St. Monica Church
Location: 725 California Avenue, Santa Monica
Our Lady of the Angels Region: Deanery 13
A remarkable saint, the dedication of Blessed Junípero Serra and --- amazingly --- just six pastorates in 125 years have marked the illustrious history of this vibrant parish near the Pacific.
Either Padre Serra or Father Juan Crespi (records are incolnclusive) celebrated the first Mass in the region on the feast of St. Monica, May 4, 1770. The two springs on the site reminded the explorers of “the tears of Saint Monica,” mother of the once wayward St. Augustine, and thus the region was named (and so too, years later, the city and parish).
Before regular services were offered in the area, many Catholics traveled to one of the missions or to La Placita in downtown L.A. for Mass. By 1877, according to the parish Centennial Chronicle, Father Peter Verdaguer --- traveling by horseback and rail from the Plaza --- was conducting services in the home of Judge J. C. Morgan every other Sunday. Finally, with fundraising efforts of Mrs. Morgan and Mrs. Boehme, a small church was erected in 1883 at Third Street between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue.
In 1886 Bishop Francis Mora named St. Monica a parish, one of four established that year. At the time only seven parishes besides the six early Missions existed in what is today the L.A. Archdiocese, and the city of Los Angeles boasted a population of 18,000. The original area of St. Monica’s now comprises 33 parishes.
Its first pastor was Irish-born Father Patrick Hawe, noted as a builder of several chapels and the Shrine of St. Anne, and chaplain at the Soldiers’ Home in Sawtelle. During his 37-year pastorate, he baptized 2,600 and witnessed 700 marriages. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary opened the Academy of the Holy Names in 1899 and the pastor helped them build a more substantial building in 1900. Father Hawe celebrated his golden jubilee in 1922 with Masses at the parish, the Soldiers’ Home and St. Anne’s Chapel. He died in 1923 at age 76.
His successor, Msgr. Nicholas Conneally of County Galway, Ireland, was ordained in 1907 for Los Angeles, and had distinguished himself as a builder of churches and schools before his 1923 appointment at St. Monica. He built the new church for the parish in 1925, the rectory in 1926 and a grammar school in 1934.
During the Depression years, Msgr. Conneally kept open house for the hungry and destitute, feeding 400 to 500 people each month, and made hundreds of converts. After leading St. Monica’s for 26 years, he died of a heart attack in 1949 at age 69 and was buried near two of his brother priests in Calvary Cemetery.
The first native Angeleno to head the parish, Msgr. Leo Murphy, had previously been pastor at four parishes including Immaculate Conception, Lankershim (today known as St. Charles Borromeo, North Hollywood), where he was assigned just three years after his ordination in 1919. After five years at St. Monica, he served 17 years as pastor of Holy Family, South Pasadena, and died in 1972 at age 81.
The only former parishioner to return as pastor was Msgr. Raymond O’Flaherty, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, who came to L.A. in 1919 and graduated from Loyola High School. He received a doctorate in Sacred Theology in Rome where he was ordained in 1928, and for 16 years served in the Catholic Welfare Bureau and as a member of the Archdiocesan Board of Consultors. He was pastor of Our Lady of Loretto in L.A. for 12 years prior to his 1954 assignment as pastor at St. Monica’s.
During his 24-year pastorate he directed the building of a new convent and new high school unit. Honored by Pope Pius XII as a papal chamberlain and domestic prelate, he was named a Prothonotary Apostolic by Pope Paul VI. Msgr. O’Flaherty died in 1988 at age 86. At his funeral Cardinal Timothy Manning said of him, “He gave his whole life to pastoral charity.”
Msgr. Anthony Duval, from Canada, headed the parish for eight years. One of 21 children, he was ordained in Quebec in 1950 and for 15 years was a teacher and principal at Mater Dei High School, Santa Ana. At St. Monica he led the renovation of the entire parish for its centennial celebration in June 1986, saying the focus was “100 years of faith, not the anniversary of a building.” He died five months later of a heart attack at age 66.
The current pastor, Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, is a native Angeleno who attended St. Alphonsus School, East L.A. Ordained from St. John’s Seminary in 1965, he was associated with the Office of Religious Education for more than 12 years, serving as its director prior to his 1987 appointment to head St. Monica’s. He served as Episcopal Vicar for Our Lady of the Angels Pastoral Region (1999-2001) and in 2005 Pope John Paul II named him a Prothonotary Apostolic.
The major event of his pastorate --- the 1994 Northridge earthquake --- resulted in closing the church for 15 months. When the $5 million restoration was completed the following year, Cardinal Roger Mahony rededicated the church on Holy Thursday, declaring, “We anoint this building with the emphasis on you, God’s holy people.”
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.