Monday, September 5, 2016

Celebration of our patron saint and the 92nd anniversary of St. Bernard Church

In August, with great joy, we celebrated the feast day of our patron saint and the 92nd anniversary of St. Bernard Church. 


Parishioners and clergy shared stories of their time at St. Bernard, who've they've met, what they learned, what they miss most, and their hopes for the future of our parish.


Celebration of our Italian community

Mass to honor the St. Bernard Church Italian community



"In these 92 years, St. Bernard's has faced many situations and challenges," Bishop Joseph Sartoris tells us in his homily for a special Mass celebrating the Italian founders of St. Bernard Church. "They faced the Great Depression. They faced floods, earthquakes, changes in demographics of people coming and going. And yet through all of that, they remained faithful to the spirit of those founders, faithful to the God they love, faithful to the lady they honored."



Stories



St. Bernard parishioners share stories of their time at the church, gatherings, parties, and what they remember most about growing up or serving in the parish.





Bishop Joseph Sartoris, former San Pedro Region auxiliary bishop, sits down with us and talks about his time as an associate priest at St. Bernard from 1966 to 1970. He speaks about Vatican II, the first Mass celebrated in the new church, and he recalls fond memories of his time ministering to the parish's families and youth.



Celebration of our Latino community

Mass to honor the St. Bernard Church Latino community





Celebration of our patron saint — St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Mass to honor our patron saint — St. Bernard of Clairvaux





Choice, culture, proximity sometimes thicker than blood


By Christina Blake 

When I was asked to speak about the Italian community of St. Bernard Church, the hardest part was where to start.
How do you sum your life experiences in what was once a vibrant and active church community? I could tell you about the dinner dances. I could tell you about the carnivals. I could tell you about the picnics or the St. Joseph's Table. But I think I will tell you about some of the people and events of which I have lasting memories. I was fortunate to grow up in the Italian community. I got to experience firsthand what it was like when the Italian community were vibrant members of this church community. I was one of the youngest members of the Italian Catholic Federation Branch 56 at St. Bernard. The ICF at St. Bernard was established in 1937 when our nation was still suffering the effects of the Great Depression. Growing up in this community I had many grandparents, numerous aunts and uncles, and I was the baby sister in many families, not just my biological one. Everyone knew everyone else; adults were expected to discipline any child that was misbehaving, not just their own. Everyone was family. We were related by choice, by culture, and by proximity which, at times, was a much stronger bond than blood. Being a part of the Italian community meant growing up in traditions that emigrated from Italy along with the people. I am the third generation in my family to complete my sacraments in this parish. My grandparents were married in the church in 1932 in what is now the parish hall. My mother completed her sacraments of initiation in this church, attended St. Bernard Catholic School, and married in this church. My brother and I completed our sacraments of initiation here, and I was married here. My children were baptized in this church. St. Bernard is my second home.
“We were related by choice, by culture, and by proximity which, at times, was a much stronger bond than blood. Being a part of the Italian community meant growing up in traditions that emigrated from Italy along with the people.”
Now I would like to take you all on a trip with me into the past. Jenny Lombardo, Pete and Anna Bonino, Jim and Clara Arcaro, Rose Caputo, Florence and John Scandurra, Celia Caizia, Tony and Del Ellena, Angie Penino, Gino Del Ponte, Joe Palesano. Do you remember those names? If you know any of those names, you were probably active in the Italian community from the 1950s to the 1990s. How about Monsignor [Patrick] McNulty's old “Boys Club”? Fred Merlo, Gino DelPonte, Art Looke, John Doble, and Victor Revito? If you drove by the church on Saturday morning, you probably would have noticed the work trucks. Like clockwork, they would be at St. Bernard bright and early to fix whatever was broken. I remember driving by and seeing Gino, Art, Victor, and dad's trucks, along with John's van, all squeezed together and filled with tools. I don't think there was a pew, kneeler, board, window, brick, or piece of tile that wasn't fixed by one of those men. I remember many times when a sermon would run a bit long — not that sermons ever run long, Bishop Sartoris! My dad would start looking around the church. After Mass, the men would huddle to compare notes. This needs to be fixed or that board looks loose, and the next Saturday morning the trucks would be parked in the front of the church. They all cared deeply for this church, but I personally think the guys got together to hang out more than anything. How many of you remember the ICF dinner dances? The dinner/dances are not what I remember most. What I remember is the setup. For days, the ladies of the ICF would cook the sausage, meatballs, and sauce for the dinner. We would go to set up the hall the morning of the dinner. The first thing you noticed when you walked into the hall was the wonderful smell! It was a combination of coffee, donuts, fresh bread, sauce, meatballs, and sausage cooking. I would smile at the ladies in the kitchen bickering over weather, or if the sauce needed salt, or how many sausages would fit in the cooker. I can tell you how many cooks can fit around the stove in the hall: about six or seven, depending on the dance. While cooking, they would all say, “This is the last time; I'm too old for this.” But as sure as the sun rises in the morning, six months later, they were back cooking for another dinner — same bickering, saying this was the last time. For most of those ladies, there was never a last time. They were always ready to jump in and help the parish. Now us kids, we would “kind of” help set up until we got bored or the adults got tired of redoing our work. Then we children would run amok. We ran around behind the stage, played the piano (OK, I admit, “played” is stretching the truth — banged on the keys is a better description), slid down the railing from the volleyball court. Like clockwork, as soon as Tony Palesano would hop on the railing and start to shoot down, Monsignor McNulty would walk through the volleyball court and catch him, then got snacks from Rose and Jenny. Those dinners were about being together. Everyone was dressed up. The men in nice shirts and coats, and the women in fancy dresses. I use to sit at the table, bored, watching John and Florance Scandurra and others dance to the music of a three-piece ensemble with the ever present accordion. It's never an italian dance without an accordion. I miss those days; they were great memories of being with family, even if they weren't related to me. I only wish that I could re-create those days for my kids. Many of the ICF members also made up the Altar Society. I remember coming in with my grandma and great aunt to help clean the church. I hated it, but when I would complain, Clara Arcaro would always pull me aside and say “chickadee, your family made up this church, there isn't a window, baptismal font or candle holder that someone you love didn't buy, and it's your responsibility to take care of your home.”
“I miss those days; they were great memories of being with family, even if they weren't related to me. I only wish that I could re-create those days for my kids.”
Then I would be asked to crawl on the floor under the altar to shine the wood or climb up to clean the sacristy. I thought that was cool, because I got to stand on the priest's chair to do it. The ICF Christmas parties were a blast. Everyone would get together, and because my brother and I were the youngest, we got all the good stuff. We even got to meet Santa (or Joe Palesano, as he was known the rest of the year). Jenny Lombardo and Pete Bonino would sing Christmas songs, then the rest of us would get scolded for not singing along. Then everyone would join in singing “Jingle Bells” as Joe was coming down the attic stairs dressed as Santa. Those were the best times, especially because everyone would give us their candy (except for the menthol ones; they always kept those to themselves). Little by little, the members of my ICF family passed away, and the ICF dwindled and passed. Luckily for me, my parents' generation all remained friends. I have no ICF grandparents physically here, but I still have many aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters. I wouldn't want it any other way. Though the Italian community dwindled here at St. Bernard, I still have the memories of some good times, great people and a lot of phenomenal spaghetti sauce recipes. Christina Blake is a St. Bernard parishioner.


