Conventual Franciscan Presence in the South Bay

The following OLG History was written by Father Peter Mallin OFM CONV.

In the years immediately following the Second World War, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles began a vast building program, erecting and establishing new parishes and schools throughout the four counties of Southern California. Various Religious communities were invited to staff the growing number of high schools. Many of the offers included a neighboring parish as well. In 1956, James Cardinal McIntyre invited the Conventual Franciscans of the Province of St. Bonaventure to consider several developments in the South Bay area. The Minister General, Fr. Vittorio Constantini (+2003), approached the Minister Provincial, Fr. Walter Surak (+1984), in 1957 and asked him to give serious consideration to the invitation. Thus it was that in September of 1957, four friars found themselves staffing the partially built Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, CA; and the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe in nearby Hermosa Beach. Among those early friars were Frs. Joseph Paszek, Guardian, Anselm Romb (+1996, Administrator for the parish), Lawrence Lis and Benedict Zonca. They all lived in the parish house, commuting to school and ministering in the parish. By 1958 the first official pastor was appointed and the high school faculty moved to a temporary residence on Ruby Street near the school. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Friary (1958)

The history of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish goes back to 1920 when it served as a Catechism School and then Mission of St. James Parish in Redondo Beach. The Hispanic population was served by several priests from Mexico who had fled religious persecution, including Bishop Jose de Jesus Manrique y Zarate, the exiled Bishop of Huejutle, and later the Verona (Comboni) Fathers. One of the first to appear in the South Bay was Fr. Jose N. Alba, who began to hold services for the Spanish-speaking in the parish hall of St. James. After Fr. Alba returned to Mexico, the Hispanics were served by two priests named J. J. Torres, the second of whom was injured in a fall from a ladder building a church addition. During the years 1931 through 1933, the community was served by priests who lived outside the South Bay area, including from the Claretian Congregation, Dominguez Seminary, Rancho Dominguez. In those days when cars where not as plentiful as they are today, and before freeways were constructed, it was a long drive from the Dominguez Seminary. None of the Mexican parishioners owned a sedan; the usual vehicle for those who owned them was a pick-up truck. The Mexican people considered it undignified for a priest to ride in a pick-up truck so they prevailed upon a non-Catholic who owned a sedan to bring a priest from Dominguez seminary and take him back after Sunday Mass. The gentleman who did the driving was Mr. Robert Vail, the husband of Francesca Vail, a parishioner who died in 1993 at the age of 95. When at times Mr. Vail was unable to make the journey, a Mr. Hawkins, a Mormon, substituted for him. 

As the Depression set in during the early 1930’s, times were difficult for the struggling Mission Church. Jobs were scarce, and one would often see a young boy or girl on the streets pulling a coaster wagon selling corn tortillas door-to-door. To raise extra money, the parishioners resorted to hold the “penny raffles” at Luis Cervantes’ restaurant on First Place in Hermosa Beach. Each September for many years, there would be an exodus from Guadalupe Mission when entire families would leave for Simi Valley to pick walnuts. They usually returned about the first of December, just in time to start the annual novena in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe which preceded the patronal feast of the Mission on December 12. Since many other parishioners worked for Japanese gardeners, there was never a lack of beautiful flowers in the church.  

At the end of 1933, Fr. Theodore Sanchez arrived at the Mission Church and served for eleven months. He was succeeded by Msgr. Jose Gutierrez from Tepatitlan, State of Jalisco. He was a canon at the Cathedral of Guadalajara at the time he fled Mexico. Being from a wealthy family, he did not hesitate to use his own money to redecorate and beautify the Mission Church. Msgr. Gutierrez was replaced by a Fr. Acadius Hortelano (Summer, 1936-1937) and then by Fr. Fr. C. J. Tolosa (February, 1937-October, 1938). Msgr. Gutierrez returned to the Mission Church in October, 1938 and stayed until November, 1942. 

One note of interest took place at Guadalupe’s “Mother Church.”. On October 25, 1936, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State, visited the South Bay and celebrated Mass at St. James Church. He continued his journey up the California coast where on October 28 he blessed the newly constructed San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It was not his first trip to California. He also came in 1929 and climbed Mt. Conness in Yosemite Park. On March 2, 1939, Cardinal Pacelli was elected Pope and took the name of Pius XII. He reigned until his death in 1958. His cause for sainthood is under serious consideration at this time. 

When the structure that was to become the catechetical center, and later the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was being built, no belfry towered over the building, because there was no thought in the minds of the laborers that it would, in the future, serve them as a church. But once the first Mass was celebrated, the thoughts of many a parishioner turned to a “voice” that would call them to services. They needed a bell and a belfry to house it. The belfry was added to the building and a bell was procured. In 1958, St. James Church in Redondo Beach was razed to make room for a modern structure. The bell removed from the tower of that church was donated to Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Church. This 500 pound bell had a history of its own. It was cast in San Francisco in 1892 and was installed in the first St. James Church which was known in the early days as Dominguez Memorial Chapel. Because an electric carillon was installed in new parish church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the bell was returned to St. James Church. Today this historic bell can be seen in the courtyard of that church. 

