The Constantia Church

St. Mary's Chapel--The Constantia Church

St. Mary’s Chapel–The Constantia Church

For years, I’ve driven by this tiny chapel on Highway 395 in the small town of Doyle, Calif. No one was ever there, even on the occasional Sunday morning I passed by.

About a week ago, I decided to go up and see it. The door was locked, and above it a colorful cut glass window of flying doves looked, somehow, a bit out of place.

The front door

The front door

One advantage about living in a small community is it doesn’t take long to find out things. I made a phone call to Viola, the matriarch of Doyle, which is practically a ghost town these days, and before long I had a list of phone numbers.

View of the Doyle Mountains in the background

View of the Doyle Mountains in the background

The next Saturday, I drove over at 9 a.m. to meet Lonney Sharp, who along with his wife Pat, are the caretakers of the church and instrumental in its historical restoration.


Across the road from the church. The sign is pointing toward The Cozy Cottage Cafe, which serves food in downtown Doyle.

Lonney said originally it was known as St. Mary’s Chapel or the Constantia Church and had been on the old ranch for years. The owner of the Constantia Ranch, a man from South Africa, had the chapel built in the late 1800s and for a while a priest from Reno came every three months for mass. The town no longer exists. Constantia is one of those small desert towns that is no longer.

Lonney Sharp

Lonney Sharp

It wasn’t used long, maybe ten years or so, but someone  loved it so much that they brought it over to this site alongside the highway in Doyle where it continues to sit, mostly empty. Pat said it’s been used once for a wedding and once for a funeral. This week’s Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge, “Lost in the Details” inspired me to notice this leaflet from Mary Dixon’s funeral that had been left on the pulpit.

Mary Dixon was the former Doyle schoolteacher.

Mary Dixon was the former Doyle schoolteacher.

Lonney said they hope to finish restoring it one of these days, but everyone who started the project with him has died. He told me the windows are new and have bullet-proof glass because you can never tell when someone will take it in his head to shoot it out. “Desert folk is like that,” he said. “‘specially young boys.”

Still, he and Pat continue to act as stewards of the little church.

A crucifix and some wooden pews are the only furnishings

A crucifix and some wooden pews are the only furnishings


18 thoughts on “The Constantia Church

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Lost In The Details | Flickr Comments

  2. I’ve always wanted to go inside the church. I remember (I think) when it was moved from Constantia. Thanks for letting me have a glimpse through your photos.

  3. There is something very moving about this story… this church that functioned for such a short time, and yet is taken care of, for years after. There’s also beauty in the way it fits into the environment there.

  4. When I was a youngster, we used to get permission from Mr. Gallepi to go on the old ranch property and visit the church. And of course, there are lots of ghost stories about it. I was happy to see it is being taken care of, though I’ll always remember it fondly as a fixture of Constantia.

  5. Ah, love this. Love how you’ve passed it so often – and so many of us do – and then organised things, & then were cheerfully assisted.

    This is a great tale of history, remnants. Wonderful photos, & post.

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