A History of Saint Margaret Mary Parish, Lomita

The Mission Church: 1922-1937

The distance between Harbor City and Wilmington seemed too great, so thought Harbor City residents Mrs. Myerscough and Mrs. Crossfield. The two had met in 1922 at a PTA meeting, and recognized each other from church. In their opinion, the traveling time from their homes to Saints Peter and Paul Church in Wilmington was much too long, and they were determined to do something about that. They decided to petition Bishop John Cantwell if a new church could be built west of Figueroa Street to serve the growing Catholic community. They found other parents who shared the feeling that traveling to Wilmington for Mass, Confession and religious education was too far a journey from their Harbor City homes.

With several dozen signatures collected representing Harbor City Catholics, they made their way to the diocesan headquarters, located at the time on 2nd and Main Streets, across from St. Vibiana Cathedral. While cordial, the bishop denied their request – their petition included too few names. For the time being, their parish church remained Saints Peter and Paul. Respectfully defiant, they kept alive the dream of a new place to worship. In 1925, Bishop Cantwell recommended that the ladies compile another petition, and this time include the nearby city of Lomita to their signature drive. Their list dramatically grew to nearly one hundred names. Their efforts were met with success, as Bishop Cantwell established a mission church to be opened, under the parochial watch of the priests from Saints Peter and Paul Church.

As one hurdle was accomplished, now came the next challenge – where to have Mass? The center of Harbor City social life was the second story of the California Cleaners Building which housed a meeting hall. The building was located on Pacific Coast Highway (then called Anaheim Street). Banquets, wedding receptions and service clubs used the hall regularly. Now the new Catholic mission church wished to be included in the schedule. On a weekly basis, the small group of families would arrive to the hall late Saturday nights following the scheduled dance or banquet, clean the facility and set it up for Sunday Mass. A priest would come from Wilmington each Sunday morning to lead the worship and administer the sacraments. The hall’s restrooms served as the confessionals.

While the Catholics were gathered each Sunday, a small group of “ushers” stood outside the hall. Their ministry of hospitality not only included showing people to their row and collecting the weekly offering. Their service was further defined to stand guard and protect. You see, there was a significant anti-Catholic movement in the area. The thought of the formation of a Catholic community was too much of a threat for some. Death threats and vandalism faced the young community from the beginning. The ushers were called to assure the religious freedom of the mission churchgoers. This anti- Catholic sentiment declined over the next few years as the church established itself as a permanent part of the fabric of the local neighborhood.

In the late 1920’s a small parcel of property was donated by a parishioner on Lomita Boulevard. A small wooden frame church was built at a cost of $4,500.00, surrounded by acres of celery fields. The community finally had a home. The years of make-shift facilities were finally behind them. As Harbor City and Lomita continued to grow in population, membership of the mission church community increased. Community members knew it was time for another meeting with the Bishop.

The Parish is Born

In 1937, now numbering well over one hundred families, the church leaders returned to pay a visit to Bishop Cantwell. Impressed by the growth of this local Catholic community, he agreed to formally establish a new parish with its own resident pastor. He appointed Father Timothy Lynch as the founding pastor, and dedicated the parish to the patronage of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century Visitation nun who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Margaret Mary was canonized a saint in 1920. Father Lynch (like his successors) immediately found a community proud of its young history, its spirit of collaboration and its sense of pride. The challenges and obstacles of their previous twelve years as a mission church formed a bond of families which continues to exist eight decades later.

Parish archives record the first sacraments were administered February 1, 1937. Father Lynch rented a home which became the first rectory at 25311 Cypress Street. The following year, the parish community raised funds to purchase property on 253rd Place near Narbonne Avenue where the church building was moved from Lomita Boulevard. A rectory was then built around the corner, at 25328 Narbonne Avenue.

Father Lynch was succeeded rather quickly by Fathers William Mulvihill (1937-39) and Thomas Barry (1939-45). The unprecedented growth of the entire Catholic Church in Los Angeles saw the need for these priests to serve elsewhere.