The year 1942 began the period of stability for the Guadalupe Mission. From this year onwards, all future priests for the Mission Church came either at the expressed orders of the Archdiocesan Chancery, or, when the Mission was entrusted to religious orders, at the behest of the proper religious authorities. In November, 1942, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles sent one of its own priests as its pastor, named Fr. Cyril Wood (November, 1942-June, 1949). During his tenure at the Mission, Fr. Wood built a small rectory behind and attached to the church building, a hall under the church, had the playground/parking lot asphalted, encircled the Mission property with a wire fence, and installed electric lights outside. He was very active in the spiritual field, bringing many neglected families to the church. After six and half years, Fr. Cyril was replaced by Fr. Cornelio Sierra (June, 1949-May, 1950), and he was followed by Fr. Jose Gargallo (May, 1950-1956). He was followed by Fr. Maximo Villanueva, the last of the Archdiocesan clergy to serve the Mission Church. In April of 1956, James Francis Cardinal McIntyre entrusted the Mission Church to the Comboni Fathers, also known as the Verona Fathers. The priests who served the Mission were Frs. Zelindo A. Marigo, Seraph Meneghello and Gino Donini. 

In the fall of 1957, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles opened Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, CA. The boys section was entrusted to the Conventual Franciscan Fathers. Since no living quarters were available for the teaching friars when the school opened, Cardinal McIntyre asked the Verona Fathers to give up Guadalupe Mission and take another parish in the Archdiocese, thus making living quarters at the Mission for the first four Conventual Franciscans who would teach the freshman class at the high school. And so, besides teaching all day at the school the Franciscans took care of the Mission with Fr. Anselm Romb as administrator, assisted by Frs. Joseph Pasek, Benedict Zonca and Lawrence Lis.

Since the year 1927, when the first Mass was celebrated in the “hall”, Guadalupe Mission served all the Spanish-speaking peoples of the South Bay area. Yet, it always remained a part of St. James Parish though the Mission was able to keep its own registers since the elevated it to the status of a territorial parish. In February 1958, Cardinal McIntyre officially elevated the mission to parish status, and made Fr. Edmund Krolicki as first pastor, with the assistance of Fr. Charles Kozanecki, the first associate. This meant that all Catholics, of whatever nationality, within specified territorial boundaries, would not belong to the new parish. In other words, Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission lost its national status. Two other parishes were formed around St. James Church in the intervening years: American Martyrs Church (1931) in Manhattan Beach on the north and St. Catherine Laboure (1947) to the east. The new parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe was carved out of the territories of these three South Bay parishes. The weekly Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, The Tidings, had this official announcement in its edition of February 14, 1958:

His Eminence, the Most Reverend Archbishop…has decreed that the Mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hermosa Beach be raised to the canonical status of a parish with the following boundaries:

NORTH: 27th Street from the ocean to Gould Lane; easterly on Gould Lane and Redondo Beach Boulevard to Inglewood Avenue;

EAST: Inglewood Avenue from Redondo Beach Boulevard southerly to Dominguez Street (now 190th Street)

SOUTH: Dominguez Street from Inglewood Avenue westerly to Flagler Lane, thence west to the ocean along the south city limits of Hermosa Beach;

WEST: Pacific Ocean.

Overnight, Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission with about 450 to 500 Spanish-speaking families grew into a parish with well over 1,500 families. The pastors of American Martyrs and St. Catherine Laboure parishes gave Fr. Edmund blanket permission to baptize, marry or bury any Mexican or Mexican-American Catholic who lived in their parish boundaries but wished to receive these services at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. The pastor of St. James parish said he would give permission also, but wanted to be notified in each individual care.

Quite understandably, there was a certain amount of apprehension on the part of the Spanish-speaking parishioners that they would be engulfed by the large number of non-Spanish-speaking majority and thus lose their identity. There worst fears were realized when word came from the Archdiocese that the new parish would be called “Our Lady of Divine Love”. After 30 years, the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe was to be discarded. The reason for the change was quite understandable. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles there were numerous churches, chapels and parishes bearing the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Since the principle patroness of the Mexican people is Our Lady of Guadalupe this title was usually considered first for a church or chapel in almost every village and town which contained a large number of Spanish-speaking inhabitants among its citizens. The Archdiocesan authorities felt that the elevation of Guadalupe Mission to a territorial status would provide a good opportunity to eliminate a name so often duplicated in other parts of the Archdiocese. Although the Mission was not formally established as a “parish” until February 1958, the members began to organize in the summer of 1957 in a movement to persuade Cardinal McIntyre to restore the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Hermosa Beach church. This movement, unofficially encouraged by Fr. Anselm Romb, resulted in a formal petition being sent to Cardinal McIntyre, dated September 16, 1957. The letter follows:

His Eminence, James Francis Cardinal McIntyre

1531 West Ninth Street

Los Angeles 14, California

Your Eminence:

For 36 years Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Hermosa Beach has existed as a national church to serve primarily the people from Mexico and of Mexican descent in Hermosa Beach.

We Mexicans of Hermosa Beach have loved our little church dearly from its humble beginnings when it was a refuge for priests fleeing persecution in Mexico. Many of these priests resided in our homes while Mass was celebrated by nothing more than candlelight in what was formerly a stable and was later to become Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

We have the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe over the altar all of this time. It is the name of this church which has inspired many of us to come from distant communities to attend acts of piety and Mass here; it is this name that had led many of us to make our homes here in Hermosa Beach, and to feel that we are, are all, not so far from home. There have been times when many of us have drifted from the church for many reasons and it was only through love of Our Lady of Guadalupe that we have comeback; that we have had our children baptized here; that we had our marriages convalidated. The Virgin of Guadalupe has covered us with her veil; we do not want to be taken from her arms.

