A brochure published in 1923 by the states that there were two churches—the Congregational and the Friends—in Ramona at that time and two other congregations—Catholic and Christian Science—were meeting in temporary locations.
The Catholic community was in the latter group and the temporary quarters often were in the homes of its members. A resident priest was not assigned to Ramona until 1947. Services prior to that were “whenever a priest showed up,” according to one member.
But the Catholic community in Ramona claims ties as far back as 1795, when Franciscan Fathers arrived in the area with Spanish soldiers. It was around this time that the priests noticed the outline of the hills visible when entering Ramona from the east end was similar to that of a woman in repose. They named the area Santa Maria de Pamo and the name has stuck as Santa Maria Valley.
“Many Franciscan Fathers served selflessly in the new mission field with its Indians, and later on, white settlements,” according to Judi Putnam, church secretary who wrote a history review of the church in 2007.
Father Andrew Hanley, pastor emeritus of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in San Diego, was the founding pastor of the present parish. The parish family was formed early in 1947, meeting at the until their church was built.
The church building was designed by Frank Hope Jr. Construction began in October 1949 and the community–Catholics and non-Catholics alike–joined together to help in the construction. It was dedicated Sept. 24, 1950, by Bishop Charles Francis Buddy of San Diego as the .
The original adobe building at the corner of E and Fifth streets had a seating capacity of 156, an adequate size for the next 30 years. In 1983, the building was expanded and the number of seats grew to 260.
“But it soon become obvious that this plan had flaws and that use of the land across the street should be used for construction of a new building with parking,” Putnam wrote.
The land across the street from the church had been donated to the parish. Work began on a much larger church building with seating for approximately 500 worshipers. It was dedicated Oct. 7, 1990.
The original church building remains in use today as an educational facility and often for the many fundraising dinners served by members of the congregation and attended by the community at large, especially the annual turkey dinner that has taken place every November for more than 60 years.
“This faith community has grown under the guidance of several bishops, many priests, deacons and religious,” Putnam concluded in her report. “It has been a faith home for thousands of people. It has served the entire community of Ramona and the backcountry through difficult economic times and in times of natural disaster.”
The history of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church was researched at The Pioneer Room in Escondido, Julian Pioneer Museum and the church archives in Ramona, with special thanks to Judi Putnam.