History of St. John Chrysostom Church
Inglewood’s first Catholic family, that of Antonio Yanacio Avila, moved to this area in 1826 and built a ranch home near the springs in what is now Centinela Park. However, organized Catholic life in the community did not begin nearly a century later.
Our parish begins its history in 1911 with the dedication of a Mission Church on January 28, 1911, by Bishop Conaty. Father Emil Gerardi, rector of St. Michael’s Church in Los Angeles, believed that there was a need to build a place of worship for the Catholics who lived in the “Inglewood to the ocean” area. He purchased a one-half block area in Inglewood at the corner of Locust St. and Manchester Blvd. in 1909 at a reported outlay of only $2,500. Local citizens, catholic and non-Catholic alike, raised $800 for the construction of a small wooden chapel. This chapel was dedicated to St. John Chrysostom and the first Mass was said in the almost finished chapel on Sept. 13, 1910, feast day of our patron Saint. Father Gregory Ashe and Father Jeremiah Burke cared for the spiritual welfare of the people in the area in subsequent years.
In 1923 the Mission was designated a parish church and a rectory was constructed on the property next to the church facing Manchester Blvd. This rectory was a wooden two-story building. The Location was considered ideal for a church, just around the corner from the main thoroughfare, Market Street, in the heart of a one-street town. At that time Manchester was a little more than a side street. It was called a “jay-walk” street, and you could walk across the street from the Church any time of the day without worrying about traffic since only two or three cars an hour passed by. The parish boundary extended westward to the ocean at Playa del Rey and there was little between Inglewood and the Ocean except a few homes and farms.
Father Garsse, our first pastor, worked hard during the next years successfully building membership and establishing a smoothly run parish. The results were seen by Father James P. Buckley in 1926 when he was appointed to succeed Father Garsse. He immediately recognized the need for a larger church and a parish school which the growing number of Catholic children in the area might attend. He formulated plans to erect a combination school and temporary building on Locust St. The building permit was issued by the City Council only after some persuasion by Father and parish members. In those days, quite a number of local citizens objected to having a Catholic school in town and demonstrated their feelings before the Council. The Council was, therefore, reluctant to issue the permit, and only after much discussion did they finally agree to allow Father to proceed.
Henry Newton and Robert Murray were the architects for the new buildings, and construction was begun in early 1927 on the corner of Manchester and Locust at a cost of about $70,000. The building was of simple Italian Renaissance Architecture, with the church’s main entrance facing Locust. The entire building was built of reinforced concrete with a tile roof and stone entrances and trim. Exterior walls had a wash coat of stucco and the interior was plastered.
The church had seating room for 400 people in the nave with additional 50 seats in the balcony. The Sanctuary was designed so that it could be converted into a future stage and dressing room as it was planned that at some future date a permanent church would be constructed on the south-east corner of the block facing Hillcrest Avenue. Before these new buildings were erected, the old wooden church was moved to a location east of the rectory, facing Manchester, where it was used as a parish and school hall. Construction was completed and the late Archbishop (then Bishop) Cantwell blessed the complex on Sunday, March 11, 1928, a joyful day for the Catholics in the Inglewood area.
For the next few years the parish prospered under the leadership of pastors Father Thomas Murphy and Father Richard Hennessey. With a parish hall available, church organizations were formed and worked to promote social functions and comradeship among the members.
Ladies from our parish held religious education classes for the young people in the area, going as far away as Culver City and Watts. An active Holy Name Society worked to raise funds to help church upkeep, and our Women’s Council had its beginning in 1938. Large Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups were also initiated during these years.
Father Anthony Reidy became pastor in 1938, just before World War II started. During the war, the Catholic people of Inglewood did much to help the war effort. Not only did many of our young sons and fathers answer the call to service, but a large number of the men, and some women too, took up jobs in the defense plants that had located nearby. The women worked diligently with the Red Cross, assisted in the U.S.O., and raised bonds for the War Chest drive.