Now we have received the news that, after all our years of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, her name is to be removed from the church that is to be built here and we have never imagined it with any other name but that of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our hearts are very sad that this name is to be taken from our church and we cannot help but feel that we would be much more enthusiastic about the new church if the name were the same, but as it is, the enthusiasm of old is gone. We realize that Your Eminence has desire to create an international parish and that you might feel that a name of Mexican origin might repel those of non-Mexican origin, but we assure you that a query among them does not reveal this to be true. 

Most respectfully and with an attitude of loving to your desires, we beseech you to reconsider changing the traditional name of the new parish. Please may it continue to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. A list of signatures is enclosed as an indication of our zeal for this cause.

We have the honor to be, Your Eminence.

The Members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church

A list of hundreds of signatures accompanied the letter. (N.B. There is no other mention independent of this letter that the Mission Church was once used as a stable!)

Cardinal McIntyre graciously acquiesced to the wishes of the parishioners and Our Lady of Guadalupe was back in Hermosa Beach. On September 1, 1957, a petition was sent by the Cardinal to Rome seeking permission to give the parish into the care of the Conventual Franciscans of St. Bonaventure Province, headquartered in Lake Forest, Illinois. This petition was granted by the Holy See on April 16, 1958. A contract was then prepared and signed by the Cardinal and the Franciscan superiors in June of 1958, turning the parish over to the care of the Conventual Franciscans. Meanwhile the “Mission” of Our Lady of Guadalupe was given “Parish” status in February of 1958, and the first Franciscan pastor was appointed, Fr. Edmund Krolicki to take over the reins of the parish from the administrator, Fr. Anselm Romb.

In the summer of 1958 the Archdiocesan authorities provided the Franciscans who taught at Bishop Montgomery High School and administered the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe with living quarters adjoining the high school. The teaching Fathers moved into their new home in the summer of 1958, thereby providing room at the parish rectory for another priest as associate pastor. He was Fr. Charles Kozanecki who came to the parish at the end of August, 1958.

The choice of Fr. Edmund Krolicki as the first pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe was a providential one. Fr. Edmund was an American, born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. But before coming to Hermosa Beach, he had spent almost 18 years of his priesthood working in the Diocese of San Diego, most of the time with the Mexican people. He spoke Spanish fluently, and he understood their culture and their ways. A particular custom to the parish in its Mission days was the serving of breakfast in the little hall below the church after the classes each Sunday. Fr. Edmund encouraged its further practice for he realized that these breakfasts provided a unique opportunity for the “old” parishioners to meet the “new”. These informal gatherings, over good food, were the most effective means of mitigating any racial barriers which might have sprung up in the new parish.

The Mission Church seated less than 200 people, the new parish numbered more than 1,500 families. The first order of the day was to build a new and larger church. Fr. Edmund received permission to have plans drawn up for the new edifice. They were accepted and approved by the Archdiocesan authorities and in September, 1958, the day after Labor Day, the work was begun with the tearing down of the old Mission Church. This must have been a heart-rending sight to some of the old timers. A newspaper photograph of those days depicts Fr. Edmund in the company of Mr. Domingo Moreno and Mr. Albino Gonzales, two of the men who built the original structure 35 years before. They are standing in front of the Mission Church, studying an architect’s sketch of the proposed new church. But neither of the old timers seems to be happy about the whole thing. With the destruction of the old church, something of themselves was coming to an end.

To accommodate the parishioners for Sunday services, Fr. Edmund began to make arrangements in early summer of 1958 to rent a hall, called Clark Stadium, from the city of Hermosa Beach. An interesting historical sidelight is provided here in the attempt of the church to rent Clark Stadium for Sunday Services. A perusal of the South Bay daily paper, the Daily Breeze, shows some interesting headlines for the editions from July 1 through July 16:

“Church Caught in the Middle of Squabble”;

“Board Fuss, Stall Parish”;

“Commissioner defends Clark Stadium Action”;

“Council to Air Church Rental”;

“Catholics Victors in Rental of Hall”;

In trying to rest the hall, Fr. Edmund, the pastor, first approached the Department of Parks and Recreation. The commissioners of this department unanimously refused him the use of the hall. Fr. Edmund then applied to the City Council of Hermosa Beach which as the Daily Breeze of July 3, 1958 put it: “gave short shrift to its Parks and Recreation Commission… as a unanimous decision of the commissioners was overruled.”

But the battle was far from over. And we quote from the Daily Breeze of July 10, 1958: “One segment of the Hermosa Beach official family threw another hunk of fat into the tempestuous city’s fire last night, and a church group is caught in the middle.” First of all the Parks and Recreation Department questioned the validity of the City Council’s action in rejecting their (Parks and Recreation) ruling. Then having been rebuffed by the City Council, the Department instructed its director to charge a maximum of $115.00 a week for one morning’s use of Clark Stadium by the Church. A sum of that size was more than Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish could afford. The Parks and Recreation Department’s decision was an ominous portent of things to come.

