Brief History

By Hermine Lees, Tidings Online Friday, June 18, 2004 (updated June, 2017)

Founded: 1931 Location: 187th Street and Clarkdale Avenue, Artesia San Pedro Region: Deanery 18
Four churches in the archdiocese are named for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (including Glendale, South Pasadena and Wilmington). But the one in Artesia is the only parish where Mass is celebrated weekly in Portuguese, a tradition that is rooted in the community itself (and reflected in the name of the parish school, Our Lady of Fatima).

The city of Artesia today is bordered by Bellflower, Cerritos and Lakewood, but was originally part of the Spanish land grant known as Rancho Los Coyotes. The Rancho title changed many times and attracted settlers who favored the rich soil and abundant supply of water. By 1906 the Artesia Improvement Company developed a town site. The first industry was truck farming and grapes were one of the chief crops.

The name of the city derives, of course, from the many naturally flowing artesian wells that were in the area. The early wells flowed continually and were capped with a bolted-down metal plate. Most of the farms used such wells until the water level receded.

In the early 1920s, many dairymen came from the San Joaquin Valley to work in the farmlands of Artesia. Most of them had emigrated from Portugal and the Azores Islands, and their language and traditions formed an early cultural foundation in the establishment of Holy Family Church. (The feast of the Holy Family developed in the early 17th century; by 1921 Pope Benedict XV extended the observance to the universal church as a model of domestic society accomplished through holiness and virtue.)

Father Manuel Vicente, a native of Portugal, celebrated the first Mass in 1928 upstairs in the Scott and Frampton Building. He resided at the old Parker Hotel on Pioneer Boulevard until the parish was established in 1931 and a small church was built on South Corby Avenue. Bishop John Cantwell dedicated the church to honor the Holy Family and most of the parishioners then were Portuguese-speaking Catholics.

In 1938, Father Vicente died and Msgr. Thomas English, a native of Ireland, followed as pastor for two years, and later serving for 31 years as pastor of St. Joseph church in Pomona. Msgr. English died in 1975 at age 73.

Parish support during the early '40s and '50s came primarily from the local dairymen with cattle feeding a major contribution. There were some 40 dairy farms at one time and one of the enterprising projects was the auction of donated calves and cows to raise funds for the church.

Msgr. John Hurley, another Irish priest, headed the parish for three years before being assigned in 1943 to Our Lady of the Valley in Canoga Park (where he remained for 32 years; he died in 1995 at age 91). Father Patrick O'Connor, also from Ireland, shepherded the parish from 1943 to 1958. Through his endeavors, the parish school opened in 1948, staffed by the Immaculate Heart Sisters and named for Our Lady of Fatima in honor of the Blessed Mother's apparition in Portugal in 1917.

Archbishop James Francis McIntyre dedicated the new parish plant of school, auditorium, convent and rectory in 1949, witnessed by 500 parishioners, 200 Immaculate Heart Sisters and 40 members of the clergy. The sisters staffed the school for more than 20 years. Father O'Connor died in 1971 at age 67.

Father William Kelly, another Irishman, was pastor from 1958 to 1966 and built the new church on Clarkdale Avenue for the parish in 1961. The red brick building seated nearly 1,000 persons and included shrines of Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Joseph the Worker. Father Kelly died in 1972 at age 68.

Father Mario Matic from Croatia first served as administrator and then was named pastor in 1966. During his former ministry in Yugoslavia, Father Matic had been condemned to death by the Communists but managed to escape to Rome and then the United States. He remained at Holy Family until 1970, a time when the city was rapidly developing and the rural dairy farms were disappearing.

Father George Kass from Iowa headed the parish until 1980 and under his guidance helped the parishioners of Hawaiian Gardens to build a church within their own city --- St. Peter Chanel. Father Kass died in 2001 at age 91.

From 1980 to 1992, Irish-born Father John Twomey headed the Artesia parish and enabled a building committee to improve the existing facilities, expand and remodel the rectory as well as a new meeting hall, kindergarten and computer lab. By now the parish consisted of many different language groups and more than 20 organizations covered all aspects of parish life. Father Twomey died of cancer in 2003 at age 64.

For the next 12 years Msgr. Loreto Gonzales from the Philippines, former director of archdiocesan Filipino Ministry, headed the Artesia parish. Then in July 2004, the Filipino Province of the Congregation of the Missions (Vincentians) took over the administration of the Parish and Fr. Johnny Zulueta, CM became the new pastor of Holy Family.

In 2010, after six years of Vincentian administration, Cardinal Roger Mahoney entrusted the Parish to the Marian Missionaries of the Holy Cross, a Filipino founded religious congregation.  Fr. Raymond Decipeda was the first MMHC Pastor and he served from 2010-2016.  The current pastor,  Fr. John Cordero, took the helm on  July 1st of 2016. He is assisted by two associate pastors, Father Joshua Santos and Father Joachim Ablanida.