St. Bridget Church Established: 1940

Location: 510 Cottage Home Street, Los Angeles

Our Lady of the Angels Region: Deanery 14

The Chinese, who arrived in California beginning in 1847, endured conflict and prejudice for many years as immigration laws discriminated against them. It was a credit to their persistence and faith that, by 1870, an identifiable “Chinatown” existed near what is now Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Several factors forced the Chinese to abandon that site, but in 1938 a new Chinatown was established in its present location. 

It would seem logical, then, for St. Bridget Chinese Catholic Center to come into being in 1940 adjacent to Chinatown, tucked alongside the Pasadena Freeway. But St. Bridget’s history entails much more, notably the efforts of a Columban missionary priest from China, and Far East turmoil that preceded the Second World War. 

For many years the Columban Fathers had worked in several provinces in China, but by the late 1930s there was great conflict between China and Japan and many of the priests were forced to leave. One was Father John Cowhig, a native of County Cork, Ireland, ordained in 1923, who had served in China for more than 10 years, and appreciated the desire of Chinese Catholic immigrants to find spiritual refuge in their own language. 

With the approval of Cardinal Yu-Pin of China, Father Cowhig received permission from Archbishop John Cantwell to establish the first Chinese Mission Center in Los Angeles. In 1939 he took up residence at Cathedral High School and, after completing a thorough demographic study of the area, chose the site on Cottage Home Street for the center. He first celebrated Mass on Christmas Day in 1940.

However, without a language school he realized that entrance into the Chinese community would be difficult; he needed to reach the children. He appealed to the Immaculate Heart Sisters and Sisters Noemi and Norma Crews helped launch the center that started with two students and quickly grew to 88. 

Archbishop Cantwell dedicated the center on June 7, 1942, declaring, “Kindly Mother Church, knowing no racial barriers or political compromises, stretches out her arms to enclose in her embrace the Chinese people of this community.” 

The IHM Sisters remained until 1951. Father Cowhig administered the center until 1954 and died in 1986. 

The center was named for St. Bridget, one of Ireland’s famous patron saints, who founded many churches and monasteries in the sixth century (her feast day is Feb. 1). The name was suggested by the benefactor who financed the original building, in honor of his mother. 

Succeeding Father Cowhig was another missionary veteran, Father Anthony O’Doherty, from County Donegal. Ordained in 1923, he was one of several Columban missionaries in China who were part of the order founded in Ireland in 1916, then known as the Maynooth Mission to China and whose members today serve in many countries worldwide. During his eight years at St. Bridget’s, Father O’Doherty continued its growth and expansion. He died in 1979.

Columban Father Matthew Quinn from County Waterford, ordained in 1943, administered the Chinese center for 19 years after having served in China. In 1980, as he was completing his term at the center, the L.A. Human Relations Commission recognized him for his community service to the entire Chinatown neighborhood. 

“China was my first love,” he said then, “and when it closed to me in 1948 I thought my hopes were shattered. So, it has been a special blessing for me to have the Chinese community in this way.” Father Quinn died in Ireland in 2007 at age 89.

Three Salesian priests served the St. Bridget community for the next 26 years, starting with Father Peter Tsang, born in Shanghai, incardinated for the archdiocese in 1980, and the center’s first Cantonese-speaking priest. He was succeeded by Father Francisco Lau who administered the center for three years. 

His successor Father Joseph Cheng, was born in Nanking and ordained in 1959. During his 12 years as administrator, the center was named a parish (in 2000) and was recognized as the archdiocese’s National Parish for the Chinese people. Father Cheng, who served five years as president of the North American Chinese Catholic Clergy, died of cancer in 2007 at age 77. 

In addition to the IHM Sisters, St. Bridget Chinese Center has been served by the Columban Sisters, Social Service Sisters and the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. Their combined efforts helped to establish the Altar Society, youth clubs and expanded CCD classes.

The current pastor, Father John Kin Hon Lam from Canton, transferred from the Salesian province of Hong Kong to the Province of San Francisco and has served as pastor at St. Bridget since 2006. Today Mass is celebrated in both English and Cantonese.

At St. Bridget’s 50th anniversary in 1990, two of the original students, Johnny Hom and Sylvia Chin Wong, joined the IHM Sisters in honoring a half century of accomplishments. Said Archbishop Roger Mahony: “The powerful message that speaks to the history of the center where the stranger and alien have been welcomed is greater than ever before as large numbers of immigrants are settling in Los Angeles.”

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