Cal Elshoff made a promise to his wife, Irene, in the summer of 1965.
Accepting a transfer as an architect with U.S. Gypsum and moving the family from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Southern California meant he would find a good Catholic parish that could take all five of their children into its school on Day One.
As the story goes, Cal pulled the station wagon in front of the original mission-style St. Bede the Venerable Church in La Cañada Flintridge, cranked down the window, and called out to someone standing on the steps: “Hey, is this a good church?”
After getting a firm yes, Cal went inside, talked to one of the sisters at the school, and all was good.
Matt, the oldest, was about to turn 10 and start fourth grade. He and the three sisters after him — Cindy, Heather, and Jennifer — were all born in Cincinnati. Drew, just 2 at the time, was born in the short time they lived in Grand Rapids.
“It did seem as if we were a bit of outliers — this Ohio farm boy finds a new destination for his family,” said Drew, who has taken over a commercial flooring business in Pasadena his father started years after they moved.
With memories of a snowy Michigan winter still fresh in their minds, “we were certainly not adverse to the sunny warm climate,” he said. “I don’t think any of my siblings were upset about moving.”
In the mid-’60s, the St. Bede’s parish community grew so much that a larger church had to be built. The Elshoffs felt they were part of that foundational growth with so many other families.
“We built up so much spiritual equity at St. Bede’s that it was evident in everything we did,” said Drew.
Clare Trueblood Gurbach’s family moved from Chicago to La Cañada in 1963. Her older brother, Mark, attended St. Francis High School with Matt. Clare worked in the same bank as Drew; her sister Nora and Matt’s sister Cindy have worked in the same transportation broker office for 17 years.
The Elshoffs were “incredibly friendly and kind, taking the time to get to know people, a strong Christian family unit and a belief they were put on this earth to help neighbors,” said Clare.
Elshoff presided at Mark Trueblood’s wedding in 1984, and Clare’s wedding to Jim Gurbach in 1992. Earlier this month, Elshoff was in Chicago for the wedding of Jason Trueblood — Clare’s godson, and Mark’s son — who attended St. Francis High when Elshoff was the president.
Ken Martinet and his wife, Peggy, started as friends with Cal and Irene Elshoff more than 40 years ago. They got a surprise when going to receive Communion at the Sept. 26 Ordination Mass.
“We all had tears when it just happened that Matt was there at the front of our line,” said Martinet, the president of Catholic Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles County.
Martinet, 82, explained how Elshoff was “so sensitive and endearing to us” when their daughter, Catharine, died at age 45 from cystic fibrosis. Catharine discovered the disease as a senior at Loyola Marymount University and decided to become a hospice volunteer. Her parents joined her in training.
Martinet said the first patient he worked with, a man named Floyd in La Cañada, was not in a good place, troubled about having lost his faith years ago. Martinet arranged for Elshoff to visit him, hear his confession and minister the last rites. Hours after their meeting, Floyd died.
“I know Matt was the instrument to help him reconnect with God, and I have always thanked Matt for that,” said Martinet.
Nadine Melancon has called Elshoff a friend for some 30 years, including the time he was regional provincial for the Capuchins and later pastor at Old Mission Santa Ynez in Solvang.
“There is no doubt that Bishop Matt’s early days of family life helped to form the incredible person he has become,” said Melancon. “He is a deeply spiritual friar, which I am sure speaks to his abilities and provides a source of strength for him as a respected leader.”
Father Tony Marti, OFM Cap., the president of St. Francis High, said that Elshoff’s 16 years at the school — first working in campus ministry, later as president — built relationships that have “helped make St. Francis an excellent college preparatory school.”
“He has contributed so much over the years to enrich the lives as followers of St. Francis of Assisi.”
St. Bede’s parishioner Jim Evans can attest to that.
Evans, a law partner at Alston & Bird in Los Angeles, was three years behind Matt Elshoff as a student at St. Francis High in the 1970s but formed a close friendship when his sons attended the school in the 1990s and Elshoff was the president.
“Matt became an incredible friend to me, and as my son was a sophomore at St. Francis, he took my son under his wing, always checking on him,” said Evans.
In 2004, Evans faced a diagnosis of esophageal cancer and was given only a 5-to-10 percent chance of making it past five years. When Elshoff and Marti went to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, they said a Mass for Evans at its main altar.
“Having survived that cancer, I see Father Matt as an incredible source of support and spiritual guidance for me,” said Evans.
The day of Elshoff’s episcopal ordination, Evans was thinking about Cal and Irene, who died just a few months apart in 2019 and are buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery.
“You think of all the families here who he has been with, through their lives’ celebrations and their life’s challenges,” said Evans. “The Elshoff family has been amazing, such phenomenal examples of people with simple, humble faith.”