunt, fifth Bishop of Salt Lake City, dedicated a building on 22nd Street in Ogden as the Santa Maria Mission.
That was the seed of what today is Saint Mary Catholic Church in West Haven.
In 1955, Fr. Neale Herrlich, S.J., joined Fr. Louis Kern, S.J., of the California Providence of the Society of Jesus and took care of the mission as well as taught at St. Joseph Catholic High School.
A year later, on Oct. 10, 1956, construction of St. Mary Catholic Church in Ogden began, and on September 8, 1957 Bishop Hunt canonically constituted the parish and the dedication ceremony took place.
As years went by, the congregation grew, and a new church was needed. On June 8, 2008, the Most Rev. John C. Wester, ninth Bishop of Salt Lake City, dedicated the new St. Mary Catholic Church, located in West Haven.
Charlie Duran, who lives in Roy, drives past the location of the old St. Mary’s almost every day. One thing that was always in his mind was that a time capsule had been buried by the Jesuits in that building.
“It has always bothered me that the cornerstone [of the old building] was never removed and I was wondering why that would have been,” he said.
One day Duran, who attends Mass at both St. Mary’s and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Layton, approached Fr. Gustavo Vidal, pastor of Saint Mary’s, and asked for permission to remove the old cornerstone and to transport it to the parish.
“I asked him if it was OK, and he said ‘yes,’ if I found some way to remove it and find the right contact because by then the building had had different owners,” said Duran, who decided to take on the challenge.
For months, he researched the ownership of the building and tried to establish contact with the owners. He finally made contact with them and set up an appointment, which was difficult because of their schedules, he said.
“It was a back-and-forth thing until we finally connected, and he was impressed with my approach to removing the cornerstone,” Duran said.
The building is now a rehabilitation center for those with drug and alcohol addictions. The owner asked why Duran wanted the cornerstone. When Duran said he assumed the time capsule was behind the cornerstone, the man agreed to allow the cornerstone to be removed, but with the condition that it be replaced with a replica.
Duran asked why a replica was needed. The response was that many people who walk into the center see the cornerstone and have memories of their parents getting married at the old church, or recall celebrating other sacraments such as baptism and First Communion, and those were usually the first topic discussed.
“So he said that that is the first step to rehabilitation, and even if it was just to help one person I decided I had to find a replica of the cornerstone,” said Duran.
With a replica made, finally it was time to remove the old cornerstone.
“When I put my hand through the hole that we had done to the wall and with my hands felt it. … I saw that there was a time capsule and I was more excited than ever,” said Duran, adding that he was thrilled to be the first person to touch that time capsule.
Duran presented the capsule to Fr. Vidal, and they opened it. Several articles from when the Jesuit Fathers were in charge of the parish and mission were found as well as some other objects such as “a listing of families who were present at the dedication of the parish, newspaper clippings that describe fundraisers, a picture, and medal of Saint Ignatius of Loyola,” Fr. Vidal said.
Opening the capsule “was a connection with the past, with the foundation of the parish. An opportunity to be connected with families, couples, young people, kids etc... from the past, the founders of this Christian community,” said Fr. Vidal.
All of the objects that were in the time capsule now are at Saint Mary’s rectory.
“That was my mission. I know that in my heart I had to find a way to bring it home when I took it to the new church in West Haven,” said Duran, adding that now he feels a great relief.
“I feel like I had accomplished not something important just for me, but also something important for my religion, and for the parishioners, because I don’t know if I didn’t take the initiative to do it who would have,” he said. “If the good Lord allows me to do it, I’ll do it.”
The contents of the time capsule will be displayed at the parish, Fr. Vidal said.
“We will build a monument to put them in there,” he said.