With a bullfighter, a banquet, and a bilingual bishop, all signs pointed to beguiling. From its very onset, the 50th anniversary of Holy Cross Catholic Church on January 10, 2010 promised to be, at the very least, interesting, and, at the very most, controversial. Come the celebration’s conclusion, however, it was clear that the two extremes met somewhere in the middle.

At its most basic level, the ceremony was a celebration of the church’s 50-year history. On a deeper level, the ceremony was a testament to the church’s 50-year resiliency amid struggle, strife, and scandal.

On January 10, 1960, Holy Cross Catholic Church (nee Our Lady of Guadalupe Church) became official, with Father Matthew Kelly officially the priest. Although still a mission church at the time — Holy Cross would not go on to be a parish until 1973 — the occasion was nevertheless momentous, with the dedication ceremony officiated by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre. Little did the parishioners know then that Holy Cross would play host to many more momentous occasions in the future.

Most infamous of occasions, of course, were the past allegations against Father Matthew Kelly. Accused of molesting seven boys — six of whom were Latino — until his priesthood ended in 1970, Father Kelly’s acts left an impermeable mark upon Holy Cross. Despite reaching a settlement in 2007 — a settlement that involved the entire Los Angeles Archdiocese — and subsequently awarding each of Father Kelly’s seven victims approximately $1.1 million each, the archdiocese never officially acknowledged Father Kelly’s wrongdoing.

Father Kelly, who died in 2002, is hardly Holy Cross’s only story worth mentioning, however. This past Sunday’s celebratory mass proved quite to the contrary, showcasing not only the loyalty of its parishioners, but also the reasons behind the loyalty.

Rich with history and rife with stained-glass windows — all of which pay tribute to both famous saints and deceased parishioners — Holy Cross is a sight to be seen. Located in the Mesa, Holy Cross’s proximity to the ocean is only a small contributor to its beauty. On this past Sunday, beneath the arched vaulted ceilings and near the fully-decorated Christmas trees, the musicians could be found tuning their instruments, practicing the bilingual songs to come. Nearby, pew-side, a wide array of congregants — a surprising mix of white, Hispanic, Asian, and African-American devotees — could be found taking in the splendor and praying.

The ensuing mass was equally memorable, with Father Ludo DeClippel and Regional Bishop Thomas Curry officiating in both English and Spanish. From the first songs to the following tithe to the communion conclusion, parishioners continued to fill the pews, eventually leading to, as 31-year Deacon Nick Curran called it, an unusual case of “standing-room only.” Sans fireworks, the anniversary mass was more thankful than boastful, using the 90-minute ceremony to pay great tribute to its congregants, both long-term and recent, young and old, and races aplenty. One of Holy Cross’s newer members, a young Latino boy, reciprocated the gratitude from start to finish, happily traversing the aisles in his bullfighter’s uniform.

A potluck followed the mass. Held in Monsignor Hayes Hall — adjacent to the church and named after previous pastor Thomas Hayes — the banquet was equal parts culinary delight and continued devotee dedication. Amongst the hundreds of attendees were several “lifers,” members who have been members since the dedication ceremony 50 years ago. Both Peggy Stanczyk and Pat Edick are living proof of Holy Cross’s faith in its parishioners, and the parishioners’ faith in Holy Cross.

Stanczyk recalls fondly the days when her late husband served as an usher who helped install the pews, when her son was one of the first altar boys, and when she and her husband chose Holy Cross as the site of their own 50th anniversary celebration. Because of such strong ties, “I don’t go to any other church,” Stanczyk said.

Edick, whose children graduated from Holy Cross’s K-8 school along with Stanczyk’s, is equally hooked on Holy Cross, having served as Chairman of the Teachers and currently playing the role of greeter at every Sunday’s 8 a.m. mass. Edick remembers the days when, especially at Holy Cross, “money was scarce.”

And because life has a tendency to cycle, money may again be playing an undesired role in the livelihood of Holy Cross. The recent rumors regarding several iconic Mesa businesses — the possible closures of historic pizza joint Deano’s and popular fast-food hotspot Fosters — have in turn spawned rumors regarding Holy Cross. Although not officially a business, Holy Cross does indeed rely on donations to maintain its buildings and fund its charitable pursuits. Given the current economic situation, can the church’s sponsors — including Deano’s, which is also 50-years-old this year — continue to do so? Can Holy Cross’s parishioners continue to funnel money into the church when their incomes may be diminishing? And because pastors are paid via donations and tithes, can Holy Cross afford additional pastors?

According to Deacon Curran, the rumor that pastors have been hard to come by is false. Because Holy Cross is part of the Los Angeles Archdiocese — which sprawls from Oxnard to Santa Maria, from the ocean to the Simi Valley — there are apparently a bevy of pastors to choose from. At Holy Cross, the multiple religious posts are filled: There are four deacons and two pastors. Pastor Ludo DeClippel and Father Alfred are both Josephite priests, meaning that their primary focus is on youth education.

Although the future financial strength of Holy Cross remains to be seen, what remains solid is Holy Cross’s tenacity. While a depressing economy may sound alarm bells for many, Holy Cross has demonstrated time and time again that dire straits are not necessarily damning, and can even be unifying, harboring the potential to fine-tune the core of its mission: family values.


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