And indeed there were fireworks at the City Council meeting of July 15, 1958: “rental of Clark Stadium to a Hermosa Beach church group snapped and crackled to a decision last night after an hour-long session during which the city councilmen overrode the Parks and Recreation Commission vote and set the Sunday morning use of the building for cleaning cost only.” (Daily Breeze, July 15, 1958) During the debate between the councilmen and vocal spectators, one of the commissioners of the Park and Recreation Department claimed “the world is in danger of war because of instances like this.” It was also intimated by the same commissioner that the councilmen were violating the U.S. Constitution stipulations about ‘separation of church and state’. (Daily Breeze, idem). This meeting brought the question of renting Clark Stadium and setting the fee at $35.00 a Sunday for its use to an end after the “City Attorney upheld the council’s right to override commission decisions, and stated that the commissioners were appointed to act in an ‘advisory’ capacity to the Council.” (Daily Breeze, idem).

Arrangements having been finally concluded for the rental of Clark Stadium, Masses were celebrated every Sunday morning at 7,8,9,10,11 and 12 o’clock from September, 1958 until September 20, 1959. Daily Masses were celebrated in the chapel of a converted garage at the rectory then located at 1225 Fifth Street. Later when the rectory was moved to 206 Prospect the two-car garage at the rectory was also converted to a chapel. Baptisms were conferred at these chapels, while marriages and funerals were conducted either at St. James, American Martyrs or St. Catherine’s Churches. The pastors were most gracious in allowing the use of their churches for these services while Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was being constructed. 

Since the site of the new church was on a hill, with the slopes running east and south, tremendous retaining walls had to be built; then the foundations of the church poured. Complicating the situation further, the winter of 1958-59 was a very wet one. Rain delayed the pouring of the concrete retaining walls and the foundations of the church for weeks.

Then tragedy struck. On the evening of January 25, 1959, the pastor, Fr. Edmund Krolicki, suffered a heart attack and died immediately. Fr. Charles Kozenecki, who had arrived only four months previously carried on until the new pastor, Fr. Samuel Bonikowski, arrived in February, 1959. 

While the church building was still under construction, Fr. Samuel was made aware of an oil painting, a replica of the original at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City, which had been donated to the Hermosa Beach Church by the shrine authorities after having been touched to the original mantilla of St. Juan Diego. Plans were immediately made to mount the painting in an appropriate frame and display it in the new church structure when it was completed. The building of the new church went on and though it was not completely finished, the first Mass in the new building was celebrated on Saturday, September 26, 1959. It was a Jubilee Mass, marking the 25th wedding anniversary of Mr. And Mrs. Joseph E. Reyes of Hermosa Beach. Regular church services began the following day, September 27, 1959, and have continued to the present day. 

With the completion of the church, plans were immediately begun for a parish school to be located south of the church on Massey Street. Ground was broken for an eight classroom building in May, 1961. A search for a congregation of teaching nuns to staff the school was under way. The parish was fortunate in obtaining the services of the Carmelite Sisters of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The first superior and principle of the school, Sr. Marie Francesca, arrived with four other Sisters in early September. They were housed in a leased apartment building on the southwest corner of Second Street and Prospect Avenue in Hermosa Beach. Although the school year began in September the school building was not ready for occupancy. Therefore temporary classrooms were set up on a makeshift basis, with grades one, two, three and four holding class in the so-called Coffee Shop, two classes in the body of the church, and the last in the choir loft of the church. The school building was completed after classes began in about four weeks and occupied by the students beginning on October 2.

In conceptualizing the school building and to use the slopes to the south and the east to the best advantage, the architects came up with a plan which envisioned a one-story structure on the western or Massey Street side, and a two-story structure on the playground/parking lot side. The Massey Street side contained two classrooms and the school offices, and the playground/parking lot side had three classrooms on the upper floor and room for three to four more, only the Massey Street classrooms and two on the eastern side were initially put to use, leaving one room available for future expansion. Thus the parish could use the lower part of the eastern side as a parish hall for several years. With the addition of grade six in 1963, grade seven in 1964 and grade eight in 1965, this parish hall grew smaller year by year until it was fully absorbed by the school. Concurrent with the building of the school was the erection of a rectory for the priests on Fifth Street across from the church.

Outdoor Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe

In the summer of 1964 a parishioner, Mrs. Eileen Webb, approached the pastor, Fr. Sam Bonikowski, and inquired about the possibility of donating something to the parish in memory of her late husband. The pastor readily agreed and asked her if she had anything particular in mind. “How about an outdoor shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe?” she replied. The pastor liked the idea but informed her that he would have to make some inquiries as to the cost of the shrine, the statues, stones, etc., and that as soon as he had some concrete information he would get in touch with her. Not long after Fr. Sam spoke to Frank Moreno about Mrs. Webb’s suggestion. Frank enthusiastically supported her idea and told the pastor: “I have a brother, Isaias Moreno, and a brother-in-law, Ignacio Estrada, that do this work. I am sure they could draw up a plan for the shrine and find out what the whole thing would cost.” Further meetings with Isaias Moreno and Ignacio Estrada and Mrs. Webb resulted in the following agreement: Mrs. Webb would pay for the statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego and all the other materials necessary for the erection of the shrine. Isaias and Ignacio would donate their time and labor without any cost to the parish. Here history repeated itself. Where Domingo Moreno, the stonemason and father to Isaias Moreno and father-in-law to Ignacio Estrada, would build his home only after work and on weekends, so also these two labored in building the shrine only after their daily work was finished and on weekends. The shrine was completed and was to be blessed on December 12, the parish patronal feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The day before the blessing, Fr. Sam was checking the shrine with the parish gardener, Ernest Chavez. Mr. Chavez had transplanted some cactus on the sides and the back of the shrine and about a half dozen rose bushes in front. Fr. Sam lamented the fact that no roses were in bloom and Mr. Chavez assured him that he could do something about that. He brought about two dozen roses, inserted them in these little glass vials, watered them and wired them to the rose bushes They were in full bloom the next day, much to the delight of Fr. Sam and the parishioners. The Shrine was blessed that morning. In grateful thanks to the donor of the shrine and to the workers who built it without cost to the parish, a bronze plaque is affixed to the flagstone kneeler at the front of the shrine. The plaque reads: In Memory of Raymond A. Webb, presented by Eileen A. Webb and In Memory of the Y. Estrada and E. Moreno families, presented by Ignacio Estrada and Isaias Moreno. The ‘Hail Mary’ is reproduced in two languages: on the left in Spanish and on the right in English.

