Our present church was dedicated on May 12, 1968. At that time our Pastor, Reverend John J. O'Brien, wrote these words:
"The new Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church stands as an eternal symbol of the triumph of prayer and hope over doubt and uncertainty. The members of this Parish have long sought a place of worship to which they could point with pride to the community, and to friends, and join together in Holy prayer. Now this is a reality. To be sure, the edifice itself is temporal, and it is the product of the combined will, perseverance, sacrifice and toil of many people, both within the Parish and without. But, it is more than that: it is a lasting monument to our Faith. It is Spiritual both in its purpose and in its design. Generations to come may not recall the efforts which have produced this beautiful Church, but the Spirit that made it possible will remain forever. May the Grace of God be with each of you."
Our faith community began humbly. The town, Mill Valley, was named for John Reed's Sawmill. Like all the little communities in the area, it began growing with the inauguration of regular ferry service from San Francisco to Marin County. A gala land auction was held at the sawmill and by 1890 a post office had been established.
In 1893 the town's name was changed to Eastland after the president of the Tamalpais Land & Water Co. The new community boasted 500 residents and 1500 "tourist people".
It was at this time that Father John Valentini, assistant pastor of Star of the Sea parish in Sausalito, just a few miles to the South, began hitching up his horse and buggy on Sunday mornings to say a Mass in "Eastland" and a second Mass in Bolinas, on the other side of Mt. Tamalpais and up the coast a bit. The first church service was celebrated at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James A. Thompson on Molino Avenue. The large Thompson family included the famed novelist Kathleen Norris, Fred Thompson, also an author, and Joseph Jr. an inventor and engineer.
Later, Fr. Valentini said his Masses in a room at the now-gone Summit Grammar School, and after working for a church building, he eventually succeeded in gathering the help of the Tamalpais Land & Water Co. in securing a site at the rear of the old school for a plain wooden frame structure measuring 33 ft. by 65 ft.
It was over 100 years ago - in 1893 - that the first Our Lady of Mount Carmel was dedicated by Archbishop Patrick W. Riordan assisted by the pioneer Sausalito pastors Fr. Valentini and Fr. Cummins.
There are two commonly told tales as to the origin of the name of our parish. The first and most widely accepted story is that the area reminded Fr. Valentini of Mt. Carmel in Northern Palestine. It is claimed that in 84 A.D. the descendants of St. Elias built the first church at the foot of Mt. Carmel, honoring the Mother of Jesus. Mt. Tamalpais (Miwok for "Woman at Rest") rises dramatically from the little valley just as Mt. Carmel did in Palestine. The second story is that the church was named in honor of a parishioner who had supported Fr. Valentini's struggle to build the church. But no one is sure whether it was named for Carmela Fenton or Carmelita Boyle both of whom were ardent workers on the Church's behalf.
By 1900 the little town, once again called Mill Valley, had 1500 permanent residents. The great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 boosted its growth and by 1910 Our Lady of Mount Carmel became an independent parish, with Fr. Joseph Sesnon named its first pastor. (Inside the front door of the current rectory is a copper candle holder made by hand by Fr. Sesnon in 1915.)
Now there was a question as to where the center of town would ultimately develop. Fr. Valentini bought a future church site at Carmelita and West Blithedale avenues, while Fr. Sesnon decided to buy a site at the corner of Buena Vista. When Fr. Philip Byrne became pastor in 1916 he began building a much needed new church at Fr. Sesnon's site.
Our church then became a stucco, Spanish Mission-styled building with a seating capacity of 200 and a Rectory adjacent to it. Archbishop Edward J. Hanna dedicated it in January 1917 and the celebrant for a Solemn High Mass was Msgr. John G. Cantwell, later to become Archbishop of Los Angeles.
Fr. John J. O'Brien became pastor in 1955. The church at the time was over crowded and an increase to five Sunday masses was necessary. The community of Mill Valley was in need of a parochial school as well as a larger church. It was 18 years before the present Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was built.
The Architecture and its part in Parish Life
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church is, in design and construction, a composite of semi-contemporary and the traditional architecture typical of Mill Valley. It was designed by H. T. Houweling Architecture in Burlingame, California. The building materials for its original construction were all California products.
Its copper covered spire, with the 18-foot gold leaf cross at the top, reaches up 140 feet from sidewalk level, and is a landmark visible for miles away. Yet, the structure itself, with the adjoining Rectory, nestles into the hillside so that it complements rather than dominates the natural beauty of the surrounding landscaping.
Structurally, the exterior walls are of earth color concrete, and extend to a height of 15 feet. The free floating roof extends 12 feet beyond the exterior face.
