St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church
Location: 25511 Eshelman Avenue, Lomita
San Pedro Region: Deanery 19
“One cannot better show one’s love for Christ than by loving one’s neighbor for love of Him.” The French nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, spoke these words during her life time in the 17th century when she was experiencing Christ’s presence in extraordinary ways in prayer.
For three years she encountered four visions in which Christ revealed his love and mercy for all humanity. She revealed these visions to her spiritual director, Jesuit Father Claude la Colombiere, who believed her testimony; years later, honor to the Sacred Heart of Jesus became part of Catholic devotion worldwide with First Friday observances.
(Historical note: The final miracle for the canonization of Blessed Claude occurred in 1990 when L.A. Jesuit Father John Houle was miraculously cured when blessed with the relic of the 17th century scholar and preacher.)
In Lomita (Spanish for “little knoll”), the only parish in the Los Angeles Archdiocese named for “the Apostle of the Sacred Heart” next year will celebrate its 75th anniversary, a tribute to the zeal and fortitude of those who struggled to establish a church in their area.
In the early 1920s two Harbor City women petitioned Bishop John Cantwell to establish a church closer than Wilmington. Eventually the bishop opened a mission in the vicinity and a priest from Wilmington celebrated Sunday Mass on the second story of the California Cleaners Building --- while ushers guarded the room to prevent vandalism from the anti-Catholic element in the area.
Later a small wooden frame church was built on Lomita Boulevard, and in 1937 the parish was established with Father Timothy Lynch the founding pastor. The following year the community raised funds to purchase property on 253rd Place.
Succeeding Father Lynch (who died in 1968) were Fathers Louis Mulvihill and Thomas Barry who served until 1945 when Father John Hegarty from Ireland started his pastorate that lasted 25 years. A believer in raising funds before construction, Father Hegarty built a school (staffed by the Salesian Sisters, 1950-86), convent and new church which opened in 1954 on the corner of 255th and Eshelman Streets.
To complete his vision of the new church, Father Hegarty personally asked individual families to donate the appointments for the new building. Parishioners were truly impressed in the result of the large, 800-seat structure with 40-foot ceilings. In 1970 Father Hegarty returned to Ireland to visit family and died there in 1971, mourned by his parishioners.
For the next six years, Father Harold Cremins, a native Angeleno, headed the parish and adapted the church building to the post-Vatican II liturgy, introduced guitar-led music and trained new ministers as lectors and Eucharistic ministers. The parish community grew to more than 2,500 families and a weekly Spanish Mass was celebrated.
In 1978, Father Joseph Sartoris, also born in L.A., began his 16-year pastorate during which he renovated the church building, improved the facilities and added new liturgical ministries. Through his efforts the Lomita Fair was successful and the Saint Joseph Center opened. “Father Joe” was named a monsignor in 1989 and ordained an auxiliary bishop for the San Pedro Region in 1994.
He was succeeded in 1994 by yet another L.A. native, Msgr. Patrick Thompson. “I inherited a wonderful spirit and parish identity formed by the excellent pastoral guidance of Bishop Joe Sartoris,” he told The Tidings. “The entire time was a pleasure and an opportunity to exercise almost all of my dreams and visions for a post-conciliar parish.”
Fluent in Spanish, he created a parish environment that welcomed all languages and all people. “It was the greatest experience of my priesthood,” he said of his pastorate at St. Margaret Mary.
In 2001 the 47-year-old church building underwent a major renovation. The $800,000 project brought new interior painting, lighting, tile floors and choir space. During construction parishioners gathered under a large white tent for worship until October 16, the feast of St. Margaret Mary, when Bishop Sartoris consecrated the new church. Msgr. Thompson retired in July 2010 and resides in Incarnation Church in Glendale.
His successor is Msgr. Marc Trudeau, born in Hollywood, a graduate of St. Finbar School (Burbank) and ordained in 1991 from St. John’s Seminary, whose previous six years were spent as priest secretary for Cardinal Roger Mahony. “This is a very busy parish,” the 54-year-old pastor noted, “with some 4,000 families and vibrant active groups. It’s a great place.”
Fittingly, the parish has a special devotion to the Sacred Heart, with parishioners each month reflecting on a word from each of the “12 Promises” that Jesus conveyed to St. Margaret Mary. In October, the word was “grace,” and how it affects one’s life; future themes will be peace, refuge, fervor, consolation and love.
Such devotion is an appropriate link to the rich history of devoted parishioners and dedicated pastors inspired by the life of their parish’s patron saint.