Called to surf: Remembering the ‘Surfing Padre’ who transformed California culture

Somehow this slipped off my radar screen, but the man who was a legend among surfers in Southern California died in late April: 

Beloved Rev. Christian Mondor, known for starting the annual Blessing of the Waves in Huntington Beach, died Wednesday just two days before his 93rd birthday, Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church told its families Thursday.

“He loved life to the fullest and the people to whom he ministered, fighting to stay with them until the very end,” Rev. Ryan Thornton of Sts. Simon & Jude said in an e-mail.

Mondor’s Blessing of the Waves attracted thousands the past 10 years. Mondor, known as the “Surfing Padre,” entered the water during the event. The blessings evolved into a multi-faith celebration that recognized the significance of water in life.

“He died with vision of mind and body unabated and with the holy oils of Mother Church still wet upon his forehead,” Thornton said. “His final words were, ‘Keep working.’ He was, from first to last, a Franciscan priest and a man of God. May he rest in peace.”

Another report put his life in context, saying he “forever changed surfing culture”:

Reverend Mondor arrived in the city in the 1960s. He started surfing almost immediately after arriving. When Father Mondor spoke about surfing, it mostly focused on the spiritual side of the sport: “it can be very contemplative. When you’re out alone, between waves, you experience a beautiful calm.”

Soon after learning how to surf Mondor began to bless surfers before they went into the ocean. This evolved into the “Blessing of the Waves,” an annual event that drew thousands of people. The priest would bless the ocean and the surfers in honor of the patron saint of the environment, St. Francis of Assisi. The ceremony would later come to involve spiritual leaders of many different faiths, as a celebration of the commonality of religion in protecting the environment. Father Mondor believed “the ocean can bring people of all faiths together.”

His parish noted on its website: 

There is no one who met him who was not changed by the experience, and so friars in Rome, Bishop Kevin Vann, civic and religious leaders, parishioner after parishioner, even people who had only met Fr. Christian a few times have sent messages to the parish. His outreach has been so extensive that it has been decided to dedicate our new plaza as “Fr. Christian Mondor Plaza.” Fr. Christian brought people together throughout his life, and he brings us together even in his eternal life.

Below is a video report from a few years ago that shows him surfing and attending the “Blessing of the Waves.”

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…

 


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