Diversity has created a complex richness at St. Bernard


By Carol Dal Ponte 


St. Bernard was established as a parish by Archbishop John J. Cantwell in 1924.

In the early years, Italians were the majority. They came to this area because there were other Italians already here.

As a kid, I remember all the shops and stores located on North Broadway that were owned by Italians. There were delis, bakeries, photo studios, etc., all serving the Italian community.

Also located on North Broadway was St. Peter's Italian Catholic Church, which still serves the Italian population.

St. Bernard is not located far from this area.

Any church that had Italians, had an Italian Catholic Federation (ICF). St Bernard’s Branch 56 is one of the oldest in Los Angeles.

In the early years, it was vibrant. Traditions like processions and festivals were celebrated. The ICF provided a place to socialize, meet other Italians, eat, sing, dance, and it served as a safety net for immigrants to learn about being American.

Spaghetti dinners were frequent, and one could always hear the women in the kitchen arguing about whose method of making the sauce yielded the best product. These dinners were social experiences, but also fundraisers for something the parish needed.

There were also discussions about whether it was better to be a northern or southern Italian. Despite differences, there was always a large group of men who worked together to provide needed repairs and improvements on the church.

After finishing a project, beer flowed. It wasn’t unusual for the men to hold a steak barbecue to thank the workers.

The original church site was at the corner of Avenue 33 and Verdugo Road, which is now the location of our parish hall. Bart and I were married there. The exterior looks pretty much the same today. The parish hall was a rickety old wooden building which is now the location of the parish’s multipurpose room.

“Not all those who have contributed to our parish have come from the Italian, Mexican or Filipino cultures. Some have come from many others. All have made an impact with their ideas and visions, wonderful food, and celebrations.”

For many years, the parish was assigned two priests — a pastor and an assistant — most often Irish, who were very much a part of parish daily life. Each new priest brought new talents and vision for St. Bernard.

The parish bulletin, written by the parish secretary, Charlotte [Gipson], to let us know who got married, who was ill, who had died, and other interesting little tidbits about what was happening in the parish and to whom it was happening. It was personal, centered, and much like a small town newsletter. We all looked forward to keeping up with parish news.

After World War II, as quotas allowed, more Italians immigrated. Soldiers stationed in California often brought their families here. Many Mexicans arrived to help improve their family’s standards of living.

My own family arrived in the parish in 1947, my husband’s in 1952.

Italians loved California’s Mediterranean climate. It reminded them of home. They didn’t have to bury their fig trees every winter. There were lots of jobs.

Pater Noster High School, now Ribét Academy, housed the Theme Hosiery factory. Many workers were employed making silk and nylon stockings not available during the war.

Van de Kamp's Bakery, at the corner of Fletcher Drive and San Fernando Road, credited soldiers' time served in the armed forces as years toward retirement benefits.

Things were good.

People understood education was a way out of poverty, and the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.) at St. Bernard provided a good education.

“Relationships have been formed. They have become friends and godparents to our children. This diversity has created a complex richness that we hope will continue to grow. After all, together, we’re all just Catholic people who are part of St. Bernard Parish.”

Tuition was $2 month, and many parish children were enrolled in the school, including me and my husband. People knew each other — both parents and children — and many lasting relationship have endured.

Except for a couple of years in the early part of our marriage, we have lived in this parish. Our seven children all went to St. Bernard School.

The parish is home for us.

Italians might have begun building the early parish. Soon the Mexicans were the next majority and contributed lots of hard work and their own vision.

Now, Filipinos are probably the majority and contributing much. My daughter’s Filipino godfather was the architect for our current church.

Not all those who have contributed to our parish have come from the Italian, Mexican or Filipino cultures. Some have come from many others. All have made an impact with their ideas and visions, wonderful food, and celebrations.

Relationships have been formed. They have become friends and godparents to our children. This diversity has created a complex richness that we hope will continue to grow. After all, together, we’re all just Catholic people who are part of St. Bernard Parish.

Carol Dal Ponte is a longtime parishioner of St. Bernard Church.


Produced by Michael J. Arvizu/St. Bernard Church

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