Known as “Father John” to family and friends, Msgr. John Anthony Fosselman was a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for 74 years. He devoted his life to God, and served as an example of how to live a life filled with piety, humility and charity before he died April 24. He was 99.
Born June 11, 1916, in Waverly, Iowa, to parents Christian Anthony Fosselman and Elizabeth “Betty” Green Fosselman, Msgr. Fosselman was the second child and first son of eight siblings born into the Fosselman family. When he was 8, the Fosselmans moved to Pasadena, California.
“From the time Father John was a little boy he knew he wanted to be a priest,” said Carol Gaglio, Msgr. Fosselman’s sister.
Due to his strong desire to be a priest he entered what was then known as the junior seminary, which was a high school connected to a seminary. Since St. John’s Seminary was not yet complete, he began seminary at St. Patrick’s in Menlo Park.
Msgr. Fosselman almost had to drop out of seminary due to an unexplained illness until a doctor discovered a cure. Fortunately, he was able to return home to Southern California to attend St. John’s Seminary when it was completed in 1939, and was among the first students to finish their studies there. On April 22, 1942, he was ordained in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as a diocesan priest.
Msgr. Fosselman ministered as associate pastor at Santa Isabel Parish in Los Angeles, Santa Clara Parish in Oxnard and as pastor for 33 years at Assumption Parish in Los Angeles, where he was known as “Padre Juanito” and revered by his beloved Hispanic parishioners.
“Many of his parishioners remarked that he was a living saint,” said Msgr. John Moretta, pastor at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.
Msgr. Fosselman had a great love for the Hispanic community that he served. He also had a great love for his own large extended family. Whenever he had time off from saying Mass, anointing the sick or celebrating a wedding or baptism, he spent time with family.
“I will always remember Father John taking time to join the family in holiday celebrations, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July and, most importantly, weddings. His warm accepting social grace made it easy to talk to him. There is no doubt that he exemplified true Christian values every day of his life,” said his nephew Tom Jordan.
Msgr. Fosselman’s sister-in-law Claudia Fosselman-Kelly recalls him coming to family dinners whenever he could despite his busy life as a priest.
“Father John always wanted to see us and our children. He wanted to be a part of our lives,” she said.
Upon his retirement, Msgr. Fosselman became a chaplain at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey, where he ministered to the sick from 1990 to 2002. During that time, he resided at St. Raymond’s Church, where he befriended Father Steve Davoren, who was then a newly ordained priest.
“He made a big impact on me just getting out of the seminary. He was deeply rooted in Christ. I think he wore out the rug in the church where he would pray. He helped me with encouragement. He always had something positive to say. I really loved the man,” said Father Davoren.
Not only was Msgr. Fosselman deeply contemplative, he was a man of few possessions. He had two pictures in his room at Nazareth House, a nursing home for retired clergy and religious, where he resided since 2002 — one of his sister, Sister Philippa Fosselman, and another of his mother. Nothing else decorated the room.
Msgr. Fosselman left few possessions behind, but did leave a lasting example of how to lead a Christian life, according to his loved ones. He had a continuous smile that was inspiring, helping to heal those he served.
“He was always willing to help anyone who came to him. He was always compassionate and truly saw his priestly role as one of servant to God’s people. He even spent part of his days off to visit sick parishioners who were in the hospital,” said Carol Gaglio, his sister.
Msgr. Fosselman was preceded in death by his father, Christian Anthony Fosselman, his mother Elizabeth Fosselman and siblings Mary Fosselman, Jim Fosselman, Bill Fosselman, Sister Philippa (Josephine) Fosselman, Francis Robert Fosselman and Philip Fosselman. He is survived by his sister Carol Gaglio, brother-in-law John Gaglio, sisters-in-law Mary Fosselman and Claudia Fosselman-Kelly, and numerous nieces and nephews.
A funeral Mass for Msgr. Fosselman was concelebrated by Archbishop José H. Gomez and many other clergy at Assumption Church in Los Angeles. Condolences can be sent to: Mrs. Carol Gaglio, 15335 Flagstaff, La Puente, CA 91744.
Editor’s note: Julie Schnieders is Msgr. Fosselman’s niece.