Ss. Felicitas and Perpetua Church celebrates 75 years
For longtime parishioner Mike Moran, the 75th anniversary of Ss. Felicitas and Perpetua Church was more than just a huge celebration – it was a reminder of the work, history and dedication of the people who came together to create the parish in San Marino back in the 1930s and 40s.
“It was the first church to be built in the City of San Marino,” he said. “I was baptized here, had my first communion, confirmation and got married here. Growing up, the church has always been there for me.”
The recent celebration not only honored the church’s milestone but also the City of San Marino, which marked its 100th anniversary as well. Welcoming Archbishop José Gomez was the church’s current pastor, Father Paul Fitzpatrick, along with pastor emeritus Msgr. Lawrence Gibson.
During his homily, Archbishop Gomez connected the church’s patron saints to the Respect Life theme of the day.
“Your patron saints were great witnesses to the faith in the church’s first generation…and it’s fitting that we celebrate this anniversary today, which is also Respect Life Sunday. Because, as we know, Felicitas was eight months pregnant and Perpetua was a nursing mother when they were put in prison,” he said, adding that these two women were powerful witnesses to the Gospel of life.
“We should ask them today to help us renew our commitment to defend the sanctity and dignity of all human life — from conception, through life until natural death.”
Many familiar faces came to the anniversary celebration, including the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (served at the school from 1950-1981), the Carmelite Sisters (1981-2008) and the Franciscan Missionary Sisters (who currently assist with Religious Education). Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Sister JoAnn De Quattro presented a portrait of their founder, Blessed Marie Rose Durocher – the celebration coincided with her feast day.
After the Mass, parishioners Jim and Betty Gavigan presented an Apostolic Blessing from Pope Francis.
At the reception, parishioners were treated to viewing part of a documentary on the founding of the parish, describing how Father William Fox (a native of Ireland) celebrated the first Mass of the parish at the mission church of St. John the Baptist in Pasadena in 1938. Consequently, before the actual church building was constructed, Mass and other religious services were often celebrated there and at the Pasadena Women’s Club.
In 1939, land for the church was purchased off Huntington Drive that included giant oak trees and a 100-year-old adobe known as Casa Blanca. The adobe was renovated to provide space for both chapel and rectory – it was the first church to be built in San Marino, which at that time was purely residential.
The small adobe structure was the main church for the community until, after World War II, a larger church structure was needed for the growing parish. Construction took less than a year and the new building – designed in early Italian style with a beautiful bell tower – was dedicated in 1948. The school came two years later.
Those early days provided the foundation for the continuation of the church today, said pastor Father Fitzpatrick. Celebrations like this remind us of what others did in the past and gives us a goal for our future, he said. “This day helps us review the vision and understand what it means to be church,” he explained.
Today, Ss. Felicitas and Perpetua has 1,200 families on its roster; Father Fitzpatrick is pleased by the keen interest for this year’s Adult Faith Formation. “The RCIA is one of the largest groups we’ve had in a while,” he said.
“These are exciting times,” noted Father Fitzpatrick pointing to Pope Francis’ enthusiasm for service to community. “In the 150th celebration of this church, I’d like people then to look back and see how we today took the mission of the church out to the larger world.”