A dozen columns support the massive, curved laminated beams which sweep upward 60 feet above the nave floor, culminating in a colorful mandala, 24-feet in diameter.
The main entrance area or narthex is constructed of lava rock, surrounding massive redwood doors. Overhead is the faceted glass window depicting Our Lady of Mount Carmel presenting the Scapular to Saint Simon Stock.
To the right is the Parish spiritual-lending library containing spiritual books, tapes and references.
Once inside, a visual blend of texture, color and light intrigues the eye and calms the soul. The 850 seats are created by rows of pews constructed by the Trappist Monks of Oregon, but their placement in the twelve-sided polygonal shape provides that no pew is more than 17 rows from the altar. This large pie-shaped wedge created by the rows of pews is gently sloped from back to front toward the sanctuary to assure an uninterrupted view of the sanctuary for the celebration of the Mass.
The huge vertical columns which divide the dodecagon are finished on the inside as sandblasted shale aggregate with Venetian glass mosaic inserts whose colors move through the spectrum of the rainbow.
The building, as noted by the number of columns, is twelve sided. Here are some layers of meaning. The number twelve will also remind us of the number of tribes of Israel. The chosen people are our ancestors in faith, and the original covenants God made which will be fulfilled in Jesus. The number twelve will also remind us of the twelve disciples, whose faith is the foundation of our Church, as they entered into the new covenant in the blood of Christ. This is expressed in the Book of Revelation when speaks about the foundation of the New Jerusalem: [Rev 21:14] The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This then is Salvation History, the story of peoples’ journey to God. There are twelve months in a year, twelve hours per day and night, which sets us in the context of time. The twelve builds upon the twelve. A further layer has to do with the shape: the square is the symbol for the earth, the circle is the symbol of heaven, and therefore any polygon from five sided to an infinite number is a symbol of transition. The twelve-sided church building which gathers us as a people symbolizes our journey from being merely time-and-space-bound creatures to becoming more and more spiritual people seeking union with God.
On the sanctuary wall is the nine-foot Crucifix which hangs on a pure white dolomite rock wall behind the altars. The Crucifix is an antique and once hung in the original Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. The bases of both altars are made of lava rock and have marble tops of imported Cremo Delicoto.
The main interior lighting consists of six 500 Watt lights, mounted behind the colorful mandala 65 feet above the nave which casts differing hues of colored light on the pews below. Lighting along the walls provides illumination downward to the pews and upward to the ten, five-foot high faceted stained-glass windows which ring the Church just below the roof line.
These ten windows are remarkable for two reasons: the color progression from blue to red and back to blue, through the color spectrum, and because each of the windows represents a part of all the major days and seasons of the liturgical calendar in symbolic form.
To study the windows and appreciate their meaning, one must face away from the altar, toward the main door, and follow around in a clockwise progression as follows:
1) In predominantly blue hues the Angels are seen with trumpets, declaring the Advent in preparation for the coming of the Lord.
2) The next window, in shades of green depicts the Birth of Christ and Epiphany through the representation of the crib of Jesus and the Gifts of the Wise Men. The Epiphany, which means “manifestation of God” is explained in the visit of the three wise men who came to the newborn King bearing gifts.
3) The transition of color to olive and yellow depicts the beginning of the Lenten Season. The palms represent Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.
4) The fourth window depicts Good Friday represented by Veronica's veil which extends over a series of crosses illustrating Christ's suffering while carrying the cross. The cross of the Crucifixion itself is flanked by those of the two thieves. The following two crosses symbolize His descent. There are smaller, faceted stained-glass windows located high along the walls which depict the fourteen Stations of the Cross. During night devotions, subdued exterior backlighting illuminates the windows.
5) The splendid red hues of the next window illustrate the joy of Easter Sunday, the flag of the Resurrection, overlapping the sun of justice. The boldness of the colors depicts the triumph of life over death.
6) This beautiful window shows the feet and lower garment of Christ in the act of His Ascension. The imprints of His feet are left upon the green hillside.
7) Returning to the yellow tones, in this window the Holy Spirit is shown in the form of a dove emitting the seven flames of love, and is symbolic of the Pentecost.
8) Christ the King is symbolized by His crown, scepter and orb, with the background in the yellow of divinity.
9) The triangle of the Trinity is next seen with the eye of God in the middle and flanked by the Chi-Rho symbol (the first two letters in Greek for Christ – X and P)and the dove of the Holy Spirit.
10) The last window depicts the end of the ecclesiastical year, and shows the Angels that will be sent forth with trumpets to greet us.