Carmelite Sisters

Ever since their arrival at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, the Carmelite Sisters were housed in a leased building on the southwest corner of Second Street and Prospect Avenue, about three blocks from the parish school. It had always been a concern for the parish authorities that this location harbored a certain danger for the sisters who had to cross Prospect Avenue several times during the day. That avenue was a busy thoroughfare and the possibility of accidents to the pedestrian was noticeably increased when rain and fog were present. The ideal location for the Sisters’ convent would have been a site adjacent to the school. Just south of the school were two houses, three bedrooms each, which Fr. Sam tried to purchase. He was able to buy the one closest to the school, but the second house was “not for sale”. Therefore from 1961, the year the Sisters arrived in Hermosa Beach, he had to sign a 12 month lease for the Second Street convent. In 1965 the landlord who owned the convent building insisted on a 24 month lease. Not having been able to purchase the second house near the school, Fr. Sam was forced to sign a two year lease. Barely a month after the signing of the lease, the second house on Massey Street was put up for sale and immediately Massey Street BYE purchased by the parish. The question now arose: should the two houses adjacent to the school be converted into a convent for the Sisters or should they remain in the Second Street convent until the lease ran out in 1967? Fr. Sam sought the advice of a parishioner, William “Bill” Bahner, a house builder. Bill studied the houses, got a friend to draw up some plans for the addition which would link both structures, renovate both houses, and form one convent building. “Father,” Bill said to Fr. Sam. “You get permission from the chancery to have the parishioners do the work. The parish will take out special liability insurance in case any volunteers get hurt. We will also have to pay the State of California the Workman’s Compensation Insurance. I am a licensed contractor and I will take charge of the project. I would like to hire one general worker to help me when I work here during the day. And you could ask the parishioners every Sunday what workers we need.” “Fine Bill,” Fr. Sam answered, “But what will it cost the parish to have you as the contractor?” “I don’t want anything,” Bill Bahner retorted. “I have enough income coming in to take care of my self and my family. Just get the necessary permission and I believe the parishioners and I can save the parish a lot of money.” This was an offer that Fr. Sam felt he could not refuse; he sought and obtained the permission of the Archdiocesan authorities and Bill got all the permits the city and state required. And so Bill and the hired man worked all day on the convent. And each Sunday Fr. Sam would announce at all the Masses: “This week we need carpenters:” the following Sunday; “We need plumbers and electricians;” then later “we need plasterers.” After working hours, the needed parishioners would work under Bill Bahner’s direction. Finally one Sunday, the announcement was made: “We need ladies to get the new convent ready for the Sisters to move in.” Within 42 days the addition to the convent was built, the two houses were completely renovated and the Sisters moved in. To thank Bill Baher and the parishioners who worked on the new convent a barbecue steak dinner was held in the school yard for all who worked on the convent. Seventy men, ten ladies, the Sisters and the priests participated in a savory Spencer steak dinner. 

A few days after the dinner, Fr. Sam asked Bill Bahner if he would inspect the old building on which the parish still had a 22 month lease. “What do you have to do with the old convent?” Bill asked. “Our lease is still binding for the next 22 months, and I thought I would have it fixed up as a two family home and rent it. Otherwise for it to stand vacant would cost the parish a lot of money.” “Father”, Bill said. “Let’s sit on this for a couple of days and I will see that I can do.” Four days passed and Bill Bahner returned with a solution to the problem. “Father”, he said, “you can tear up the lease. It’s no good anymore.” “What do you mean Bill?” Father queried. “Did you get the landlord to cancel the lease?” “No”, Bill answered, “I just bought the old convent building from him. I will fix it up and rent it. And the parish is free of any lease obligations.”

OLG Fellowship Hall

In January, 1970, Fr. Edwin Banach took over the reins of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. With the opening of an eighth grade in 1965, there was no more room in the school buildings for a parish hall. After paying off the existing debt on the parish in 1974, Fr. Edwin immediately sought permission of the Archdiocesan authorities to rectify that lack. Some years earlier the Congregation of Carmelite Sisters which operated the parochial school had suffered a decline in vocations as well as the departure of some of its members. All the sisters who worked in California were called back to Oklahoma and the 1973-1974 school year began with an all lay-faculty headed by principal Patrick Sheehey. 

In studying the parish properties for the purpose of finding a location for the proposed parish hall, the Archdiocesan authorities decided that the best solution would be to raze the Sister’s convent and use that site for the new construction. The hall was opened in 1976. 

