St. Vitus in San Fernando is the first parish to be operated by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter

The smell of incense and drywall mingled while more than two hundred people attended the dedication of St. Vitus Catholic Church in San Fernando. This church is the first in Los Angeles to be operated by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), an order of priests dedicated to traditional liturgy, specifically the Latin Mass.

As the FSSP is dedicated to the Latin Mass, so too will their church be: Archbishop José H. Gomez dedicated the church according to the Latin liturgy, saying the dedicatory prayers in Latin and sprinkling the outside and inside of the church while the choir chanted the Litany of the Saints.

Photo credit: Evan H. Harrington

Following the dedication, North American Superior Father Gerard Saguto, FSSP, celebrated the first church’s Mass, and Archbishop Gomez preached the first sermon, focusing on the God’s call for the parish to “redeem that little part of the world we live in.” 

Though St. Vitus is the first parish run by the FSSP in Los Angeles, their presence and ministry in the country’s largest archdiocese has been felt for the past four years.

Patricia Casado, who has been attending the Latin Mass since she was a child, recounted the creation of the community that now calls St. Vitus their home. It began at St. Victor in West Hollywood, with Monsignor Jeremiah Murphy, who opened his parish to the man who would become pastor of St. Vitus, Father James Fryar, FSSP, to say the Latin Mass during Advent one year.

“The church, over four hundred people would fill that church,” Ms. Casado said, “because they were so hungry for the liturgy.”

At that time, Fr. Fryar spent his days driving his Mini-Cooper between our Lady of Guadalupe in East L.A., St. Bridget of Sweden in Lake Balboa, and St. John Chrysostom in Inglewood.

“All kinds of people were coming. All kinds of economical backgrounds, all kinds of cultures, all kinds of people that were hungry for the Mass,” Ms. Casado explained. In response to this demonstrated desire for traditional liturgy, Monsignor Murphy invited Fr. Fryar to stay at St. Victor’s and say Mass daily there.

Photo credit: Evan H. Harrington

Though Fr. Fryar had found an outlet for the Fraternity to serve the people of Los Angeles, he had not yet found a home. 

“What has been the case until now,” explained Fr. Fryar, “is that it’s been a Mass offered in a regular parish in the extraordinary form that they [local Catholics] can attend. Which is a great thing, it is great to have the Mass available in regular parishes, but that ends up being just a focus on the Mass. Often times you’ll see that these people, they’ll travel long distances for the Mass, but they are not there for all the other parish functions, they are not there to be in all the other ministries in the church.”

So, Fr. Fryar, his associate pastor, Father Federico Massuti, FSSP, and the Latin Mass community from St. Victor began the search to find a parish of their home, and they found it in an empty Syro-Malabar Catholic church that had been put up for sale: the new St. Vitus Catholic Church.

“What’s going to happen now that we have our own church is that the Mass will still be the center of what we do, the Mass in the Extraordinary Form, however it will bring to life everything else, so we’ll have a full parish life,” Fr. Fryar explained. 

Cecillia Tamayo, a member of the community since Fr. Fryar first came to Los Angeles, explained why St. Vitus finds it important to center parish life on the Latin Mass, saying: “To show people that one should live as God asks of you in the best way possible, and knowing the only reason you go to Mass is for God and to be with God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and being reverent to Him.”

Ms. Tamayo also expressed the importance of “carrying oneself in a reverent manner — from the way you speak and treat people to how you present yourself in your clothing and way of life at home and the community around you.” 

She was referencing the more formal dress habits of the congregation, which saw men and their sons wearing suits and ties while women and their daughters dressed modestly and donned lace veils called mantillas.

When asked what advice they would give to Catholics interested in attending the Latin Mass for the first time, both Fr. Saguto and Fr. Fryar expressed the need to attend more than once.

“I think you have to, first of all, give it a fair chance,” said Fr. Saguto, “You can’t just go once, you have to go 10 times, you have to go 20 times, because it’s a different way. It’s a different approach of worship” 

“It’s better to come back a couple times,” Fr. Fryar added, “just because the first time you’re going to be completely lost, and the second or the third time you’re going to be understanding more of what’s going on and see if you like it or not.”

In response to concern that most Americans do not know Latin, the members of St. Vitus Parish all responded alike — you don’t need to, translations are available for all the prayers and readings in the provided missalettes.

As to why the parish was named after St. Vitus, Fr. Fryar cited a tradition of churches dedicating themselves to the patron of the local industry. With Los Angeles’ position as a media capital, mixed with actors who count themselves members of the St. Vitus community, Fr. Fryar thought it fitting to name the new parish after the patron saint of actors.


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