At the June 14 8 a.m. Mass at St. Basil Church fronting Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown, Marie Baumchen was up near the expansive sanctuary area as both altar server and Eucharistic minister, as she often is.In fact, the woman with short coiffed white hair and perfectly erect posture, dressed on this Thursday morning in a blue-striped blouse, matching lavender skirt and low white heels, has pulled this double duty on weekdays for more years than she can remember. She’s also a Eucharistic minister at the Sunday 9 a.m. Mass and takes her turn once a month as a money collection counter.No, what made this day special was the fact that Marie was born in Canada’s Saskatchewan Province on June 14, 1912, which makes her an amazingly spry and youthful 100 years old. “I think it’s a wonder of God’s gift of good health, faith — and a deep tolerance with putting up with all the priests she’s had to deal with,” said Msgr. Terrence Richey, the Mass’ presider, who has known Marie since 1999, with a chuckle. Then looking at her during an interview after in the rectory, the archdiocesan Vicar for Clergy’s alcohol/substance abuse ministry director who resides at St. Basil observed, “Of all the ways you do things and how you handle yourself, I think the most notable or amazing thing for your age is the way you walk up and down the seven steps from the altar. I’ve just noticed that we walk at exactly the same rhythm.”That made Marie laugh. “Maybe I should slow down, or I might have an accident,” she quipped. “But I’ve always walked fast. I think I would tip over if I didn’t.” Surviving the DepressionWhen Marie was 20, she left her family’s farm for big-city Toronto — just when the Great Depression hit Canada along with the United States. She did almost anything to survive, including housekeeping and restaurant work. Things got a little better when World War II broke out. The country girl did a lot of sewing and for years made a living by making flags. “Not the Canadian one they have now, but the British one,” she reported. After years of scrimping and saving, she and her younger sister Kay bought a little general store in Toronto, living in the apartment above it, which they felt really tied them down. So after 10 years, they sold it. In 1952, the sisters took a bus trip across the western United States, which turned into a year-long adventure. And the locale Marie and Kay liked the best was Los Angeles. “I never thought I would reach 100. But the time goes by so fast, you know. First I know I was in my 70s, then 80s, then 90s. And I just kept going. I wasn’t aiming for it.”— Marie BaumchenBut then they returned to Canada for their parents’ wedding anniversary, remaining in Toronto until 1964 when the warm weather brought them back to Southern California. At first they settled in Culver City, joining St. Augustine Parish. Then work took them nearer downtown L.A., where the sisters became members of St. Brendan Parish for a dozen years. Another move brought them to St. Basil’s in 1988. Both did clerical jobs after going to a local business college. Marie worked for Sunshine Biscuits, Thrifty Corporation and Karl’s Shoes before retiring at the age of 63. “So I’ve been retired for 38 years now,” she notes with a smile, before explaining how she was then able to become more involved with groups like the Catholic Daughters, Our Ladies of Charity, Assistance League and the Good Samaritans of the Good Shepherd Center. She also became a Eucharistic minister. And later, when somebody asked her to fill in as an altar server, she did that, too. Besides being a centenarian, Marie’s other amazing stat is the number of years she’s been a daily Mass-goer and communicant — for the last 70 years. “I’ve gone to church every morning since ’42,” she recalled. “I was up the street one day to get the bus like I always did in Toronto, and people were coming out of the nearby church. And then I thought, ‘Well, why can’t I do that? I would just have to get up an hour or so earlier.’ So I did it from then on, outside of trips or whatever.”‘I eat everything’So is that why Marie has lived so long?At first she said, “Well, it’s certainly God’s will. You know, it has to be. But I don’t know if that was the reason.” And then she corrects herself: “Oh, no, I wouldn’t say so. Because I know people that do a lot of charity and a lot more for the church who have passed on.”So it must be her diet that’s kept her frame thin and healthy all these years?“But I eat everything,” she pointed out. “We grew up on meat in Saskatchewan: beef, pork, chicken, ducks, hogs. But vegetables were very scarce, even in the local store.”What about exercise?“Growing up, I really didn’t do that much outside work on the farm,” she noted. “But I do a lot of walking today and I do stairs. I walk up the three floors to my apartment every day. But my sister and I drive to church, even though it’s only two blocks away. We did it for the winter, and now we’re lazy enough, we just keep going in the car.”In conclusion, Marie said she didn’t really know how and why she was able to reach 100, except for maybe good genes. Her mother, Marie, lived to be 92, and her father, Michael, died at 89. One grandmother lived to 94 or 95. And sister Kay is 97. But they’re the only children left from a family of four boys and four girls. “Everybody asks me what are the secrets of being 100,” she said, smiling again. “I really don’t have a clue. I had a really close call when I was eight with pneumonia. The doctors told my mother I wouldn’t make it through the night. So she went home and had to wash and starch my white dress and find a blue ribbon to go with it for the funeral. “But I didn’t die, so she didn’t get rid of me,” the centenarian said in a pseudo semi-angry voice. “And I’m still here.”Father Frank Hicks, pastor of St. Basil, simply called Marie Baumchen’s birthday — which the urban parish celebrated at Mass the previous Sunday and a later celebration — wonderful. “I mean, 100 years old,” he said. “A person who’s still vital and contributory to the faith and to the church, she’s a joy here.“I think she’s a symbol of that no matter how old you may be, we can contribute and we can be of use and we can reflect Christ in the church. So she’s just a joy to have around. She’s just been a wonderful, wonderful support and just wonderful to have here.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0706/ola100/{/gallery}