From September, 1978 to the summer of 1991, a period of 13 years, Our Lady of Guadalupe parish had six different pastors. Good health, or more correctly, a lack of it, was the motivating factors in many changes. The formation of the new Franciscan California Custody in 1978 saw the arrival of Fr. Ralph Vala as the new spiritual shepherd of the parish. It was only for a short time because in October, 1979, he resigned and turned over the burdens of office to Fr. Ignatius Hinkle (+2004), who had been a teacher at Bishop Montgomery High School for about 17 years and was well known in the area. During his seven years as pastor, Fr. Ignatius was well received by the parishioners but especially by the Spanish speaking segment because he not only spoke their language, but also because he went out of his way to aid all Latinos in the South Bay Area. During his tenure, the first two friars of the Province to have completed their formation since the founding of the Custody and Province were ordained to the priesthood: Frs. Anthony Howard and Ronald Rocky, June 2, 1984 by Timothy Cardinal Manning (+1989), Archbishop of Los Angeles. The celebration coincided with the 50th anniversary of Cardinal Manning’s own ordination. He remarked that the first priests he ordained as a new Bishop thirty-seven years before were Franciscans.  Mrs. Edwina Mackenzie, a survivor of the 1912 Titanic disaster and parishioner died in 1984 at the age of 101. Her funeral Mass was celebrated at OLG church by Fr. Ignatius. On May, 19, 1986, Winnie Barrett, a Secular Franciscan and benefactor of the province, died and was buried from the parish. On September 5, 1991, Virginia Wells, a Secular Franciscan, died and was buried from the parish.

Fr Ignatius volunteered in 1986 to work in the Mexican mission of Tlacoachistlahuaca which is located in the mountains about 235 kilometers from Acapulco to spread the Gospel message to his native brothers and sisters. When Fr. Ignatius went to the Mexican mission, he took the place of Fr. Albert Nitz (+1994), who up to then was the superior of that mission. Fr. Albert was forced to return to the United States for a heart operation in Torrance, CA. After the successful operation he administered the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe until the summer of 1987 and subsequently returned to Mexico to head the newly formed Seminary of Blessed Juan Diego in Acapulco.

In July 1987, saw the return of Fr. Samuel Bonikowski for a second stint as pastor. He was asked to solve some major financial problems facing the school and church. Thanks to the grace of God and to the high price of real estate in those days, he was able to leave the parish 13 months later debt free. He left at the expressed recommendation of his medical authorities.

Fr. Paul Fazio came to the parish as pastor in August of 1988. He remained there for a period of about two years, but health problems did not allow him to exercise the leadership that was needed. Also, during his tenure, the parish and Franciscan community experienced the sudden death of Br. Louis Balint (+1988) from a massive heart attack while at LAX airport. Fr. Alexander Lewis, his pastoral associate, agreed to halt his studies for a Marriage, Family and Child Counseling state license and assume the post of pastor-administrator while a substitute for this office would be proposed and selected. During that period as some of his contemporaries put it, Fr. Alexander “instituted a young adult/youth mass”, sacrificial giving program, works well with the adults and youth, understands the problems affecting the parish school.” (Parish Bulletin, June 17, 1990). 

Fr. Alexander was able to resume his studies when the Ordinary Provincial Chapter in 1991 elected Fr. Gregory Gilroy (+2003) as the new pastor or Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. During his tenure as pastor, the school was able to add more classroom space by building a two-story addition to the school. This addition provided a room for a kindergarten and a combination school library/computer room on the lower room. The transfer of the parish offices to this new addition from the rectory thus gave the friars a completely private residence. The final touch was provided by adding to the front of the addition and to the parish hall the same brick facing that the school had, thus making all three structures look like one continuous building. The interior of the church was also renovated with the altar bring brought down towards the people, and a standing wall being built across the sanctuary to create a Eucharistic adoration chapel.

On January 17, 1994, the parish sustained minor damage from the Northridge Quake which registered 6.7 on the Richter scale. A few statues in the back of the church fell to the floor as well as the tabernacle, which required repair. In the friary, small objects such as books, dishes and other items not securely fastened also fell to the floor. Electricity and phone lines were temporarily put out of service. Otherwise, the church, school and friary escaped the damage that was inflicted upon many others in the Southland. Friars John Heinz and Gerard Villanueva were schedule to travel that morning to Gerard’s new assignment in Reno, NV. Gerard recounts the firs, explosions, and buckled roadways near the 118 Freeway, as well as the smell of natural gas, ammonia and chlorine as they traveled. The journey also saw fallen freeways, landslides, downed power lines, broken glass, and scatter debris in all directions. Since two sections of the elevated I-5 had collapsed, they detoured their way through other towns and made there way back to I-5 near Castaic. 

On September 11, 1994 three Missionaries Guadalupanas del Espiritu Santo Sisters arrived at the parish and took up residence in the parish-owned convent at 244 Prospect. The Sister became in charge of the Hispanic Ministry and the Hispanic Religious Education programs. Their ministry to the parish concluded in June of 2000. Their work for the Spanish community at OLG is continued by Livier Delgado.

