At the 1968 dedication of a Palm Springs church, Bishop Francis Furey noted that it was appropriate the modern building was dedicated to St. Theresa, because “she is a modern saint” (the bishop had attended her 1925 canonization in Rome).
Built for $382,000, St. Theresa’s Church was designed by one of its earliest parishioners: architect William F. Cody. These days, midcentury modernism expert Robert Imber includes the building on all of his Palm Springs Modern Tours itineraries.
“It is one of the most important and iconic pieces of our valley’s architecture. “It’s magnificent from the exterior,” he says, “whether it’s a bright, articulated morning or late afternoon. And once you experience the inside, it completely transforms you. The feeling of it, the lighting of it — it just transposes you to another place.”
Situated on a World War II airfield (an airplane tie-down still exists), St. Theresa’s Parish was originally housed in Torney General Hospital’s chapel, and St. Theresa School held classes in former Army barracks. In 1965, parishioners Bob and Dolores Hope donated money to build a Cody-designed convent.
Surrounded by a curved wall of gunite, the upswept center of the church resembles a pagoda. Glulam-post-and-beam construction supports the roof, and Zonolite concrete covers the sloped areas. Clerestory windows provide abundant sunlight.
Cody also took a hands-on approach with interior features, including stained glass, statues, pews, altars, and baptismal font.
Architect Chris Mills designed a new parish hall (1985), rectory (1988), and school (1991); and architect Ana Escalante converted the convent to a preschool in 2004, preserving Cody’s exterior design.
In addition to its high-profile architects, St. Theresa’s has connections to numerous celebrities. In addition to the Hopes, parishioners have included the Hopes, Loretta Young, and Jane Wyman. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz sent their children to St. Theresa School, and the grandchildren of Lon Chaney and Ike Turner recently graduated. The nationally televised funeral of Sonny Bono took place at St. Theresa’s on Jan. 8, 1998.
Fittingly, Cody’s funeral also took place in the church he designed.
St. Theresa’s 60th Jubilee winter gala takes place March 14 at Palm Springs Air Museum.
Information: (760) 327-4919.