In the meantime, the Inglewood area grew by leaps and bounds. Although Father Buckley sized the church and school with an eye to the future, he could not possibly have foreseen the concentration of aircraft and other industries locating in this part of southern California. The city of Inglewood had grown from “nearly 3000” when our first church was dedicated to more than 60,000 at this time. The business area of Inglewood was expanding rapidly and surrounded our church property. St. John’s, too, was becoming cramped in its half block. Father Reidy had tried for several years to purchase the remaining half block owned by a mortuary and a hotel, but he was unable to do so and had to begin to look elsewhere for another location for expansion.
In the meantime, he had wisely begun a program to raise funds for a new facility. The parish women started serving a monthly home-cooked luncheon –open to the public– in the parish hall. This quickly became a very popular affair with the local business people and townspeople as well as the parish members.
A yearly Fall Festival was held through the joint effort of all the various organizations and became a city-attended affair. A raffle, games of skill, booths of handcrafted items, food and dinner were offered during this three-day event. A large tent was erected on the school grounds to house the booths and a dinner was prepared by the parish folks. Prices not being what they are today, turkey, ham or beef dinners were offered for $1.50 for adults and 65 cents for children. It was not unusual for these Festivals to gross from $20,000 to 25,000.
Father’s hunt for a new site on which to build ended in 1947 when it was announced that the church had purchased 12 acres of land, a part of the Howland Estate, on Florence Ave. across from Centinela Park.
There is an interesting story about how friendship developed between Mrs. Grace Freeman Howland and Father Reidy. Both enjoyed walking, and father Reidy did much walking during his free hours. He would often go down around the Centinela Springs area and visit with the Mexican farm workers there. His former parish had been in a Mexican area and he was one of the first diocesan priests to learn to speak Spanish. On one of these visits he noticed a very well-dressed lady also out walking and visiting with the workers. They became acquainted on the walk back home, and Father learned that she was Mrs. Howland. Father invited her to tea in the rectory and found they both shared a great interest in California history. Her ancestors had come to Inglewood in 1873. This chance meeting developed into a warm and respected friendship.
When Mrs. Howland learned that Father needed a larger plot of land, she graciously offered to make a gift to the church of the 12-acre plot. Father refused her offer saying he would not be interested unless she accepted some payment. So, our parish obtained our present property for $5,000 an acre. Quite a bargain!
Other important events were also taking place. The 25th Anniversary celebration of the Locust St. church was held in April 1948. The crowning event of this celebration was the ordination of John E. Cooley, the first young man from our parish to become a priest.
Another milestone for Catholics in Inglewood was the announcement that Mrs. Howland had given the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet a nine-acre parcel of land, part of her estate, on the corner of Prairie and Grace Avenues.
Mrs. Howland had been wondering for some time what she could do as a lasting tribute to her father, Daniel Freeman. Father Reidy suggested that she consider a hospital. She enthusiastically adopted the idea. The Sisters of St. Joseph were chosen as the group to fulfill this dream as they already were successfully running hospitals in other areas. The gift of this property was made only on the condition that the Order build and administer a Memorial Hospital bearing her father’s name.
Much had to be done in the succeeding years to prepare for the construction of these projects. It’s interesting to note how the real estate values in Inglewood were mushrooming. The Country assessor had increased the value of our downtown property in one year from $21,680 to $118,000. It was becoming too expensive to keep and made it more important to hurry along the move to the new property.
Father Reidy was transferred from our church in February 1952, so he was not here during the final planning of the new buildings. Father Moran, upon his arrival, found that he had to go forward immediately with this ambitious project. He engaged Anthony A. Kauzor as architect and C. W. Driver, Inc. of Los Angeles was awarded the contract to do the building at a cost of $300,000. Actual construction started in February 1953.
Fund raising dinners and Fall Festivals continued; these events were so successful that by the time the move to Florence Ave. was made, the dedicated parishioners had raised all but $80,000. That amount was paid off the following year.
