Established: November 1938Location: 7025 Garfield Avenue, Bell GardensSan Pedro Region: Deanery 17In 1938, Archbishop John Cantwell established four new parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, bringing the total of new parishes and missions the Irish-born prelate had founded to more than 100 since his initial appointment as bishop for the then Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles in 1917.The newest parishes included St. Gertrude in Bell Gardens, originally a mission served from Downey, whose patroness is officially known as “the Great” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia and other scholarly documents. The 13th century German Benedictine nun, probably an orphan, had been placed at age five with Benedictine nuns at the monastery of Heldfels. She grew up to join the community and in 1251 was elected abbess at the monastery of Helfra.Gertrude devoted herself to study and wrote extensively in Latin on many subjects. One of her few documents remaining, “The Book of Extraordinary Grace,” records her mystical visualizations. At age 26 she experienced the first of a series of visions that inspired her devotion to the Sacred Heart. She was also known for her miracles, great charity and adapting Bible passages to fit her female audience — for example, using a prodigal daughter in the parable from St. Luke. Pope Benedict XIV canonized her in 1678; her feast day is Nov. 16.The saint’s spirit must have infused those who built St. Gertrude Church (at 7530 Eastern Avenue, Bell Gardens) in less than a year by donating their time and labor to help. This, at a time when the country was still recovering from the Great Depression, the minimum wage was 44 cents an hour, and Los Angeles was experiencing severe floods and landslides.Fundraisers included a ham dinner (50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children) and a bazaar, with an Italian dinner for 25 cents, at the Lugo ranch. (This area was part of the original Lugo land grant of 29,000 acres in 1810; the oldest house in L.A. County is at 7000 Gage Avenue in Bell Gardens.) Such efforts greatly assisted the founding pastor, Father Patrick Casey from County Limerick, Ireland, who had celebrated the first Masses in the Allan Mortuary Chapel. Archbishop Cantwell dedicated the new Romanesque church, seating 375, in 1939 and told the assembly, “It was truly a labor of love and a work, sure to bring many blessings upon all.” Father Casey served at St. Gertrude until 1942, then served 20 years as pastor of St. Eugene in Los Angeles, retired in 1962 and died in 1976. He was succeeded by four Irish pastors, each contributing to the growth and spirit of the parish. Msgr. George Gallagher, from County Offaly, served for four years and then was pastor at Holy Trinity in San Pedro for 33 years before his death in 1976. During the three-year pastorate of Msgr. Thomas O’Malley, from County Cork, the church was moved and remodeled at Garfield Avenue and Florence Place. Improvements included a balcony, baptistery, new lighting and fa√ßade. (Mass was celebrated during the remodeling at the Towne Theater on Eastern Avenue.) In 1951 Msgr. O’Malley was named pastor of St. Rita, Sierra Madre, and served there for 22 years. He died in 1994.Msgr. James Glennon, from County Roscommon, only served for a year but the new church, school and rectory were completed at that time. He then served 26 years as pastor of St. Anthony, San Gabriel, before his death in 1990. Father Michael Galvin, from County Kerry, the founding pastor of St. Gregory the Great in Whittier, came to St. Gertrude in 1952 and served 15 years until he died on a visit to his homeland in 1967 at age 60. During the administration and then pastorate (1967-73) of Father Boniface Slawik, from Poland, a new parish hall was built in 1968 in memory of Father Galvin. Father Slawik, previously pastor at St. Stephen, L.A., died in 1981. As pastoral associate (1969-73), administrator (1973-76) and pastor (1976-2005), Msgr. Henry Gomez, a native Angeleno, dedicated 36 years of priestly ministry at St. Gertrude the Great. That included the construction of a new church on a two-acre parcel of land — a project that, because of building costs, seemed unreachable until Msgr. Gomez moved the statue of the saint from the church’s dark vestibule to the front “where people could see her.” Then the new church happened.“It is a gift from God,” said Msgr. Gomez at the 1995 dedication of the new church that seats more than a thousand. “It’s been a long wait, but God does things in his time, not ours.” Msgr. Gomez, named Protonotary Apostolic in 2003, retired as pastor emeritus in 2005 and in 2010 was named one of St. John’s Seminary’s “Distinguished Alumni.”Another Angeleno, Father Guillermo Garcia, headed the parish from 2005 to 2011 and is currently on the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s College. Father Randy Campos, from Artesia, was named administrator in 2011. A member of St. John’s class of 2008, he has successfully restored devotion to the patron saint as Gertrude the Great. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0928/gertrudeside/{/gallery}