In the history of any parish, church organizations have usually played an important part. And so it was in the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission and Parish Church. There were many and varied societies during the years which gave birth to a particular need in the parish, which flourish for a number of years and then succumbed. Two organizations, very active in the life of the Mission Church and later in Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, were the ladies’ and the men’s societies. Both of these societies had as their aims the spiritual benefits the members could acquire, as well as for fellowship and church, and community service. The first of these societies was “La Sociedad de Las Guadalupanas’ of Mission Days.” In 1956, at the reorganization by Fr. Zelindo Marigo, it was renamed “La Sociedad del Altar”. When the Franciscans arrived it became known under Fr. Edmund Krolicki as the “Altar and Rosary Society” and was affiliated with the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women. In 1969 it reverted back to its mission days’ name, though anglicized: “Guadalupe Women’s Society.” During its early days Guadalupe Mission had several men’s societies. Probably the strongest and most active of these was “La Confradia de la Guardia de Honor”. With the passage of years it developed into the most important men’s society in the parish: the Holy Name Society, and was affiliated with the Archdiocesan Holy Name Societies. 

 It is almost impossible to describe adequately of these two organizations, especially so during the 1960’s when the parish structures – the new church, the school, the rectory and the convent – were being built and furnished. In 1961 an electric carillon for the new church was bought and paid for by the Holy Name Society. Not to be outdone the ladies of the Altar and Rosary Society sponsored a Seven-month long Blue Chip Stamp drive with which they brought a nine passenger Chevrolet Station wagon and presented it to the Carmelite Sisters at Christmas, 1961. During a period of about eight years the ladies spent a minimum of about $10,000 in purchasing a complete Christmas crib set for the parish. The crèche, consisting of two-thirds life-size wooden figures carved and tinted in Italy. After purchasing the initial figures of Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus, the ladies kept adding more figures in subsequent years until shepherds, sheep and the Wise Men completed the ensemble. A few years back an inquiry at the statuary company from which the crèche was bought revealed the interesting information that the crib set has at least tripled in price since it was originally procured. Acting in concert both societies worked wonders as the successes of the annual parish fiestas proved. These examples could be multiplied over and over again. The progress the parish has made throughout the years could never have been done without their help. Today, the Guadalupe Women’s Society and the Holy Name Society do not exist in the parish as of 2005. The latter ceased functioning at the end of the 1980’s and the former wrote finis as 1991 drew to a close. The parish continues to be a vibrant organism, giving birth to new organizations to meet its needs. 

In 1989, a Social Outreach, Justice and Peace Ministry began to function in the parish. Its aim was to serve the parish families who sought its help. It started with service to the home-bound and shut-ins. A year later it ministered to the needs of senior parishioners, then service to the bereaved and as a support group to AIDS victims. Hand “N” Hand, another organization began in 1989, initiated its activity by taking care of the food drives for needy families which were held annually at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 1990, both organizations were joined under the latter’s name. Today, Hand “N” Hand’s activities include these other responses to the needs of the parishioner: a monthly food drive for the poor; TLC (Tender, Loving Care) layettes and other necessities for new born babies; periodic clothing drives; visitations of the sick and elderly which also includes the Eucharistic ministry, help in preparing income tax papers, OLG day care and service for senior citizens’ luncheons, and making gifts for the home-bound; immigration information, cooperation with the Archdiocesan office of the Respect of Life Movement. 

The catechism school, started in 1920 by Miss Dewy and Mrs. Gordon McDonald, aided in later years by Mrs. McGarry, Mrs. Alice Newbanks and Mrs. Selina Albachten and by the clergy at St. James Church when no priest was present at Guadalupe Mission, is still in existence today. It has undergone many changes through the years. Before the new parish church and school were built catechism classes for the children were held for a period of two years, 1959-1961, at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance. Each Saturday morning, two buses, hired by the parish, would pick up the children in Hermosa and Redondo Beaches, drive them to the high school and then return them to their homes after class. Even though the parish built its own elementary school in 1961, the catechism school continued to teach the parish children who attended the children grades 1 through 12 attended classes on Saturday or Sunday mornings during the months of October through May. They were taught by the Carmelite Sisters aided by a group of about 35 laymen and women who formed the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD). At the same time about 400 children attended the parish elementary school. The CCD classes continue to this day, in both English and Spanish. The 75 years that have passed since the inception of the first catechism class in a garage have seen many changes in the parish. First of all there was a catechism center, then a mission church, a parish church, a parochial, a parish hall – all have marked the years as they slipped by. 

The Second Vatican Council ushered in a new age with various changes in the liturgy of the church: the use of the vernacular in the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments, standing for the reception of Holy Communion, Holy Communion in the hand and under two species, lay Eucharistic ministers, RCIA, the parish council, the parish finance council, male and female lectors and altar servers – all have contributed to a greater participation of the laity in the liturgy of the church. 

In 1997, Guadalupe’s longest serving pastor, Fr. Gary Klauer was first appointed pastor for his first term by the Ordinary Province Chapter. He was elected to a third term as pastor by the Province Chapter of 2005, which will end in 2010. During this time, the parish continues its service to both the English and Spanish-speaking Catholics in the South Bay, providing the only Spanish language ministry in the Beach Cities. The parish was also assisted by Deacon Scott Palmer, who was ordained in 1999 and served as the Parish Administrator until 2003 when he was called to serve Bishop Edward Clark, the Auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and head of the Our Lady of the Angeles Region. His wife Terri Palmer heads the Religious Education for the parish, including the RCIA and Confirmation classes. 

With the canonical suspension of St. Bonaventure Friary in Torrance, friars working in the South Bay as hospital chaplain and Associate Pastors of local parishes (St. Lawrence and Nativity) took up residence in OLG Friary in 2001. 

