Nestled between Vermont and Hoover Avenues at 71st Street in South Los Angeles, the white fa√ßade of St. Raphael Church stands out with its Carmelite brown trim and décor. In an often overlooked area of the city, the church is beautiful and spotless; it is a safe haven cared for by St. Raphael’s parishioners. “It is such a privilege to be able to walk with these people,” says Carmelite Father Tracy O’Sullivan, St. Raphael’s pastor for the last 19 years, and part of a long Carmelite tradition at the parish through population and economic changes.“When I celebrate the Eucharist, one of the richest parts for me is looking at the people and knowing their stories — their struggle and their search, the love and the hurt, the brokenness and the healing, all of life working together. Their search for God, their search for finding peace in life, means coming here and pulling it all together in the Eucharist. It is a very powerful experience, just to be with the people.”The Carmelite priests and brothers have a long history in Los Angeles, and have made a solid contribution to the education of its Catholic community through Mount Carmel and Crespi Carmelite High Schools, St. Raphael and St. Jane Frances de Chantal parishes, and at Loyola-Marymount University.“That tradition of education is very rich and we have stayed with the people here in South Central,” says Father Tracy. And that tradition continues with the “Carmelites,” a special program within St. Raphael School, which helps in the development of young lay leadership. These girls and boys (many of them the children of parish adult leaders) meet with Father Tracy each Tuesday morning to develop parish ministry skills — as ushers, greeters, readers, commentators, servers and more — that make a community flourish. One young Carmelite, Dale Roche, says his group can teach people how “to get closer to God” — and he has noticed other students look up to the group. “Little kids want to be Carmelites, too,” says Dale, “and the acolytes have improved so much in learning the parts of the Mass.” It’s not only the young on whom these students make an impression, either. Carmelite Ricardo “Ricky” Guevara says his mother has learned to be the sacristan in the parish. It is also one reason that Barbara Curtis, St. Raphael School principal, is very proud of her teachers, parents and children. For some time she used her energy to make sure that the school could stay afloat in difficult financial times. She was able to help renovate old buildings, and most recently — through the assistance of a newly hired development director, Elva Lopez, and the John and Dorothy Shea Foundation — saw to it that Panaboards, similar to white boards and made by Panavision, were installed in the kindergarten and pre-K rooms. Pre-K is already full for next year and the school is growing. “This school is part of a wonderful community,” says Lopez. “For Father Tracy, Barbara, the faculty, our parent volunteers, this is not just a job. It is a huge part of their lives; they eat, breathe, sleep St. Raphael.” Community is essential in the life of the people, reflected in the great energy in this school and parish. “I want more people to know about what a wonderful place this is,” says Lopez, a graduate of Our Lady of Loretto elementary school and Conaty-Loretto High School. “The work that I do directly impacts human beings more than any other job I have ever had. It makes me feel that I have a mission.”Photos by Sister Nancy Munro, CSJ{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0315/raphael/{/gallery}