St. Martha Church
St. Martha Church
Location: 444 North Azusa Avenue, Valinda
San Gabriel Region: Deanery 12
“I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Those are the words of St. Martha as recorded in St. John’s Gospel (11: 19-27), which also notes that “Martha served” (12: 2). Thus is this holy woman the patron saint of servants and cooks (her feast day: July 29).
Two parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are named for St. Martha, one in Huntington Park and one in Valinda, formerly part of La Puente, a name originated at the time of the explorer Don Gaspar de Portola in 1769. He erected a bridge of poles so his party could cross the San Jose creek --- “Llana de la Puente.”
The area was then mainly farming land; some 200 years later there were still many farm laborers when Father John McNamara of Worcester, Mass., was appointed the founding pastor at St. Martha Parish. He had just completed a three-year pastorate at St. Joseph in Carpinteria and found in his new assignment that St. Martha’s had been a daughter parish of St. Joseph’s in La Puente.
No records remain on why the parish was named St. Martha, only that the property would include Pass and Covina Road near Temple Avenue, south of Wing Lane. The first Masses were celebrated at neighboring St. Joseph’s.
In 1959 Father McNamara celebrated Christmas Mass in the school hall and the new temporary church opened on Palm Sunday in 1960. Sisters of the Love of God, a Spanish community, opened the school with four grades while the religious education program involved more than 1,500 children.
During his 23 years as pastor, Msgr. McNamara (elevated as Prelate of Honor in 1980) made many improvements in the parish without going into debt. Many parishioners experienced the Cursillo Movement, Marriage Encounter and the Christian Family Movement during his pastorate. He resided there for five years after retiring as pastor emeritus and died at 85 in 1991.
Succeeding him was Father Juan Romero, a native of Taos, New Mexico, who served as pastor for three years and then administrator for a short time. He is now retired after working in Hispanic ministry in Texas and Spain besides his pastoral ministry in the archdiocese for many years.
During his 11-year term as pastor, Msgr. William Leser, a native of Ohio ordained from St. John’s Seminary in 1963, “learned to speak Spanish very well,” he told The Tidings. “And on the feast day of the saint I always treated the cooks in her honor.”
Named a Prelate of His Holiness in 1992, he is also a Chor-Bishop of the Maronite Eparchy. Besides his 44 years of pastoral work, Msgr. Leser also served on the Marriage Tribunal for the archdiocese and on the Maronite Tribunal. In 1995 he was named pastor at St. Jude Church, Westlake Village, retiring in 2007; he continues helping in several parishes as needed, both here and out of state.
Father William Easterling, a native of Whittier ordained from St. John’s in 1982, served 12 years at St. Martha (1996-2008), his first pastorate. In September 1996 Cardinal Roger Mahony presided at the dedication of the new worship space for the church, and in December further renovation resulted in a liturgically updated worshipping space. New devotional grotto areas enclose shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Jude.
Father Easterling, fluent in Spanish and capable of reading Tagalog, praised the liturgical committee in overseeing liturgy “as most central to us as Catholic Christians --- a spiritual process that works for the glory of God and the common good of the parish.” He is now the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in nearby Covina.
The current pastor, 56-year-old Father Mauricio Goloran, was ordained in the Diocese of Tagum in the Philippines and incardinated for the L.A. Archdiocese in 2007. From 1999 to 2008 he served as associate pastor at St. Martha, was named administrator in 2008 and then pastor in 2010. He is the fifth pastor to head a parish that is now predominantly Hispanic and Filipino --- and still dedicated to Martha, “who served.”
Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.