There are 16 parishes in Marin County. Most Holy Rosary Chapel is not one of them.

On any given Sunday at 9:45 a.m., however, the historic church at the end of a long corridor of eucalyptus trees off busy Highway 101 in San Rafael is packed with local Catholics, many of them registered parishioners of other local parishes who come to Mass here for the exceptional beauty of the church, its gifted homilists, musicians and each other.

“There’s a unique sense of community and fellowship here that I don’t get at any other parish,” Marx Cazanave of Kentfield told Catholic San Francisco after Mass Oct. 13.

“The space itself teaches,” said Michael O’Smith, director of adult faith formation at St. Dominic Parish in San Francisco, referring in part to the chapel’s spectacular stained glass windows and a porcelain-white, bas-relief version of a painting by Italian artist Lorenzo Lotto. The painting depicts St. Dominic receiving the rosary from the Virgin Mary in a vision in 1208.

Most Holy Rosary Chapel is part of St. Vincent School for Boys, which opened in 1855 on 300 acres of land on the banks of San Pablo Bay. Architecturally reminiscent of Hearst Castle, the chapel was dedicated in 1930, replacing the original church lost to fire in 1888.

Originally called the St. Vincent Orphan Asylum of San Francisco following a Gold Rush-era cholera epidemic, St. Vincent School for Boys is the legacy of an Irish pioneer named Timothy Murphy, who deeded the land to the Archbishop of San Francisco. It became distinguished for the care of abused, neglected or traumatized boys.

Today, St. Vincent School for Boys is a residential program of Catholic Charities of San Francisco treating up to 60 boys, ages 7-18. Though the church falls under the auspices of St. Isabella Parish, it does not share its pastor.

In recent years, volunteer celebrants have celebrated the early Sunday Mass, including Spokane Bishop Tom Daly, former campus minister at Marin Catholic High School, and for the last eight years, Msgr. Robert Sheeran, Bishop Daly’s successor at Marin Catholic.

An extraordinary form Mass is also held at the church at 12:15 p.m….

Novato’s Tom Cullen, a retired military pilot, said he and his family discovered Sunday Mass at the Holy Rosary Chapel after moving to California from Massachusetts in 2004.

They belong to Our Lady of Loretto Parish and attend Mass there as well. But he admitted they consider Most Holy Rosary Chapel “their home.”

The homilies, the chapel’s beauty and the after-Mass fellowship outside on the large portico is a “tremendously uplifting experience,” he said.

He acknowledged that some local Marin pastors feel that the Mass at St. Vincent is taking attendance away from their parishes. But he argues that he and others in the community feel “really fed” at the chapel.

The above comes from a Nov. 4 story in Catholic San Francisco.