A long list of diocesan and (since 1965) Salesian priests have served St. Mary Church in Boyle Heights as pastor and/or administrator since its founding in 1896.
Perhaps none, however, were as involved in the life of the local Church and promoting the cause of its most needy than St. Mary’s longest-serving pastor, Msgr. Thomas O’Dwyer, of County Tipperary, Ireland, who served 23 years as St. Mary’s pastor (1937-60).
Ordained in 1922 for the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego, the former St. Patrick’s College (Thurles) seminarian was just as well-known as a nationally-recognized authority on social and welfare work, having been named (at age 30) to directorship of the Catholic Welfare Bureau by Bishop John Cantwell.
For four decades, in the midst of Southern California’s enormous economic growth, he promoted the essential rights each person enjoys (or should enjoy) in society.
“It is our duty,” he said, addressing the Catholic Industrial Conference in 1930, “to sponsor and support, in every way possible, legislation that will secure for the workman his fundamental right to a living wage, adequate protection against industrial hazards, and an income that will provide properly for old age.”
Msgr. O’Dwyer also spoke out in favor of better housing, health care and labor relations, and he expected the Church to offer its active support. “The Church,” he told the National Conference of Catholic Charities in 1937, “has never accepted and can never accept a status quo, and will be found protesting, as ever, against social and individual injustice, knowing that any wrong done the lowliest creature is a wrong done to Christ himself.”
The recipient of numerous awards and commendations, from religious and civic institutions alike, Msgr. O’Dwyer died in San Diego June 7, 1966 at age 70.
List of pastors
From parish and Tidings archival records, the list of St. Mary’s pastors includes:
—Father Joseph Doyle (1896-1900).
—Father Joseph Barron (1900-10).
—Father Joseph McManus (1910-18).
—Father John Gallagher (1918-19).
—Father Thomas O’Reagan (1919-37), previously a St. Mary’s associate, who in 1937 became pastor of St. Philip the Apostle in Pasadena, serving until his death in 1957.
—Msgr. Thomas O’Dwyer (1937-60).
—Msgr. James Dessert (1960-65), born in Kansas City, Mo., ordained in 1934. He also served as pastor of St. Joseph (Carpinteria), St. Albert the Great (Compton) and Holy Trinity (Atwater), and died in 2001 at age 96.
In 1965, the archdiocese gave administration of St. Mary’s to the care of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
—Father Albert Negri (1965-68).
—Father Charles Farina (1968-71).
—Father Rafael Sanchez (1974-80), of Cordoba, Spain, who also served in the Caribbean and Texas.
—Father Roger Luna (1980-1984), the first California-born pastor (from Highgrove), a former principal of Salesian High School and associate pastor of St. Dominic Savio, Bellflower.
—Father Joseph Farias (1984-1987 and 2002-10), who also served as an associate.
—Father Avelino Lorenzo (1987-96 and administrator, 2010-11), a native of Spain.
—Father Jim Nieblas (1996-2002), raised in Mission San Juan Capistrano parish.
—Father Francisco Mu√±oz (2011-13).
—Father Jesse Montes (2013-present).