The Parish grows under Father Hegarty

The parish’s fourth pastor was Father John Hegarty. Born in County Cork, Ireland, Father Hegarty was only 42 years old when he was appointed pastor. Before St. Margaret Mary, he served three years, coincidentally, as administrator of Saints Peter and Paul Church where he assisted Monsignor Bernardino Schiaparelli, Wilmington’s long-time pastor who oversaw the creation of St. Margaret Mary Parish in 1937. In his three short years serving Wilmington, Fr. Hegarty managed to build a school and a parish hall. Despite his young age, and the fact he had only been ordained a priest for just 15 years, he had hoped to be named the pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish upon Msgr. Schiaparelli’s sudden death in April, 1945.

His transfer to Lomita in July, 1945 came as a surprise, but he accepted the challenge with enthusiasm and grace. In Lomita, Fr. Hegarty found no permanent church, no hall, no school, and no property to grow. He also found a community eager to collaborate – and families who quickly made him feel at home. Their names – Gannon, Hicks, Gardner, Conner, Brandelli, Sandoval, Joosten, Habousch, Butterfield – will be forever remembered as those who led the way for others to form a vibrant and active flock. The post-World War II era saw dramatic increases in population for the Lomita / Harbor City community, which now also included in its boundaries the Catholics of Rolling Hills and southern Torrance. Father Hegarty’s visionary capabilities led him to the realization that a new church must be built.

Father Hegarty’s firm policy about construction was that he would build no facility which incurred a debt on the community. Instead, he was a master of fundraising and would instead lead his parish community to raise the necessary money – in full – before any construction began. He knew that in order to accomplish this, a better organized system of organizations had to be established. He therefore founded the Holy Name Society and Altar Society – organizations for the men and women of the parish. The Holy Name men and the Altar Society women (whom Father Hegarty had ingeniously divided in small neighborhood groups known as guilds) would be the organized vehicle for financial and spiritual growth.

Simply put, what Father Hegarty did was to further solidify the very same principles on which the community was founded twenty years earlier – that this was the people’s church. If the people wanted to erect a new building, it was within their will and determination that it happen. Father Hegarty empowered the community to build on the tradition of its young history, that, with a concentrated effort and a drive to overcome challenges, then all things would possible.

By 1948, he set his eyes on a celery field at the corner of 255th Street and Eshelman Avenue. As he viewed the property, he envisioned a church, school, convent, rectory and parish hall. Yet Father Hegarty needed the assistance of two lay men to broker the deal. These men, James Visceglia and Edwin Sandision, were not parishioners. Mr. Visceglia was Father Hegarty’s friend from his days in Wilmington. In fact, Mr. Sandison wasn’t even Catholic.

Father Hegarty sent a delegation led by Mr. Visceglia to Tucson, Arizona, where the landowner lived to persuade her to sell. Unfortunately, the landowner did not want to sell to the church. In a creative land acquisition, Mr. Visceglia solicited the assistance of his Protestant friend and real estate broker, Mr. Sandison, who purchased the property from the landowner, who in turn sold it to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Father Hegarty quickly dispatched his friend James Visceglia to New Jersey to meet with the provincial of the Daughters of St. John Bosco, an order of Catholic teaching nuns also known as the Salesian Sisters. St. John Bosco was an eighteenth century Italian priest known for his love of children and his dedication to their education and commitment to the Church. It was this kind of dedication which Fr. Hegarty hoped to instill in the young people of the parish. Again, the decision to come to Lomita took a bit of convincing. The sisters were considering two invitations – Saint Margaret Mary, and (again coincidentally) Saints Peter and Paul School. Wilmington offered the sisters a large school and convent already built and “move-in” ready. Lomita’s proposal included no school building and no convent, only a celery field, an energetic community with a dream of building a new campus and a determined pastor to get it done. Father Hegarty did not want his parish to be rejected. So he convinced his friend Mr. Visceglia that he should take a vacation to Italy, and while there, pay a visit to Mother General of the Salesian order. He was granted a meeting and argued that he had never seen a parish with such a vibrant community and committed families. The plan worked. In August, 1950, Father Hegarty personally greeted the eight sisters who arrived at Union Station in Los Angeles to administer and staff his school. Thus began a thirty-six year presence of the Salesian Sisters in the parish community.

