St. Bernadette was the last parish established by Archbishop John Cantwell before he died Oct. 30, 1947 and the first church that Archbishop James Francis McIntyre dedicated in 1948.
And it is the only L.A. parish named for Marie Bernarde "Bernadette" Soubirous, the French peasant girl who, in 1858, witnessed appearances of the Blessed Mother 18 times and heard Mary’s announcement to her that “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Pope Pius XI declared Bernadette a saint in 1933; her feast day is April 16.
The famous shrine at Lourdes now attracts more than five million pilgrims and tourists from around the world every year. Although thousands of cures of all kinds have been noted, the recent official number is 69 for those certified by experts as miracles.
The central L.A. church that bears her name can also claim a long heritage. The first temporary church was the remodeled Sunset Fields Golf Club, located on three-and-a-half acres that were once part of Rancho La Cienega O’Paso De Boca La Tijera. (Two old adobes that were used as a rectory date back to 1790.)
In 1875 the ownership of the rancho passed to entrepreneur “Lucky” Baldwin (the area was later known as Baldwin Hills). The Archdiocesan Directory of 1948 lists the parish’s address as 3701 Stocker Street in Sunset Fields. By 1954 the listing was 3725 Don Felipe Dr. (zip code: 8; phone designation: AXminster).
In this post-World War II period, the parish that started with 147 families rapidly grew as the surrounding vacant land was subdivided and new homes appeared. The founding pastor, Father William Duggan, oversaw construction of the church, hall, rectory and school that opened in 1955 with kindergarten and grades 1-6. The St. Joseph of Carondelet Sisters headed the school and the first graduation took place in 1958. (The Sisters later withdrew from the school in 1974.)
Father Duggan, a native of New York but ordained in Ireland, had just finished serving a ten-year assignment as director of the Propagation of the Faith Society in the archdiocese when he came to St. Bernadette’s. Before his death (at age 62 on May 10, 1968), he wrote in a letter to his parishioners: “Now that I have come through the wondrous grace of God, to the twilight of my life here on this earth, my heart is filled with the most profound gratitude, my mind has never been more content, and my soul has never been filled with such an abiding peace.”
Msgr. Patrick Dignan, a native of Ireland, served as pastor for only a year, but headed nine parishes in his 48 years of service in Los Angeles and was superintendent of schools for the archdiocese. He died in 1976 at 71.
From 1973 to 1982, Father Aidan Day, a native of County Galway, Ireland, headed the Baldwin Hills parish. He died tragically from smoke inhalation in a rectory fire in February 1982; he was 53.
Another native of County Galway, Father Patrick Gorman, was pastor for 17 years. Originally ordained for service in the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, he came to L.A. for health reasons in 1961 and was incardinated 1969, serving at five parishes before his appointment at St. Bernadette. He died in 2006 at age 78.
At his funeral his brother, Father Rody Gorman, said, “His ministry to the sick was his greatest gift. He was a good preacher, because he was very human… He was close to the people and they loved him.”
Father Thomas King, born in Venice and a member of St. John’s Seminary class of 1964, was St. Bernadette’s pastor for four years, having previously headed St. Anastasia, L.A., and St. Luke, Temple City. He is now retired and lives privately.
The current pastor is Father Allan Roberts, a native Angeleno and a member of St. John’s class of 1980. After serving in six archdiocesan parishes, he was named St. Bernadette’s administrator in 2003 and pastor in 2005, and has also been a member of the Personnel Board for the archdiocese for several years. Father Roberts is a beloved leader of this parish named for the beloved saint whose visions of the Blessed Mother have inspired millions of pilgrims for more than 150 years.
Location: 3825 Don Felipe Drive, Los Angeles
Our Lady of the Angels Region: Deanery 15