“The devotion of the people is exemplified in their fervor and great love for Our Lord and his Blessed Mother,” says Canons Regular Father Charles Lueras, parish administrator. “And I love the people because of their love — the simplicity, their kindness. The Masses are family oriented. And the people bend over backwards to help you. For the fiesta everyone chips in to make it happen.” “And,” he adds, “we do everything possible to help them. They are very sensitive to kindness. Just say ‘Gracias,’ and the people are just so grateful.”Longevity in the community stands out as well. Gary Lopez, a third generation parishioner, says that his grandfather was just a small baby when his great-grandmother “put two cents in the admission box” and carried him over the bridge connecting Mexico to El Paso. In the 1940s his grandfather met his grandmother in Santa Paula. “This is home,” says Gary of the church where he serves as administrative assistant. “I am here sometimes seven days a week. And I enjoy it. I was born and reared here. This is my home and I love it. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I’d come back to this position.”He looks around inside the church and gestures toward the walls, the pews, the altar. He loves the work and he loves the people. “Your feet hurt sometimes but you don’t even notice it,” he says with a smile. “You just say, ‘Next.’” Over the years Gary has taught the pre-baptismal program, the quinceanera program and is part of the RCIA team. “I had to give up the baptismal class, but I do some of the Spanish classes and wedding rehearsals.” He points to the church and says, “This is my wife. This is my home. My esposa.”  For a period of ten years when he was younger Gary did leave Santa Paula, and had a higher-paying job, but he came back. “This is home,” reiterates the former parish altar boy. “My grandparents were married here and buried here. My parents were baptized and married here. I received all my sacraments here. My vocation as a religious education teacher started here, my work for the church started here. And I’ve never really left.”This sense of home is echoed in the life of Eliseo Yzaguirre. He remembers going down to the creek as young child and carrying large rocks and stones back to the church site, as the men of the parish built the church by hand from mortar, cement and stone. Eliseo met his future wife Catalina (who still sings in the parish choir) while he was in the armed services, and they and their 11 children have lived in Santa Paula ever since. Now in his 80s, the retired fireman, whose grandfather lived in Santa Paula, says that his days “are all still for the church. My grandmother on my dad’s side, my aunts, they all worked at the church until they passed away. And my dad was always here with the Holy Name Society,” says Eliseo, who is a member as well. “Sunday was nothing else but church for us,” he says. “I haven’t been able to get away from it and I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t be happier going somewhere else.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0603/guadalupe/{/gallery}