In September of 1950 all was ready for the opening of the new school – except for the school itself. Construction was not quite finished and therefore, like the founding of the church itself twenty six years earlier, the students and their teachers had to look for make-shift accommodations until the building was ready. The rectory garage became a classroom. Backyards of parishioners served as an educational space. Even the old church itself housed two classes. The kneelers were the children’s seats and the pews served as their desks. This arrangement lasted for four months. While some could have viewed this auspicious beginning as an omen, Father Hegarty and the sisters turned it into an unforgettable opportunity. Twenty five years later, at the school’s silver anniversary, alumni recounted how those four months were the most memorable in their entire education. The students knew they would forever be remembered as the school pioneers with Father Hegarty as their ever-present pastor and Sister Lydia as their principal. How exciting must have been the official dedication of the school in January of 1951 when Bishop Timothy Manning blessed the structure and declared the school open.

The parish quickly turned its attention to the next project – a new church. To the disappointment of the school children who had established a baseball field on the corner of 255th and Eshelman, construction of a new mission-style church began in 1953. Several designs were considered. Father Hegarty wanted to build a church with the highest capacity of seats. Some were puzzled by his insistence. In fact, when the church was built, the entire parish community could fit inside. But always a visionary, he knew that his small parish would continue to grow and a large edifice would be needed for future generations.

Once again, the new church was to be a reflection of the people it would serve. While the organizations held bazaars, dances and the annual pit barbecue dinner to raise money, Father Hegarty turned to individual families for special requests. He personally asked individual families to donate the stained glass windows, altar, statues, tabernacle, candlesticks, all appointments for the new building. Suffice to say that few families turned him down. In record time, the parish raised the money – an astronomical $200,000 – to construct the church, which was ready for Easter Sunday, 1954.

Stories recount of parishioners overcome with emotion upon entering the new church for the first time. Tears flowed from the faces of hundreds of community members as Father Hegarty led his church to their new home – a church he was quick to point out that they built, not him. The large, 800-seat structure with forty foot ceilings was impressive upon entering (as it continues to be). Built for the pre-Vatican II liturgy, the large wooden altar at the back wall of the sanctuary was crowned by a beautiful tabernacle in the center and flanked with large candlesticks. Behind the altar was a huge red drape which extended high above the altar to the canopy. The red fabric was accented with deep green flooring and light wood furnishings.

Parishioner Bertha Stanford painted two large oil art works depicting St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and the Agony in the Garden, which were hung over the two wooden doors in the sanctuary leading to the sacristy (it was Mrs. Stanford and her husband George who were responsible for photographing the school children’s annual portraits for nearly thirty years). The nave was adorned with dark red Spanish tile flooring, handcrafted Italian Stations of the Cross and seventy pews.

Immediately the guilds were dispatched to set up a calendar to regularly clean and maintain the church and altar flowers. Many of those flowers were donated by the Arroyo family who owned a large farm. A parish choir was founded and altar boys were trained. The old church was moved to the parish grounds, converted to a parish hall and a small kitchen was built by the Holy Name men so that dinners could be held and hot lunches could be prepared for the school children.

Father Hegarty continued his efforts to further build the community spirit of his parishioners. School mothers were encouraged to attend regularly scheduled “Coffee Klatches” held at the beginning of the school day so that moms could socialize with one another. The men of the parish organized work parties for needed improvement projects on the parish grounds. And there were the dances, dinners, social events and bazaars that fundraised for the next project.

A permanent convent was built in 1956, followed by a new rectory in 1960. Finally in 1967 a new parish hall complex was completed. Later that year, the beloved building which served as a one-time church and later hall was torn down. Longtime parishioners still have pieces of wood at their homes taken from the dismantled building as a memory of the old church.

