Santa Sophia Catholic Church is within the Diocese of San Diego. Its tower and barrel roof dominate the skyline of the Casa de Oro section of Spring Valley.
The community of Casa de Oro was once part of the expansive land holdings of the Mission San Diego de Alcala — a Franciscan Mission founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1769. In 1846, the Mission lands, and the rest of California, became part of the United States. American farmers began settling in Spring Valley in the 1870s. This area remained rural farmland for many decades until the flood of new residents following World War II. The population of San Diego County exploded during the WWII as soldiers, sailors, and war workers rushed to San Diego as part of the war effort. Many of these new arrivals remained. Within a few years, Santa Sophia Church became part of the steady growth that built up the East County.
Bishop Charles F. Buddy, the first Bishop of San Diego, established the Catholic Community of Santa Sophia on October 10, 1956. This new parish was carved out from the parishes of St. John of the Cross in Lemon Grove, St. Martin of Tours in La Mesa, and Holy Trinity in El Cajon.
Masses were first celebrated in the Kalinoski Family home on Calavo Drive and in the Community Center on Memory Lane in Spring Valley. Soon, Msgr. Daniels commissioned a permanent house of worship for the 150 families under his care along with a rectory for the priests.
With the generous donation of land by the Nasim Fares Family, construction on both the church and rectory began in June, 1957. The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on July 6, 1958.
Bishop Buddy officially dedicated the parish to Holy Wisdom, “Santa Sophia,” Christ, as the Word of God, on May 3, 1959. The title of the parish is an ancient one, going back to Greece in the days of the Roman Empire, and the city of Constantinople (present day Istanbul). In the year 538, on the same spot where Constantine, the first Christian emperor had built a basilica two hundred years earlier, the Emperor Justinian erected a monumental church in honor of “Hagia Sophia,” the Holy Wisdom. The title,”Hagia Sophia” or, “Santa Sophia,” has remained popular in the Greek Orthodox Church. The title is rare for Roman Catholic churches.
Santa Sophia is unique for its central crucifix, the largest indoor crucifix in the United States. The figure of Christ is 12 feet in length and was sculpted in Italy by Roberto Caio. The corpus was carved from a huge block of wood formed from several selected timbers. The cross is 36 feet in height and is also constructed of wood by Henry Weismann. The crucifix gives expression to the fact that Christ is the center and focal point of the church, the People of God, and the One who calls us together.
At the rear of the church, facing the crucifix, is a towering stained-glass window depicting the risen Christ. Parishioner Jerry Smith, his brother, Jim, and son Gary, designed and constructed the stained glass, which they installed in 1988.
A little more than a year after his arrival, Msgr. Verhoeven founded Santa Sophia Academy with the enthusiastic support of Bishop Buddy and the Sisters of the Religious Order of Jesus and Mary. At first, classes were conducted in the church and the rectory. The first school building was opened after Easter in 1960. The school continued to grow over the years.
In July of 1972, Santa Sophia became one of the first parishes in the United States to accept the ministry of a permanent deacon. Bishop Leo T. Maher, ordained Francis De Moor to the order of Permanent Deacon, to serve the faithful at Santa Sophia Parish. Deacon Frank and his family were longtime members of the parish. Deacon Frank served the parish until 1998 (he lived in retirement in the parish area until his death in October, 2000).
Under the care of Msgr. Verhoeven many of the present day committees and organizations were founded. The original rectory housed the Sisters, who served the Academy. A new rectory was built on the southwest end of the campus.
In 1982, two new school buildings housing seven new classrooms were built. At the same time, the original classrooms were completely refurbished and existing space was converted into meeting rooms. In 1983, the parish hall was remodeled into a full-fledged auditorium with a stage, air-conditioning, new restrooms and a full-service kitchen.
In 1985, Santa Sophia established a preschool in a small residential house on the southeast corner of the campus. In 2008, the Academy Preschool moved into larger refurbished buildings next to the Parish Office.
In 1992, due to staffing shortages, the Religious of Jesus and Mary Sisters, left their ministry at Santa Sophia Academy. Since then the Academy has been staffed by dedicated lay educators.
Our Vision 2000 Building Campaign was established in 1998 and for 10 years it provided for the on-going maintenance of the existing campus and the construction of new buildings to meet growing needs.
The interior of the church was completely refurbished, meeting rooms up-dated and all spaces used by the parish for catechetical needs of children and adults were equipped with updated technology.
In April 1999, a new educational facility housing four classrooms was dedicated for use by both Academy and Catechetical Ministry students.
In 2010, after an extensive review of our aging campus, a 3-year Preserving Our Legacy Capital Campaign was offered to our parishioners. The campaign included plans for church, campus and education projects. Our parish families pledged generously and construction is continued as funds become available.
From its founding in 1956, Santa Sophia has grown from a parish of 150 families, to one of over 1600 registered families. The parish continues to serve the community of Casa de Oro and the greater Spring Valley, La Mesa and El Cajon areas.
Our Pastor History
Msgr. Richard R. Daniels was the founding pastor. He was appointed in 1956 and passed away in 1958.
Msgr. John Verhoeven was appointed pastor on June 29, 1958 and suddenly passed away on April 6, 1977.
Msgr. Thomas Prendergast was appointed pastor of Santa Sophia Parish on January 1, 1977. In 1993, Msgr. Prendergast was assigned as pastor of Mission San Diego de Alcala. Msgr. Prendergast passed away on April 14, 2016.
Rev. Michael Ratajczak began his tenure at Santa Sophia on August 1, 1995. In 2003, he was assigned to St. Thomas More parish in Oceanside. Fr. Ratajczak passed away on July 14, 2021.
Rev. Peter M. Escalante came to Santa Sophia in July 2003. He was assigned to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in 2007. In 2015 he was assigned as pastor of Mission San Diego de Alcala, where he served until his retirement on March 1, 2022.
Rev. Peter M. McGuine began his leadership at Santa Sophia in August 2007. In 2013 he was assigned to Our Lady of Grace, El Cajon. In 2022 Fr. McGuine began his role as pastor of Mission San Diego de Alcala.
Rev. Jacob A. Bertrand arrived in August of 2013. He was later assigned to St. Vincent de Paul parish and St. John the Evangelist parish in San Diego. Fr. Bertrand left priestly ministry in 2016.
Rev. Timothy Deutsch served as Administrator at Santa Sophia during late 2014 and early 2015. He was the pastor at Queen of Angels in Alpine until 2021 when he was assigned as pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, Julian, and Santa Ysabel Indian Mission, Santa Ysabel.
Rev. Devdas Masillamony began as pastor of Santa Sophia in 2015. He served as pastor until 2022 and is currently the pastor of St. Therese Parish in San Carlos.
Rev. Corey Tufford began as pastor of Santa Sophia in 2022.