In the year 2003, the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated its 75th anniversary. The celebrations included an OLG School All-Class Reunion on Sunday, October 20, a special Memorial Service on November 2nd for all who died while a member of OLG parish, and a special Jubilee Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Sartoris on November 24th. Mrs. Irene Saavedra, a member of the parish since its founding, was a guest of honor.  Naturally, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe that year on December 12th had special solemnity for the parish. Fr. Thomas Czeck, the parochial associate, took a group of parishioners on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico, the following January 20-25, 2004. The parish continued to foster community participation in church life, especially through its fundraising and charitable giving. In the years 1997 to the present (2005), the intake-from the annual parish Fiesta rose from $30,000 to $68,000. Just after its 75th Jubilee, the parish initiated a Capital Campaign to raise funds for further development and renovation of the church and hall. In December, 2004, the parish hall renovation was completed. It was used for the celebration of Fr. Gary’s 30th anniversary of a priest in April and 60th birthday in June of 2005. 

The parish has also seen its share of tragedies and sadness, as the number of funerals it provides will testify. On the morning of October 21, 2003, a despondent young man walked into the church while it was empty and attempted suicide. He died later that day. Fr. Thomas Czek, the associate, conducted an informal re-dedication of the church a few days later. The young man was buried from the Church and the grieving family was consoled by the parish staff.  

Fr. Casimir Cypher, OFM Conv., Franciscan Martyr of Honduras

In the 38 years during which the Conventual Franciscan Friars ministered to the people of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish many friars have served as pastors, many more as associate pastors. One of the latter came to the parish in the spring of 1972. His arrival was noteworthy in that he had what might be called the physical build of a blacksmith, short and stocky. Fr. Casimir Michael Jerome Cypher came not only to serve the parishioners but also to pick as much as he could of the Spanish language; because he planned in the future to work with the poor in the mission fields of Honduras. His stay in the parish was short, about a year and a half, for in the fall of 1973 he was assigned to do missionary work among the poor in the province of Olancho, Honduras.

Here one might be tempted to ask the question: “Why did Fr. Casimir go to the missions?” Leonard Wibberly, a parishioner and a novelist best known for “The Mouse That Roared”, answered this query in an article he wrote for “The Los Angeles Times” on July 28, 1975: “Fr. Casimir, I suppose, could have stayed in Hermosa Beach or some equally comfortable parish for a long time. He was a good priest and well liked on the whole. But he got it into his head that that wasn’t what he had become a priest for; his purpose, he apparently decided, was not to be comfortable but to help the poor. He knew that there were a lot of poor to be helped, and somehow or other he got himself transferred from comfortable Hermosa Beach to not-so-comfortable Honduras.”

About a year after working in the missions, Fr. Casimir fell sick with a burning fever. An insect bite on his hand had become infected. He lost so much weight that his bones protruded. He was sent to the United States for medical treatment. This was his last trip home. Having recovered his health (although not all his weight), Fr. Casimir returned to Honduras to serve the poor. 

Fr. Casimir was killed in June of 1975 after he was mistaken for another priest who was active in the peasant movement and whom the military was seeking. Fr. Casimir was but 35 years old when he was murdered. His short life is best illustrated in a “Remembrance” written by Fr. Ronald Olson, OFM Conv., and is contained in a pamphlet entitled “Somewhere a Seed is Sprouting.” Fr. Ronald relates his meeting Fr. Casimir in 1974 when he had come to the United States for medical treatment. They met for Mass in the Bishop Montgomery chapel. Fr. Ronald writes: “I was struck how frail this otherwise robust farm boy from Wisconsin appeared. The text from the Gospel that day was about the mustard seed. He had finished reading the Gospel he grew more animated, moving about the front of the chapel…and he spoke about how things must die before they can grow. He drew from several experiences from his farm boy days in Medford, Wisconsin…and more recent events from the mission in Honduras. It was a simple but powerful homily, in that he emphasized that ‘little things can grow big if they die first.’ As I reflected on that homily a year later, I thought it was prophetic! He was a little man, who planted much…and then died. Much has grown since.”

Father Casimir Cypher spent less than two years at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. But during that time the parishioners never realized that they were living with a man who was to be martyred for doing God’s handiwork: working with the poor. They can now say: “We lived with a saint!” A Memorial Service remembering the 25th anniversary of Casimir Cypher’s death was celebrated at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, June 26, 2000.

List of OLG Pastors: +Fr. Anselm Romb, Administrator of the OLG Mission (1957); +Fr. Edmund Krolicki, First Pastor of OLG Parish (1958-1959, died in office); +Fr. Samuel Bonikowski, Pastor (1959-1970); +Fr. Edwin Banach, Pastor (1970-1978) +Fr. Ralph Vala, Pastor (1978-1979); +Fr. Ignatius Hinkle, Pastor (1979-86); +Fr. Albert Nitz, Pastor (1986-87); +Fr. Samuel Bonikowski, Pastor (1987-88); Fr. Paul Fazio, Pastor (1988-1990); Fr. Alexander Lewis, Administrator (1990-1991); +Fr. Gregory Gilroy, Pastor (1991-1997); Fr. Gary Klauer, Pastor (1997- 2006), Fr. Raymond Mallett, Pastor (2007-2014), Fr. Joseph Kim, Pastor (2014-2018), Fr. Paul Gawlowski, Pastor (2018 – present)