Plagued by failing health and a major stroke in 1967, Father Hegarty’s service to God and Church were coming to an end. In 1970 the parish celebrated the 25th anniversary of his pastorate in the new hall and recounted all his accomplishments. Later that year, he returned to Ireland to visit family and died there in January of 1971. His family buried him there, returning is mortal body to the sacred ground of his Irish homeland.

A Vibrant Vatican II Parish Continues

The parish was slow in ushering changes which came from the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. It is said that Fr. Hegarty was not particularly fond of Mass in the vernacular or other changes which shook Church life following the Council (reluctantly, he did allow Mass in English which began March 27, 1966). These reforms fell into the capable hands of the parish’s fifth pastor, Father Harold Cremins.

A native of Los Angeles, Father Cremins came from a deeply religious family which produced several priests and religious. His two brothers, John and Daniel, were also priests. He was also not a stranger to the parish when he was appointed in 1971. He served as administrator for six months in 1967 while Fr. Hegarty recovered from a stroke. Upon Fr. Hegarty’s return, Fr. Cremins remained as associate pastor.

Father Cremins is remembered as a kind and gentle man. He spent every lunch hour in the school playground visiting with the children. He was a man of few words, and his Sunday homilies rarely lasted longer than five minutes. Yet behind his calm demeanor was an intelligent and excellent administrator.

His first task was to remodel the church building, now nearly twenty years old, so that it adapted to post-Vatican II liturgy. The altar was moved forward and appointments were simplified. He allowed the introduction of guitar-led folk liturgical music. He oversaw the training of new ministers who served as lectors and communion ministers.

It was Father Cremins who officially recognized and empowered the Spanish speaking community to become more involved in parish life. In 1973 he instituted a weekly Spanish Mass and saw to the training of Spanish speaking catechists and ministers.

The parish community, now well over 2500 families, continued to grow in spiritual development. Above all, Father Cremins fostered lay involvement and encouraged lay leadership. Parish coordinators of youth ministry and religious education were hired. He created other opportunities of spiritual life in the parish: Charismatic prayer groups, Marriage Encounter groups, Bible studies, parish missions, and the liturgy committee.

Father Cremins’ style once again fostered the same spirit so evidenced by his predecessors: St. Margaret Mary is a people’s parish. His short pastorate ended upon his retirement in 1978, and soon after resigned from the priesthood. Yet Harold Cremins will long be remembered as a wonderful spiritual father who tirelessly empowered his parish to new levels of involvement and leadership. He died in 1998 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles.

In October of 1978 (the same week the universal Church greeted a new pope, John Paul II) welcomed its sixth pastor, Joseph Sartoris. A native Angeleno, Father Sartoris’ priestly ministry was almost entirely dedicated to parish life. Already a priest for twenty-five years, Father Joe, as he preferred to be called, brought to the parish a wealth of knowledge and experience in the formation of parish life and quickly went to work soon after his arrival.

In 1980, Father Joe led the renovation of the church building. Now nearly twenty-six years old, the worship space was given a brighter color scheme accentuated with new dark wood furnishings. The main altar was reinforced and stained. Sixteen stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ, each donated by a family in the parish, were installed. A new lighting and microphone system replaced the original fixtures. A brilliant mosaic of carrara marble, a donation of the Holy Name Society, was fixed on the back wall of the altar area.

During this time the parish’s liturgical life flourished. Liturgy and Music Directors were added to the growing parish staff so that appropriate resources could be offered. Hundreds of parishioners participated in various liturgical ministries, and new ways to serve were established: greeters, decorators, children’s liturgy of the word team members and sacristans. Several cantors and choirs were trained. In 1984 a new organ was purchased and installed in the choir loft. All levels of sacramental preparation were enhanced with trained lay leadership, classes and programs. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) was instituted in 1982. In the first years of the program, hundreds of people joined our church as converts to the faith. Worship was at the center of the parish’s life as its source and summit.