During the construction, there were still things to be done back on Locust Street to get ready for the eventual sale of the property. The old hall had to be disposed of. While Father Reidy was pastor we were sent a new associate priest, just out of the Seminary. His name was Father Edward Maddox and he was given the job of getting rid of the old wooden hall building. He laughingly tells what a shrewd deal he made. It was going to cost $200 to hire someone just to demolish the hall. He checked around and found a man who would take it down for the lumber and haul it away and also pay him $100. This lumber was taken to Mexico to be used to build homes there. The rectory building was also eventually demolished.
A new rectory had been constructed on the east end of Florence Ave. property; it and the completed school and auditorium (the temporary church) were blessed in early 1954 by his Eminence James Francis Cardinal McIntyre. The very first Mass was said by Father Maddox.
The school, a one-story concrete and steel structure, contained twelve classrooms. The church area could seat 850 people. The crucifix and statues from the old church were also used in this new church. The altar area was designed so it could eventually be used as a stage. At the left of the altar were Sacristy rooms. A storage room and a meeting room were to the right. The meeting room was used primarily by parish Scout troops and became known as the “Scout Room.” A large kitchen adjoined the church, and it was not unusual to attend Mass and enjoy the aroma of food cooking at the same time.
In spite of not having a parish hall, the Fall Festivals continued for some years. Food was prepared in the kitchen and carried outside to be served. Larger parish group meetings, such as the Women’s Council, were held in the Knights of Columbus hall.
The new property included the area now occupied by St. Mary’s Academy. Part of this was used for a school playground and part for a baseball field for a boys’ baseball league.
The final decision was to lease the property on Manchester Blvd. rather than sell it out-right. A long-term lease was signed with a development company. This arrangement would make it possible for the parish to receive income from this property for many years to come. The area is now a mini shopping center. The old school and church were made into offices. One of the first occupants of the old school building was the Western Development Division of the U.S. Air Force Air Research and Development Command. Here a team of military engineers and scientists developed our country’s first Inter-continental Ballistic Missile, the Atlas. The site is now marked by a special stone monument placed near the entrance of the building.
As the new school’s enrollment increased, two two-room bungalows were built in the yard near the hall. These additions made a total of sixteen classrooms. With the growing enrollment, the number of teaching Sisters also increased. There no longer was room for all of them in the car that transported them back and forth from St. Mary’s where they lived. Monsignor Moran knew it was now time for the Sisters to have their own convent on the church property. In 1954 the new rectory was built on its present site next to the (yet to be built) church. The old rectory was renovated, and a chapel room added for the Sisters.
Monsignor Moran soon began to concentrate on completing the plans for a permanent St. John Chrysostom Church. Architect for this structure was also Anthony A. Kauzor. Building was contracted to Fryer Construction Co. for $800,000. Ground was finally broken in early 1959 and by Christmas Day, 1960, the construction was completed, and enough interior furnishings were in place to have the first Mass celebrated by Monsignor. Inglewood Catholics saw the fulfillment of a fifty-year dream. His Eminence James Francis Cardinal McIntyre dedicated the church on October 8, 1961.
The permanent church, which seats 1000 people, is a contemporary Gothic design constructed entirely of reinforced concrete, including the ceiling. Its carillion bell tower is topped with a ceramic tile covered concrete spire and an aluminum cross. It measures 182 feet from the ground to the top of the cross. The nave, flanked by the transcepts, has simple 42 feet high plastered walls with tall intricately designed stained glass windows. The apse design of the sanctuary area also features beautifully designed stained-glass windows. Accentuating the Gothic design is a huge Celtic cross of stained glass, high above the 14-foot solid-oak front doors. All the antique stained glass in the windows was imported from Germany, England, France and Italy. The Celtic designs of the windows were taken from pictures in the book of Kells located in the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Situated in the most prominent location to the right of the main altar is the statue of St. John Chrysostom. Monsignor Moran related he believed the hand work on this statue was probably the most difficult of all to do because of the minute detail that was necessary to complete the likeness of the garments worn by St. John Chrysostom. The altar is made of imported Italian marble. After the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the altar design was slightly redesigned. The new altar was consecrated by Bishop Bell on August 5, 1961.
