St. Monica Church

Loving disciples in Santa Monica

Even a casual visitor to St. Monica Church can see that its parish mission statement --- “to form loving disciples who will transform the world” --- is alive in its parishioners actively working together, people who clearly love their church and want others to feel that spirit.

“All are welcome” proclaims a sign at the church door, as parishioners are greeted by ministers of hospitality, which is right after they’ve been greeted by parking ministers who work to answer questions and make all feel welcome at this Santa Monica parish.

“It’s like a miniature of the whole church,” smiles Religious Sister of Charity Catherine Ryan, pastoral associate, who has been ministering in the parish for the last 20 years. “We see it in our educational outreach and with the volunteers who take part in outreach. A lot of it is people taking ownership.”

Ministries abound at St. Monica, including eight adult faith communities and ministries for all age groups (teens, young adults, those 35-49, and above). The Parish Council coordinates six ministry councils (administration, adult education and enrichment, community life, pastoral care and social justice, worship and liturgy, and youth education and formation) that oversee all parish organizations and activities that serve approximately 9,000 families and over 16,000 registered individuals.

Sister Ryan oversees several ministry groups and, most recently, Cornerstone for women, a 26-hour retreat program that provides time for reflection, renewal and strengthening of the faith. A core group of previous participants hosts the retreat, attended by about 80-90 parishioners (a Cornerstone retreat program for men is also available).

Cornerstone core group member Linda Guest says that they “keep the flame” and “hold each member of the next Cornerstone group in a prayerful way. We help guide them lovingly; it’s a circle of love that keeps linking.” Adds Sister Ryan: “It’s all about networking and developing leaders.”

The development of lay leaders in a parish takes time. But 125-year-old St. Monica’s has a history of building for the future. In 2007 the parish began a five-year project to raise funds for property expansion and development.

“People really, really come together to help and to build here,” says Renita Lloyd-Smith, capital campaign coordinator. “They have a passion for this parish.”

It helped that Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, pastor, pointed out that when this church was built there were a just few hundred parishioners. “The pastor didn’t build it for the people who were in the parish then,” says Lloyd-Smith. “Msgr. Torgerson said that pastor told his parishioners, ‘One day people are going to sit in these pews and thank us for doing what we are doing today.’”

Parishioner Gretchen Willison, a “capital campaign co-chair” with her husband Bruce, says many have contributed to the nearly completed and very successful campaign. So has her own spirit and sense of future needs.

“Buildings are the physical representation of our spiritual inside,” says Gretchen. “We cannot deny the fact that we need a place. In today’s church the laity is so important. And if you have no place for them to work, or no place for them to gather, if you have no place for them to call community outside the church, which needs to be our special spiritual home, then you miss the boat. We won’t get everything done with this $27 million, but I believe that people will have a stronger belief that is possible and it will be a lot easier to do the rest. I think we will be a stronger community.”

Why does she offer so much time and effort? “It is my personal relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” replies Gretchen. “Jesus said, ‘Go forth and teach all nations.’ I don’t travel around teaching all nations. So this is my gift back to my God, to provide a place for his people to gather and come together. It is my job to do this work. I can’t imagine not building God’s place on earth.”

The parishioners’ enthusiasm to fulfill their mission is clearly nurtured by their pastor.

“St. Monica Parish is a great reflection of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — culturally, ethnically, socio-economically,” says Msgr. Torgerson.  “We are a real mix of a whole variety of folks who come to our community from every part and walk of life. We reflect it in our schools, in our parish and I think we reflect it in our mission: to make loving disciples who will help in some small way to make a difference in this world.

“A key to that is to have a sense that we are family, and as a family we welcome people from every walk of life. We welcome people because we are part of this great body of Christ. So for me it is a great privilege to be a tiny little part of this family and have been able to help people to see value in that.”

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