Newsflash: L.A. parish has Latinos!

First the Los Angeles Times nonchalantly reported the news that Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the largest Catholic community in the nation, would not be asked by the pope to stay on, as is common, after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. In a glorified news brief, no less.

Stories about Mahony’s replacement, Jose Gomez, offered some redemption.

But now we have a trend story suggesting that, aside from the clergy sex abuse scandal, the LAT really has no idea what has been going on in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for quite some time now. Here’s the gist:

His parishioners describe Father Paul Griesgraber as “old school,” a term that is almost laughably open to interpretation, given the 2,000-year history of his particular school, the Roman Catholic Church. In his case, it is used with affection and respect to describe a priest who trusts in the majesty of the Catholic Mass and invests it with deep spirituality — in both English and Spanish.

He is also a priest who brings people streaming through the doors of his church, St. Catherine of Siena in Reseda, a place that, in many ways, reflects the larger Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Once largely white, St. Catherine’s is now mostly Latino. Immigrants have pumped new life into the parish, and Spanish-language Masses draw larger crowds than those in English.

“The church was dead,” Olga Calderone, St. Catherine’s health director, said bluntly of the time before Griesgraber arrived last summer. “Now we are bringing the cultures together. … This is the beauty that Father Paul has brought to our church.”

I encourage you to read the rest, which uses St. Catherine’s story to talk about how one group of parishioners feel about Gomez’s arrival. (He was officially welcome to L.A. yesterday.) These quotes don’t really offer any surprises, but they provide some perspective:

It is hard to say to what extent these views reflect those of all Catholics. The people interviewed were regular churchgoers, outwardly the most faithful of the faithful, and may be more forgiving of the church’s human failings than more casual Catholics.

Still, what emerged repeatedly from their conversations was a passionate belief in the Catholic Church as an institution, immense satisfaction with the stewardship of their local parish, and a slightly more skeptical view of the greater church hierarchy, both locally and in Rome — views that are in line with surveys of Catholics nationally.

“Sometimes I pray to God,” said parishioner Delia Garay, “and say, ‘Why are there so many disappointments with humans?’”

The rest is going to feel a bit pedestrian to any regular observer of religion news, except for Griesgraber’s pentecostal tendencies, which are mentioned but not really discussed in the Catholic context. (I really could have used a lot more there, though at least the lead photo was no longer completely confusing.) It reminds me of that story from last fall in which the LAT discovered megachurches.

No offense to reporter Mitchell Landsberg. Though he whiffed on the aforementioned story about the Vatican seeking a replacement for Mahony, he’s new to the world of religion.

If anything, this story is more a reflection of the parallel demises of a once-great newspaper and the Godbeat itself.

The problem with this story isn’t that it’s old hash for this parish. Apparently, St. Catherine’s resurrection is a recent development. It’s just that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been undergoing a Latino transformation for a few decades now. It has to do with demographics, not Mahony or his successor Gomez. The headline, then, is accurate: “Parish reflects L.A. — and it’s thriving.” But the deckhead left me scratching my head:

Once largely white, St. Catherine of Siena in Reseda is now mostly Latino. Immigrants and a new priest have revitalized the church; members have high hopes for the archdiocese under new leadership.

When was once? Reseda, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, is the most ethnically diverse portion of Los Angeles, with something like 110 languages and dialects being spoken there. This demographic shift took place before I was even born. The same could be said for many parishes across LA County.

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  • Jon in the Nati

    This just in: there are Latinos in LA’s Catholic Churches.


  • dalea

    This is not far from where I live. The demographics have been changing for decades as you note, perhaps the article is referencing the cumulative effect which is only now being noticed. Understanding this involves using statistics which the religion beat reporters seem uniformly unskilled at.

    An interesting story would be to see how the other churches are doing. The local Presbyterian Church had some sort of fair I dropped in on. It appeared that virtually every Presbyterian under 50 was Hispanic and there were a lot of them. I notice the Lutheran Churches here have Spanish language services also. I suspect that part of the story is that Hispanics are joining Protestant churches at a very high rate.

  • c3

    That’s my narrative and I’m STICKIN’ TO IT!