In the early 1960’s, the Sisters of St. Joseph were looking for a site on which to build a new St. Mary’s Academy High School. The Order felt a location near its Daniel Freeman Hospital would be ideal. They discussed this location with Monsignor and he offered the area used for the baseball field and playground in exchange for a lot of equal size just south of the hospital, fronting Prairie Ave. Building was begun, and the school was dedicated in February 1967. A development company was given a long-term lease on the new lot and a large medical building was erected on the property.
The years following were times for the parishioners to enjoy their new church. With the use of the parish hall (the old church), they gave social and fund-raising projects. A happy day on June 9, 1974, was the celebration of Monsignor Moran’s fiftieth anniversary as a priest. The whole Inglewood community was saddened by his death just a few weeks later on July thirtieth.
The new pastor was Monsignor Edward Maddox, the same Father Maddox who began his priestly life in our parish as an Associate some twenty-four years before.
The changes effected by the second Vatican Council found their way to all parishes including St. John’s. The altar of the church became free-standing and the use of the vernacular was allowed for the language of the Mass. In the 1970’s another freedom permitted by the Council affected us greatly. We have many convalescent homes and elderly residents who rely on the Church for spiritual comfort. The privilege of lay extraordinary ministers to bring Holy Communion came to mean that residents of these homes could receive Our Lord weekly. Our volunteers in this sacred calling, more than 35, were among the largest number in the Archdiocese at the time. A praiseworthy tradition has arisen of giving gifts to all patients (over 800) at Christmas time. Surely this fulfills Our Lord’s admonition to care for the sick.
January 1982 brought the deaconate back to St. John’s. Paul Weber and John Picard were the first married Deacons ordained for St. John’s to help carry on the work of the Church.
More mundane events during these years involved the first painting of the church and the re-surfacing of the school yard. Because of the decreasing enrollment, the parish school was reduced to eight rooms. As rooms became available, long desired centers both for youth and seniors of the parish became realities. The changing complexion of the parish led, in 1975, to the first permanent Mass offered in Spanish. This eventually led to several more Spanish Masses. The changing demographics of Inglewood provided an increased vitality in our parish.
Following the retirement of Monsignor Maddox, Father Paul Montoya was appointed pastor. Father Montoya was raised in the parish, so this was a wonderful “coming home” for him. During Monsignor Montoya’s pastorate, Robert Vazquez was ordained a Permanent deacon and continues to serve our parish to the present. During the time of Monsignor Montoya, all the various parish buildings were painted, and the Parish Hall was renovated to include new meeting rooms. The number of Masses was also increased.
Monsignor Montoya was succeeded by Father Stephen Woodland who served as pastor until 2005 when he had to move to Seattle to care for his ailing parents. During Father Woodland’s tenure the stained glass windows in the church were restored and a new baptismal font was installed. In the interim, Father Javier Altuna, S.J. was appointed Administrator Pro-Tem. Father Altuna has been in our parish for a great many years and has served in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles since the 1960’s.
In July of 2007, Father Marcos Gonzalez was appointed Administrator and then Pastor in 2009. During his administration all the parish buildings have all been repainted, gardens replanted, a new sound system installed, new security camera system, new doors for the school and parish hall, new floors in the hall, church sacristies and rectory offices, repaved parking lot and new fence around the entire plant. The church bathrooms have been remodeled and major improvements made to the rectory and convent. In 2015 a new heating and air conditioning system was installed in the church allowing a more comfortable environment in the hot summer and cold winter. A new parish website has been added as well.
In 2012 a new beautification project of the interior of the church was begun. The church was freshly painted with beautiful new stenciled art work added to the ceiling in the first phase. In phase 2, in 2014, a magnificent mural entitled “The Glory of Jerusalem” was painted in the apse above the sanctuary of the church. This depicts the Most Blessed Trinity, the Madonna and Child, 24 saints and rich symbolism of the Church. Phase 3 included large cherubim in adoration as well as Patriarchs of the Old Testament. These figures are “types” of sacrifice which are completed in the True Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Artistic depictions of Eucharistic symbols are interspersed among the images of the Patriarchs. Large matching panels depicting the “Bread of Life” discourse and the “Encounter at Emmaus” complete the Eucharistic symbolism.
