The sheer size of St. Emydius Parish is almost incomprehensible — 20,000 registered families, and many more not as yet registered. But beyond numbers is the great love that these parishioners have for their church.
Father Rigoberto Rodriguez, the pastor known simply as “Father Rigo,” loves this parish, as evidenced by how his face lights up as parishioners approach him after Mass on Sundays. They line up to wait for just a word with the priest — about a sick child, the need for a job, a single elderly parent who is lonely, a young couple wanting a blessing for a new-born first child.
And he tries to nourish that love in his people.
“The person sitting next to you is Jesus Christ,” he said during a recent Sunday homily. “But sometimes we don’t recognize the good things persons around us do.” He called on his parishioners to be more aware of each other and to assist others. The intercessory prayers that day included the intonation, “Lord, teach us how to love.”
With ten Sunday Masses, the weekends are filled with marriages and baptisms. Every night or day of the week from as many as nine meetings of ministry, prayer and planning groups take place on the parish grounds.
“At this parish there is no time to dawdle,” says Father Rigo with a smile. “There is always something to do. But it must be done with love.
“Our ministries and parish groups work in unity to serve as well as possible the faithful who attend. We also branch out to work collectively with Lynwood City Hall and Plaza Mexico in religious, social, political and cultural events.”
And there is no shortage of committed parishioners to work in those ministries. These adults have been committed to serving their parish for many years.
Trudy Habel, for example, has worked as St. Emydius School secretary since her daughter was in first grade — “a good 40 years,” she smiles. Parish staff members Lydia and Jose Ruiz have been parishioners for 35 years, Martin Gonzalez for 33, receptionist Elsa Lara for 30.
St. Emydius School principal Socorro Mendoza has worked in Catholic education for 29 years, having attended Catholic schools “almost all my life. Catholic education is all I know. Before I was born, my dad picked crops up north and my parents always wanted the six of us children to attend Catholic schools. They instilled the faith in us. Every day I come here, it’s for the children and my parents.”
Adela Saucedo, St. Emydius’s DRE for the past 15 years, oversees classes all day Saturday, and on Sunday leads dismissal for children’s liturgy of the word. Her energy serves her and the parish well, with 1,400 children in the program from pre-K to 8th grade, and another class for special needs children. Many of her 100 catechists have been teaching religious education for 25 years or more.
A parishioner for three decades, Adela also is grateful that her husband Jesus helps to run the program.
“He is always there for me,” she says. “For me it’s my life. I enjoy being part of catechizing of children. They are children of God. I see God through children. And I love to serve others. I see all of that in these children.”
St. Emydius Church
Location: 10900 California Avenue, Lynwood
San Pedro Region: Deanery 17
This Lynwood parish is named for the fourth-century bishop of Ascoli Piceno, Italy, who was beheaded in 303 during the persecution under Diocletian (the last, largest and bloodiest period of the Roman Empire).
St. Emydius is one of five patrons of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and known for his intercession against earthquakes, after the city he had served was saved during a violent quake in 1703 and left intact. Prayers to him continued and spread to California, where the early padres prayed for protection against quakes. Patronage was invoked by Bishop Thaddeus Amat after the 1857 Great Fort Tejon earthquake that registered 8.25. (For more on the patrons of Los Angeles, see page 15.)
The city in which the parish in St. Emydius’ name was built originally was called Rancho San Antonio, which in 1810 comprised a tract of land of 29,514 acres. After family subdivisions and land transfers, businessman C.H. Sessions in 1902 acquired about 400 acres, opened a dairy and creamery, and named the latter for his wife, whose maiden name was Lynne Wood. Later the Pacific Electric Railway assigned the name Lynwood to the depot at Long Beach Boulevard and Fernwood Avenue. The city was incorporated in 1921, just four years before the establishment of St. Emydius parish.
Early records list Father J.T. Torsney as building a church to honor the saint and Father (later Msgr.) William O’Donnell as the first pastor in 1926. A 1971 Tidings article about Msgr. O’Donnell included memories of his first pastorate: “In those days Lynwood had only 30 Catholic families and St. Emydius had a $30,000 parish debt. We used to hold two parish dinners every month to meet the $150-a-month interest on our debt.”
Those were also the days of the Ku Klux Klan, and Father O’Donnell was a leader in the campaign to restore reason and tolerance in the community. The Irish-born priest, who led four other parishes, died in 1977 at age 81 after serving for 56 years in the archdiocese.
From 1928 to 1941, five pastors served short terms. Then in 1941, as the U.S. entered World War II, Father Charles J. O’Carroll from County Leix, Ireland, began his 16-year pastorate and built a complete parish plant: auditorium-church, 16-classroom school, convent and rectory.
In 1949 the new church and school were finished, replacing the original structure several blocks away. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange staffed the school, and soon Father O’Carroll was planning another new church that would accommodate 1,200. Before completion, however, the 55-year-old pastor died of a heart attack in October 1957.
His successor, Father Patrick J. McGuinness, from County Roscommon, headed St. Emydius for 13 years and completed the new church that Cardinal James Francis McIntyre blessed in December 1958. Father McGuinness, named a monsignor in 1961, also died of a heart attack in 1970 at age 67.
The line of Irish pastors continued with Msgr. Michael McNulty from County Mayo. Previously pastor of St. Linus, Norwalk, he spent four years at St. Emydius, and then was pastor of St. Anthony, El Segundo (1974-83). He died in 1984 at age 68.
Father Donal O’Connor from County Cork served for 24 years during a time of tremendous changes at St. Emydius. Seeing the need to serve the growing Hispanic community, he added seven Masses in Spanish, a religious education program and celebrated numerous quinceaneras for the growing population. He now lives privately in Arizona.
A native of Fremont, Nebraska, Father Dennis O’Neil graduated from Loyola High School and Loyola University, and was ordained in 1966 from St. John’s Seminary. Named a monsignor in 1995, the former pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle, L.A., headed St. Emydius for three years, then in 2001 was appointed auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of San Bernardino. Just two years later, he died at age 63.
For ten years Msgr. Emigdio Herrera, a native of Michoacan, Mexico, led the parish and in November 2005 welcomed Cardinal Roger Mahony in dedicating the renovated church. “I feel really proud for the people,” he declared. “We had no big donors, so this is truly their own church.”
Msgr. Herrera, now pastor of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, was succeeded in 2011 by Father Rigoberto Rodriguez, also from Michoacan. Ordained in 1989 from St. John’s, the former pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Hammel Street) oversees a parish that now has 20,000 registered families — one of the largest in the archdiocese and, to this point, relatively unaffected by the region’s earthquakes. St. Emydius, it would seem, is on the job.
BY HERMINE LEES - STAFF WRITER