Location: 2645 Zonal Avenue, East Los Angeles
San Gabriel Region: Deanery 9
In the archdiocese there are 11 sets of clustered parishes, where one priest administers two churches. In East Los Angeles, three neighboring parishes — Our Lady Help of Christians, St. Lucy, and Santa Teresita — have one priest as administrator, a member of the Order of the Pious Schools (or Piarist Fathers).
St. Joseph Calasanz (feast day: Aug. 25) founded the Piarist religious community in Rome in 1617 to serve in education for poor children, and since then the order has spread around the world. In the 1950s several members came to the United States serving at schools and parishes, including (since 1973) Santa Teresita.
That was 50 years after its founding, one of 18 new parishes Bishop John Cantwell established in 1923 in what was then the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego. Pope Pius XI had just beatified St. Therese of Lisieux and two years later proclaimed her “the star of his pontificate.” The “Little Flower of Jesus” would be the third woman named a Doctor of the Church.
Santa Teresita parish actually started as a confraternity center in 1922. Through the efforts of Maude Rice Ibbetson, one of the workers, a site for the church, hall, and rectory was purchased. The church was built in 1926, attended by priests from St. Vibiana Cathedral. Father Augustine O’Dea, from Ireland, was the first pastor, followed in 1933 by Father William McGinley, who later headed five parishes in the fast-growing diocese.
Father Antonio Boquet, a priest from Spain, remodeled the church and built a hall in 1942. Before he died in 1952, the school opened in 1950 staffed by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. Four grades opened that September under the direction of Sister Marguerite Mendoza, principal, and the Dominican Sisters continue to administer the school. (The current principal, Sister Mary Catherine Antczak, is the daughter of former Tidings editor Al Antczak.)
By 1954 the enrollment reached 394 students. The first graduating class of 30 in 1955 received their diplomas from Father Charles Dignam. A native of Minnesota, he served as an associate (1947-52), administrator (1952-59) and pastor (1959-63) at Santa Teresita. For the next two years Msgr. Thomas Aiken, a native Angeleno ordained in 1949, administered the parish, located just a few blocks from L.A. County General Hospital (now called L.A. County/USC Medical Center). Formerly director of insurance for the archdiocese and notary of the Matrimonial Court, he died in 1978 at age 54.
A number of changes occurred during the eight-year pastorate of Father Joseph Lluent, who remodeled the church and made improvements on other parish facilities. A native of Spain, ordained in Barcelona in 1924, Father Lluent first served in Mexico during the religious persecution in that country and later pursued graduate studies in canon law at the Catholic University of America.
During World War II, Father Lluent was a chaplain in Spain and then served for three years at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. He came to California in 1948 assisting at several churches in Orange County and four parishes in the archdiocese. He retired in 1973, two years after St. Lucy’s, a mission of Santa Teresita, became a parish, and died in 1992 at age 92.
Since 1973, members of the Piarist Fathers, dedicated to working with the poor, have served as pastors, administrators ,and in team ministry at Santa Teresita. The first Piarist pastor was Father Raymond Farre, who began his seminary studies in his native Spain but was ordained from St. John’s Seminary in 1953 and taught for several years at Pius X and St. Bernard High Schools. He also served several years in team ministry at the parish, as did Father Manuel Sanahuja, who was also the pastor for several years, and for many years has served in the Office for Worship as Hispanic Liturgy/Ministry coordinator.
Other Piarist priests who have ministered as associates, administrators, or pastors are: Fathers Angelo Torra, John Santillan, Ramon Marti, Albert Foix, and Ramon Novell. The pastor since 2011 has been Father Miguel Mascorro, a native of Mexico ordained in 1996, the local vice provincial for the order and previously, pastor at Santa Teresita (2004-07).
The order also has a local house of formation, Casa Calasanz, named for the order’s founder. Next year the Piarists will mark their 40th anniversary of service to the parish which, in turn, celebrates its 90th year of serving the East L.A. community guided by its beloved patroness — “the Little Flower.”