  • Passing By

    I really,really liked the close mention of speaking in tongues with the Mass in Latin (an unknown tongue to most of us). :-)

    But what I want to know is: what is a parish health director? What does she do? Is she a glorified school nurse? A service provider to the poor? More info please.

  • Crimson Wife

    A parish health director is someone who coordinates things like Natural Family Planning classes; a crisis pregnancy center; volunteer transportation of elderly parishioners to medical appointments; volunteer visits to housebound parishioners and those in nursing homes; support groups for those who are dealing with substance abuse, serious illness, grief, etc.; blood and/or bone marrow drives; and so on.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I think much of the problem is that terms like “white” and “Hispanic” are over-broad and obscure more than they reveal.

    The change in Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Orthodox and Jewish congregations differs because of multiple issues.

    One key one that people rarely consider is how congregation membership is determined. Mormons try to do it geographically, but since language is integral to meetings and the congregation and the building are different, in places like the San Fernando Valley there are different Spanish and Engish wards. In fact there has been a Spanish language stake in the San Fernando Valley since 1992. The Church in general tries to avoid drawing stakes on linguistic lines, but it does on occasion. There is a member in my ward here in Michigan who when he was very young his family attended a Spanish-speaking ward in the San Fernando Valley (his parents are from El Salvador and Honduras) but when he was a little older the family deban going to an English-speaking ward. I have known others who story was like that.

    However all wards have boundaries. Sometimes they are a bit iffy, and at times people resist them, but the LDS Church clearly has them.

    The Catholic Church also has clear boundaries. However, since parishes do not have unified services, of late the model of multiple language services in the same building at different times has emerged. While Mormons also do this, since the parish is the building, and peopl go to whichever specific mass they choose, these are two different systems.

    There are also a few other differences. Catholicism does not have strong forms to impose attendance in your parish of residence. I know Catholics who live in the Detroit suburbs who attend church in the heart of Detroit, clearly ignoring the fact that they live in a different parish. There also are National Parishes, as well as parishes of different rites (which are under totally different Dioceses and only share a common leadership at the level of the Pope, at least if I understand the matter correctly).

    As far as I have ever been able to tell Catholicsm allows people to take sacraments outside their assigned parish. In Mormonism you must get a temple recomend through your assigned ward. This is the key to having attedance in assigned wards.

  • Passing By

    Thank you for the info, CW. I’ve been Catholic 23 years and never heard of the position, although most of those functions occur anyway.

    Neither Catholic sacraments nor members are bound to the geographical parish. I didn’t attend my geographic parish until the past 8 years, for various reasons, although I think it would overall be a good thing to re-institute the practice.

    In addition to National Parishes, there are Personal Parishes, notably the Anglican Use, where membership is restricted to certain groups (former Episcopalians, their spouses, and converts, in the case of the AU). However, anyone can go to an AU parish and participate in their life fully, just without registration.

  • Crimson Wife

    Passing by- I’ve never belonged to a parish that had a paid health director, but I’ve heard of larger parishes in the same diocese that did.

    I wouldn’t want a return to the days where Catholics had parishes assigned to them by virtue of where they resided. I do not care at all for the parish that’s 5 minutes away from my house as it’s theologically way too liberal for my tastes. I attend a Tridentine Mass at a church 25 minutes away because it’s a much better match for my beliefs. It also has a strong homeschool support group whereas the parish in my neighborhood promotes enrollment in their own school.

  • John Pack Lambert

    One of the main points of assigning people to attend church where they live is to create a unity of the faith.

    If there is one faith, one Lord and one doctrine, if the teachings of the Church are supposed to point us to God, than there should not be theological variation between parishes.

    It appears that the strong rules of attending the ward where you live are a key to Latter-day Saint theological unity.

    There are other reasons, from General Conference, to the First Presidency Message in the Ensign, to priesthood leadership meetings, but assigning people by where they live, preventing people going to particular places because they are more “conservative” or “liberal” or “progressive” is a key issue.

    Of course, wards do differ in some ways. It is also true that Mormons maintain theological unity by excommuniting theological dissidents more often than in other religions.