In 1878, Brother Visitor Justin McMahon, Novice Master for the San Francisco District of the Christian Brothers, realized that the novitiate attached to Saint Joseph's Academy in Oakland did not provide the seclusion desirable for a center of religious formation. A brief search led him to a 70-acre property in the hills of Martinez. It was an ideal site, sufficiently removed from the city proper to offer privacy yet close enough to a railway line to provide access to Oakland and San Francisco. Additionally, the property included fields, orchards and a 12-acre vineyard. In January of 1879, Brother Justin purchased the estate from Mrs. Abigail Bush, and within a few months, the novitiate moved to its new location which was soon christened Villa de la Salle.
The winery's beginnings were modest. For the first few years, the grape harvest was sold, but it wasn't long before one of the frugal Brothers saw a use for the crop that might provide more income for the novitiate. By all accounts, Brother Victorick McDonald approached his first attempt at wine-making as an "experiment." Using a water trough meant for horses (a new one had been purchased at the local store) and a crudely hewn tree limb called a "mule's leg," he and Brother Cecilian O'Connor crushed a portion of the harvest, hoping to produce wine for the Brothers' table. The experiment must have been successful, because records show that in 1886 the Brothers purchased a crusher, hand press, and storage tanks.
Brother Raphael Huber (manager of the winery from 1904 to 1935) recalled that "in 1891, we bought grapes from our neighbors Mr. Babatt and Mr. Frasher and commenced to sell wine for commercial purposes." Although records disagree about the exact date that the winery was founded, it has traditionally been assigned to 1882, the year that De La Salle Institute was incorporated as a legal entity.
Growth was gradual but steady. The Brothers' first commercial efforts involved selling wine to neighbors. When Archbishop Alemany learned of the wine-making venture, he encouraged the Brothers to produce sacramental wines, which they did.
And, as they say, the rest is history. Through the ages many respected Catholic institutions have tried unique and varied means for self support. Here in New Mexico both Christ in the Desert and Our Lady of Guadalupe monastic communities produce a beer they have branded to generate income to support their communities. We cannot ignore the fact that alcohol is a drug. It has served mankind with throughout history in proper context. It has also served as a source of destruction for people, families and property.
The undertaking of The Order of Saint Patrick to obtain a license from the State of New Mexico to operate a medical marijuana dispensary and grow operation under the jurisdiction and control of the New Mexico Department of Health is unique for a religious order. Yet, when we think of our purpose, our mission statement, "to serve mankind" as He has directed us, it is not all that unique and undertaking.
In the coming days we will present new and wonderful reports from major medical centers regarding the potential for this natural pharmaceutical. We do ask for your prayers as we move forward with this project under His guidance. While our purpose, our mission, is not new ground, we are embarking on a new ground with this business venture. It is a venture which will serve mankind in the long run; through the medical marijuana dispensary and the associated veteran's assisted living facility which the dispensary will finance.