Parish spiritual formation during the 1980’s and early 1990’s centered on the Parish Renewal Weekend. Established by Father Joe early in his pastorate, parishioners were invited to experience a three-day renewal process. The heart of the weekend renewals was the intimate and open sharing by Father Joe and his lay leadership team, who responded to a series of questions regarding life as a Catholic. In turn, renewal participants shared their responses to the same questions in small group and large group opportunities. This process, mixed with powerful moments of prayer, formed the outline of the weekend. In the course of twelve years, over 60 renewal weekends were held and hundreds of parishioners participated. While the pastor led the experience, the active and honest involvement of the people is what made the weekend powerful and memorable. Lives were literally changed as a result and the long-range impacts of these experiences are still felt today.

Socially, Father Joe empowered a small and dedicated group of parishioners to begin another important weekend, the annual Lomita Fair. Begun in 1982, the Lomita Fair primarily was a fundraising event for the parish and the school. It beckoned to the early years of the parish when bazaars, barbecues and dances were part of the community’s life. Like those early days, the need to raise funds served as the catalyst for community growth and life-long bonding. The Lomita Fair gathered, like today, nearly two thousand parishioner volunteers. In a parish nearing 3,000 families, opportunities like the Fair provided community members to meet each other. Yes, funds were raised, but more importantly friendships were formed.

The life of the parish community soon began to outgrow its facilities. In 1983 and again in 1988, new meetings spaces were constructed. The Saint Joseph Center, with its large meeting room, youth center, storage area and three offices, was built. The convent was completely remodeled and re-established as the Parish Center, moving the parish office out of the rectory. During each construction project, Father Joe consulted with the parish finance committee and the maintenance committee, organizations he founded which continued the tradition of active collaboration between clergy and laity in the physical growth of the parish plant.

In 1986, the Salesian Sisters left the school after more than 35 years of dedicated service. While they would no longer serve the students of St. Margaret Mary School, their impact is still felt to this day. The school’s administration was transferred to a lay staff and faculty.

In 1987, the parish community celebrated its golden anniversary, under the motto “Fifty Years of Faith and Friendship.” The highlight of the year-long celebration was a two week pilgrimage to Europe. One hundred parishioners participated in this memorable journey to Paray-le-Monial, the birthplace of our patroness Margaret Mary Alacoque. Other destinations included Rome and an opportunity to participate in an audience with Pope John Paul II. The fiftieth anniversary invited the community to truly celebrate faith and friendship, extending far beyond the official events marking the year. Above all, the community recognized its parish pioneers, many of whom actively participated in the jubilee celebrations. After decades of growth, the heart of the parish was most evident – that the real pilgrimage was found in the journey of a people joined in Christ, not on a bus through the highways of Europe, but in the hearts of a community connected though a half- century of faith.

In early 1994, the parish rejoiced (and mourned a bit) with the announcement that their long-time pastor was to be ordained a bishop. Bishop Joseph Sartoris was ordained on March 19, 1994 and soon thereafter left the parish. This meant a period of transition. The parish was not used to changes in its pastors (the Hegarty, Cremins and Sartoris pastorates collectively spanned a period of 49 years).

The Parish prepares for the next Millennium

In May of 1994, Monsignor Patrick Thompson was appointed as the parish’s seventh pastor. The parish welcomed Father Pat in July of that year. Upon his arrival, Father Pat brought his remarkable 34 year priestly career to the service of his new flock. A pastor, seminary teacher, college professor and chaplain, Father Pat’s enthusiasm was quickly contagious.

A communicator in at least five languages, and fluent in Spanish, he energetically worked to create a parish environment which welcomed all languages and all peoples. The number of Spanish speaking parishioners was growing dramatically and it was Father Pat’s goal to incorporate all parishioners into one community. This was one parish, not two separate communities divided by language. All parish offerings were to reflect that reality.

An articulate leader with much experience in parish team building, Father Pat immediately undertook the process of developing a five year pastoral plan. This plan outlined, among other initiatives, the need for ongoing spiritual parish development. This was to be the foundation for a new style of faith sharing which was embraced by the parish – small faith communities.

