St. Catherine Labouré was the last parish established and named by Archbishop John J. Cantwell before his death the same month. There were about 300 Catholic Families within the boundaries: Rosecrans on the north, Crenshaw on the east, 190th on the south and Aviation on the west.
The first thing we did was have a party – a card party – to raise money for the new parish building fund. It was held at the Rollerdrome, 4311 West 147th
Street, Lawndale. The Rollerdrome was our first “home” for Sunday mass and other activities until the former tenants moved out of the official church property on Redondo Beach Boulevard, one block east of Prairie.
First mass was celebrated by Fr. Patrick J. Masterson (who served St. Catherine Labouré from October, 1947 to July, 1949) on the Feast of Christ, the King. Two masses were celebrated each Sunday, and daily mass was celebrated in the home of George and Betty Sturm nearby.
"As soon as the newly acquired property had been vacated, the men of the parish began to repair and remodel the buildings to make them suitable as a church and a rectory.” (From “Souvenir of Our First Church Program,” May 15/16, 1948) “The families of the parish donated food each Sunday so that the men would not go home for dinner (lest they not return) and beer was provided for them. The friendships formed during those early days still stand firm…” (From a “review” by Mrs. Engle, circa 1948)
Originally, the property was a vineyard with a winery and small ranch house. In later years, the winery became a venetian blind manufacturing plant. This larger building became our first church and social hall was attached on the west side of the church, the partitions of which were opened on Sunday mornings to allow more seating room. The farm house became the rectory and parish office.
1947 – 1952
In less than five years, a sparsely settled area, with no church within walking distance, and a generally neglected formal religious orientation for the children, was transformed into a vital, active region of religious fervor. All children not in Catholic schools were required to attend Saturday religion classes, and they came in large numbers, all hungry for knowledge of God.
Patricia (Pat) Sullivan worked tirelessly, (most often in a leadership position), in many areas of church activity, especially in religious education. She shared her memories with us:
“One of my earliest memories of St. Catherine’s is of the grey-clad sisters of Social Service, who came to hold religion classes in the new parish. The text was the Baltimore Catechism and all children were required to attend. Ever since the first pastor, Fr. Patrick Masterson, was installed, the religious education of children and adults has been a major commitment of our pastors.
By 1952, the new pastor, Fr. R. Tepe, had opened an eight –room Catholic School and established a Confraternity of Christian doctrine program (CCD) for those attending public school. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the baby boomers were arriving in huge numbers (families with 8 to 10 children were not uncommon) to fill the school and CCD classes. Double sessions were held in both programs with as many as 30 classrooms on Saturdays. Classes were even held in parishioners’ garages. St. Catherine’s CCD had the distinction of having the largest CCD program in the Archdiocese. The 1958 – 1959 annual report for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine showed that St. Catherine’s had enrolled 1,914 children in elementary and junior high; 93 in release time, 67 in senior high school, and 440 in vacation school.
Some of those early pioneers in the CCD were Pat King, Betty Zezulka, and Peg Plummer. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny not only taught double sessions in the school, but gave of their precious time to teach in the CCD program on Saturdays.
Vatican II (1962 – 1965) brought about changes in every corner of the church and Religious Education was no exception. When Fr. Zwissler arrived in 1972, the Baltimore Catechism was already gone; and he brought a great enthusiasm and experience in Religious Education. Fr. Zwissler restructured the program and hired Sr. Mary Roberta, SHF, as Director of Religious Education (DRE). The program was divided into separate groups: pre-school, elementary, junior high, and high school; each with its own chairperson. Fr. Zwissler also established a board of Religious Education, with pioneer catechist Dick Schloss as the first president. (One of those pioneer catechists is still teaching today: Carol Nyeholt)
One of the major advances in Religious Education in the 1970’s was the mandatory requirement from the Archdiocese that teachers of religion be trained. A program entitled, “Master Catechist,” was begun with Fr. O’Bryne, Sandy Lauzon and Melinda Ramirez Werner among the first graduates. These Master Catechists in turn gave formation classes consisting of 52 hours of theology and 12 hours of methods for those teachers in religion programs.
In 1978, Sandy Lauzon became Director of Religious Education (DRE) and in her eight years of leadership of the CCD program, there were many positive changes, the first of which was its name. The program became the Parish School of Religion (PSR). Pre-Baptism classes were established, the RCIA became a reality, and a confirmation process was begun.”
(more to come...)