St. Anne’s Church was not the first Catholic Church erected in Columbia. The first church was erected in 1852 and was a log frame and canvas structure mounted with a small wooden cross.
Later a new church was built in the City of Columbia on the east side of Gold Street. This building was one of the few that were spared during the disastrous fire of July, 1854. From 1854 to 1855, church activity in the area increased substantially. The Pastor, Fr. Aleric, asked for an assistant and Fr. Daniel Slattery was appointed to fill this post.
Seeing that the Catholic population was increasing dramatically, Fr. Slattery began a drive in July, 1855 for donations to build a new church. It is rumored that five prominent miners of the time donated their rich claims on Kennebec Hill, the site of St. Anne’s Church. Construction began in the summer of 1856. The architect was John Wallace, a young surveyor from England.
It is of interest to note that all of the building materials used in the construction of the church were of local origin. The foundation is from native stone. The brick is from a kiln, the remains of which can still be viewed just off Shaw’s Flat Road. The timber used was obtained from Saw Mill Flat.
The cemetery on the hill below the Church was actually put to use several years prior to the completion of the church. The church was officially opened to services in March, 1856, and Fr. Slattery was the first priest to celebrate Mass. It was not until later that same year (November 2, 1856) that St. Anne’s Church was officially dedicated by Archbishop Alemany from San Francisco.
The bell and belfry were added in 1857. The bell was cast in New York at a cost of $1,500 and was brought around the Horn by ship, then driven from San Francisco to Columbia by wagon.
The magnificent altar paintings were the work of local artist, James Fallon. They were restored in 1955 by a Sacramento artist, John P. Matthew and the paintings were cleaned and touched up in 1995 by Ann Whitehurst.
In 1910, the church was declared unsafe and closed. During this period, it was exposed to the elements, with cows wandering through the pews and in and out of the decaying front and rear doors. Through the efforts of local citizens and the help of the Native Sons and Native Daughters of the Golden West, together with the Knights of Columbus, the church was opened and rededicated on June 15, 1926.
In August, 1947, a spectacular golden cross was placed on St. Anne’s Church, replacing a succession of wooden crosses that could not stand up to the weather. In 1953 a new shingle roof was installed to preserve the church from the elements. On July 22, 1956, St. Anne’s Church celebrated the centennial of its dedication with His Excellency Bishop Joseph T. McGucken presiding at the Centennial Mass. In 1957 the wood floor was replaced.
History does repeat itself and again, in 1974, St. Anne’s Church was declared unsafe, shuttered and closed. The diocese was prepared to give the church to the California State Park System without realizing the local interest in preserving St. Anne’s as a consecrated church.
In August, 1978, under the leadership of Angela Brown, the Save Our St. Anne’s Committee was formed, composed of members of old Columbia and Sonora families, to save St. Anne’s Church and keep it within the community of the church.
Through exhaustive efforts by the Committee, funds were raised for the restoration of the church. This fund raising became an ecumenical endeavor by concerned parishioners, historically conscious members of the community, and friends and families of all faiths. This effort has enabled the community to retain St. Anne’s Church as an active Christian church and a symbol of religious heritage in the Mother Lode.
PHASE I. Work began on the first phase with the construction of a new roof in 1979. Strengthening the original hand-hewn roof beams and fastening the roof truss systems to the brick walls completed this phase in February, 1980.
PHASE II. Connection of the bell tower to the church building and the strengthening of the aged brick walls and interior steel columns began in October, 1980, and were completed on December 8, 1980.
Completion of the second phase made it possible to open the doors of St. Anne’s Church again and Mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve, 1980. On April 26, 1981, the church was rededicated by Bishop (now Cardinal) Roger Mahoney in a Solemn Eucharistic Celebration.
The Save Our St. Anne’s Committee continues to work faithfully to maintain and protect this unique monument through the generosity of visitors and gifts to our Memorial Program. In July of 2006, one grant of the Dondero family has allowed the Committee to replace the roof without further donations from the parishioners.
In November of 2006, Bishop Stephen Blaire presided over a mass celebrating the 150 anniversary of the Church.