In 1997, as the end of the millennium approached, the parish adopted a new spiritual development process known as Renew 2000. This three-year track was designed to spiritually prepare people for the commemoration of the new century and the two thousand anniversary of Christendom. The key structure was the establishment of small faith groups – intimate and informal settings (without a priest) to share and support one another in the journey of faith. Hundreds of parishioners signed up for the experience, which took place in the fall and winter of each year. The parish community quickly adapted to this new and innovative form of faith sharing. Yet an observer of the parish’s history would not consider that unusual. For the story of St. Margaret Mary Parish has always been a story of a people willing to share with one another, willing to work side by side, willing to joyfully celebrate their one common identity – their faith in God. It is equally no surprise that many parishioners who embraced this sharing of faith continue to do so years later.

Another sign of God’s work among us has been the impact of the permanent deaconate in the life of the parish. The Church restored the role of the permanent deacon following the Second Vatican Council. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles alone, hundreds of men, both married and single, have answered the call to serve as deacons. In 1995, Saint Margaret Mary Parish rejoiced in the ordination of its first deacon – Dick Corwin. Dick was a life-long member of the parish community, was part of the original student body of the school when it opened in 1950, and was an active parishioner along with his wife Judy. Parishioners Craig Siegman (ordained 2000), Rick Soria (2001), Dan Wallace (2006) and Anacleto “Cheto” Mendoza (2013) have also answered God’s call to serve the Church as deacons. The active role and responsibility of these deacons, and their wives, have now become part of the fabric of this parish’s life and another example of God active in the life of the people of this community.

In 2001, the 47-year-old church building underwent a major renovation enhancing its liturgical space. From the generous contribution of hundreds of parish families, the $800,000 project included new interior painting and design, new lighting, new tile floors, a new choir space and side seating. Enhancements included a new baptismal pool, altar, ambo, presider’s chair, and a Eucharistic adoration chapel. The construction lasted only four months, under the direction of long time parishioner and builder Ron Hammerle. From May to August in 2001, the parish moved its liturgical activities to a large white tent erected in the parking lot. What first seemed like a necessary burden actually resulted in a memorable experience as parishioners gathered under the tent each Sunday for a unique worship experience. On the last Sunday of August the community returned home to its newly renovated worship space. In a beautiful ceremony held on October 16, 2001, the feast day of Saint Margaret Mary, the church was finally consecrated by Bishop Sartoris.

The parish celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2007. All parish organizations were invited to mark the commemoration. A highlight was a steak dinner sponsored by the Holy Name and Women’s Societies honoring parish pioneers – members of the parish for fifty years or more. The 70th anniversary gave Fr. Pat the opportunity to fulfill another dream. On Sunday morning October 14, 2007 all scheduled Sunday Masses were cancelled and, instead, only one outdoor liturgy was celebrated that morning at 10am, bringing together the entire parish community all at once. It was a memorable event.

On May 31, 2008 the parish celebrated another first – the priestly ordination of one of its own. Ricky Viveros, a life-long parishioner and St. Margaret Mary School graduate, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In its 71 year history, this marked the first time a life-long parishioner became a priest. The next morning, Fr. Ricky’s First Mass of Thanksgiving at the 9:30am Mass was the best attended liturgy in the parish’s history and the celebration continued all day in Fr. Hegarty Hall.

Fr. Pat continued to faithfully serve as pastor until his retirement in 2010. For sixteen years he vigorously led the parish by determination and example. His energetic love for the parish never slowed down, even when enduring two serious bouts of cancer during his pastorate. In his later years he excelled in his talent as a photographer, and many homes of parishioners today proudly display his works of photographic art.

The Parish reaches 75

In July of 2010 the parish welcomed its eighth pastor, Monsignor Marc Trudeau. A priest for nineteen years, Msgr. Marc came to the parish after six years as Priest Secretary for Cardinal Roger Mahony and was eager to return to parish ministry. The summer of 2010 also marked the first time the parish experienced a complete change in its priests: a new pastor and two new associate pastors arrived simultaneously.