Phase 4 of the beautification project was completed in 2017 and included painting of the backgrounds of the Sacred Heart and Blessed Virgin Mary. These have depictions of the Passion of Christ and some Marian symbolism. The arch above the sanctuary was also completed in this phase which included imagery of Guardian Angels and symbols of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Marbleizing of the concrete frames of the images of the Sacred Heart, the BVM and the ambo were also done at this stage. Phase 5 includes new shrines to Divine Mercy and the African and American saints and another to Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Juan Diego and the Mexican Martyrs. The church sanctuary, with its magnificent marble and bronze altar and other furnishings, has been fully restored as well as the Baptistery located by the narthex. The exterior of the church was also repainted in 2014. In 2015, a new installation of air conditioning system was added for comfort.
Our parish school has now grown to include a new Technical Kindergarten for 4-year old, a dynamic music program, an excellent athletic program and a wonderful faculty. Moving along with new technology the parish and the school also now have websites promoting the various programs offered. In 2012 the last of the Sisters Principal, Sr. Antoinette Czuleger, CSJ, retired. While the Sisters of St. Joseph no longer formally staff the school, their charism continues to guide the governance of the school. After Sister Antoinette’s retirement, the school received its first lay Principal. Mr. Jae Kim took over in the Fall of 2012 and continues to serve as Principal.
New parish organizations since 2007 include a re-established Guadalupe Society, a Young Adult Group, an Adolescent Youth Group, an English Charismatic Prayer Group, two new Marriage Preparation Teams, Catholic Daughters court and a new Spanish-speaking men’s group as well as an active Finance Council and Leadership Council.
Recruitment of liturgical ministers has grown in both English and Spanish lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion as well as Altar Servers which now number over 100 youngsters. The parish annually hosts a “Communal Wedding” since 2008 with dozens of couples validating their marriages each year. This has now become a new tradition at St. John’s. The traditional Corpus Christi Procession has also been introduced and over a thousand parishioners take place. The weekday Spanish Mass was also moved to the evening and attendance has almost tripled as a result.
Over the years the parish has sent many of its sons to the priesthood and daughters to the Religious life. This is especially true regarding the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet who staffed have been present in the parish since the beginning..
The most recent ordination to the priesthood from our parish took place in 2013. Father Ismael Robles was ordained by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez and he celebrated his First Solemn Mass here on Sunday, June 2, 2013. It was a great and festive celebration for all.
In 2015-16 St. John Chrysostom Church was designated a “pilgrimage church” for the Jubilee of Mercy. The Holy Door was blessed by Bishop Clark on the Third Sunday of Advent, 2015 and then closed on the Solemnity of Christ the King, 2016. During the Holy Year, thousands of pilgrims came through the Door of Mercy to obtain the plenary indulgence.
A beautiful celebration of the Priesthood occurred in June of 2016 as the parish celebrated Fr. Javier Altuna’s 50th anniversary of Ordination. This was followed in June of 2017 with the 25th anniversary celebration for Monsignor Sal Pilato and in June 2019 with the 25th anniversary celebration of Fr. Marcos Gonzalez.
In October 2017, a new outdoor shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows was added in front of the rectory adjacent to the convent chapel. This magnificent image is an exact replica of Michelangelo’s famous “Pieta” statue and draws pilgrims from throughout the area. In 2019, the parish was chosen to host the pilgrimage of the Incorrupt Heart of St. John Vianney and thousands of pilgrims came from throughout Southern California to pray before this great relic.
June 2019 marked the completion of the pastorate of Fr. Marcos Gonzalez who also served as Dean of Deanery 16.
St. John Chrysostom’s continues to grow in this new century and has now reached a membership of over 10,000 registered families. As the church celebrates 60+ years of presence at the intersection of Centinela and Florence it continues to be a beacon of faith on all who look to this “holy hill.”