Almost immediately Msgr. Marc assembled a small group of parishioners to begin the preparation of the parish’s 75th anniversary. Similar to Father Pat’s Five-Year Pastoral Plan of 1994, the 75th Anniversary Committee provided Msgr. Marc with a collaborative vision of parish life that far surpassed the marking of a jubilee. Identified were opportunities for parish spiritual development, education, celebrations and improved parish facilities.

Organized by the Parish Facilities Committee, the parish embarked on a project to redevelop the underutilized grass area outside of Fr. Hegarty Hall. The dream was to replace the grass with a new tiled courtyard to enhance the hall. To finance the project, parishioners contributed by purchasing a brick paver inscribed with their family names, or the names of loved ones or parish pioneers. Donations collected far surpassed the necessary budget. The new Sacred Heart Courtyard was dedicated at a parish wine-tasting event in July, 2012 as part of the parish’s year-long 75th anniversary celebration.

The 75th anniversary year included a two week pilgrimage to France and Italy (with an itinerary similar to the 50th anniversary pilgrimage). The 75th year culminated with a parish Jubilee Mass on October 14, 2012 celebrated by Cardinal Mahony, and concelebrated by Msgr. Marc together with Bishop Joe, Fr. Pat, Fr. Ricky and twenty current and former associate pastors.

The celebratory mood quickly turned to grief as the parish mourned the sudden death of former pastor Msgr. Patrick Thompson, who passed away on October 20, 2012, just six days after he was with the parish once more to celebrate 75th anniversary Mass. Funeral Mass was celebrated the following week at the parish together with Fr. Pat’s family, Archbishop Gomez and many concelebrating priests.

In the spring of 2013 the parish learned that Msgr. Marc’s pastorate was to come to a sudden and unexpected end, as he was reassigned to St. John’s Seminary as vice-rector (and the following year, rector). His short three years as pastor were marked with celebrations and accomplishments. He’s remembered as a soft-speaking and diligent leader who empowered the parish to continue on the tradition of active collaboration and service to one another.

Father Paul O’Donnell arrived July 1, 2013 as administrator of the parish and was installed as its ninth pastor of August 28, 2015. His childhood was spent in Illinois and New Jersey before moving to California. A published musician, author and artist, Fr. Paul graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with a degree in fine arts. Ordained a priest in 1993, he spent many years as a missionary serving the Church in Mexico and the Philippines before several assignments in the archdiocese.

Perhaps due to his missionary experience, Father Paul’s first years have been marked with memorable parish journeys. In 2014, 44 parishioners embarked on a pilgrimage to Ireland, led by Fr. Paul and joined by Msgr. Marc and Fr. Ricky. The highlight was a visit to County Cork at the grave of Fr. John Hegarty for prayers, followed by a visit with the Hegarty Family. Of the 44 pilgrims in attendance, 12 parishioners knew and worked with Fr. Hegarty. His family was overwhelmed by the continuing legacy and love that remains of the legendary pastor.

As it had done in the past, the parish sponsored nearly three dozen youth and their chaperones to join Pope Francis for World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland in July, 2016. The parish was represented by its youth in previous World Youth Days, including Denver in 1993 and Madrid in 2011.

Pilgrims also traveled to Italy at the end of 2016 to take part in the Holy Year of Mercy. A special itinerary was personally planned by Fr. Paul to pray, on behalf of all St. Margaret Mary parishioners, at the Italian holy shrines, including the tombs of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Catherine, St. Francis and St. Clare, St. Anthony and St. Dominic.

Now in its 80th year as a parish, the story of the Saint Margaret Mary Community is the story of a people. Begun by two women 95 years ago, the community now numbers close to 4,000 families. This community has been blessed with fine pastors, dedicated associate pastors, tireless sisters and loving deacons. But it is, and always will be, the will and spirit of its congregation that drives the force behind the many good things that happen within this community. As it celebrates eighty years, it can give thanks for the wisdom and perseverance of past members, the loving dedication of its current membership and the bright promise of future generations.

Mike Molina
July, 2017