The story of Catholicism in South Pasadena predates our beloved church. Monterey Road, just north of Rollin St., was an important connection between Mission San Gabriel and the new settlement, Los Angeles. On the Arroyo, a crude cross carved in the bark of a tree known as the Cathedral Oak marked the location where Mass was celebrated during the land expedition of Gaspar de Portola from San Diego to Monterey between 1768 and 1770. The first Mass in what is now known as South Pasadena was celebrated by one of the two Franciscan chaplains, Fr. Francisco Gomez or Fr. Juan Crespi, who accompanied the expedition. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary (2003) of the dedication of the church building, the parish planted an oak tree at the site of that first Mass.
More than a century later, in 1906, land was purchased for the construction of a Catholic church. Bishop Thomas J. Conaty assigned Rev. Richard J. Cotter, D.D. the task of establishing a new parish in South Pasadena on the property located at El Centro Ave. and Fremont Ave.
Our origins were faith-filled.
On May 10, 1910, seventy-five families gathered with Fr. Cotter for worship in a small cottage at the El Centro/Fremont location and called themselves Holy Family Parish. At that time the parish boundaries were Columbia Ave. to the north, Alhambra Rd., to the south, Garfield Ave. to the east and Arroyo Dr. to the west.
Our origins were prophetic.
By the following August, a temporary “bungalow church” was built to house the growing congregation until funds could be raised for a more permanent building, a “handsome edifice,” not only for themselves but for generations to come who would make their homes in this fast growing community.
Our origins were courageous.
On November 24, 1923, the property at Fremont Ave. and Rollin St., where our church stands today, was acquired for construction of a new church. The building at El Centro was moved to the Fremont location, for use until the new church was completed.
In 1926, Fr. James B. Morris, whose plaque hangs in the vestibule of the church, was assigned to Holy Family to raise the money to build the new church. In the years coinciding with the worst economic crisis in American history, the Great Depression, a mere three hundred families raised the money to build the beautiful house of worship we treasure today. Construction began in 1927. The building was designed by architect Emmett G. Martin and constructed by the Charles W. Pettifer Company. It seems miraculous that the construction of this landmark building, recognized as one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance Baroque architecture in Southern California, was made possible by bazaars, barbecues, dances, and card parties, but it is true. Our church today is a testimony to the sacrifice, generosity, and determination of our ancestors.
On January 8, 1928, Rt. Rev. Joseph J. Cantwell, bishop of Los Angeles and San Diego, led a procession from the cottage church on El Centro Ave. to the new church on Rollin St. to bless the altar, cross and cornerstone. The first Masses in the new church took place on Easter Sunday 1928. Solemn Mass was celebrated at 6:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and Low Mass at 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Fr. Morris, rector, officiated at all the services. Formal dedication of the new church building by Bishop Cantwell followed two weeks later, on April 22, 1928.
Our origins were provident.
In 1937, the parish elementary school opened and gradually properties were acquired for a parish hall, parish offices, and buildings for religious education. As the city grew (South Pasadena’s population had more than doubled since the “bungalow church”) plans were made and funds raised for a parish hall, parish offices, and properties to meet the future needs of the thriving parish. Successive generations continued to be blessed with foresight.
In 1950 when the church building was about a quarter century old, several additions were made. The two mahogany side altars, built by C. M. Gilbride, were added. The one on the right is dedicated to St. Joseph and the other to Mary. The magnificent murals, one of the death of Joseph and the other depicting the Assumption, were painted by a father-daughter team, Hector and Judith Serbaroli, in 1951.
Discussions about installing stained glass windows took place over many years. Finally, in 1962, the decision was made to commission windows depicting beloved saints. The parishioners of Holy Family selected the saints. The Michael H. Jaubert studio in Paris designed and made the windows. Installation was completed in 1964.
In 1977, the property known as the Oak St. House was acquired for the religious education program. In 1984 the Ramona St. house, which became the retirement residence of Cardinal Timothy J. Manning, was purchased, followed in 1988 by the acquisition of two adjacent residential properties.
By 1994, Holy Family was “bursting at the seams.” More space was needed for the “people of God” to work, teach, minister, and come together in fellowship and service. So a process began in which parishioners came together to brainstorm, question, dream, and envision the future of the parish. The result was the Vision Project, an ambitious undertaking to create a new ministerial campus for Holy Family. The challenge was to tear down, dramatically remodel, or relocate everything but the church. A capital campaign was launched to raise the money. The people of Holy Family responded with open hearts, personal commitment, and overwhelming generosity. Final approval of the Master Plan came from the City Council on May 25, 1997, and groundbreaking ceremonies took place on June 7, 1997.
The parish celebrated the completion of the Vision Project in 2000. But the end was really the beginning. Our parish is “living,” and where there is life, there is growth. The people of Holy Family have heard the message which emerged from the Second Vatican Council presenting a clear theology of the laity rooted in an understanding of the Church as the People of God, in the universal call to holiness. At the beginning of the 21st century, an energizing spirit of lay leadership blossomed at Holy Family. In this era, in addition to the call to the office of bishop, presbyter, or deacon, and the vocation to the consecrated religious life, some lay persons are called to “lay ecclesial ministry,” a vocation of full-time Church service in response to the needs of each local community.
The faith community of Holy Family dedicated itself to the adoption of an emerging model for parish leadership dependent upon the unique vocation of “lay ecclesial minister.” After prayerful study, a search was conducted for a lay leader to serve as Parish Life Director. On July 1, 2009, the effort was culminated when Cardinal Roger Mahony accepted the resignation of Monsignor Clement Connolly as pastor, and appointed Cambria Smith as Parish Life Director.
As we now begin a new chapter in the history of Holy Family, an exciting and challenging time of development and change, we, like those who came before us, are building a legacy for the generations ahead. God has blessed Holy Family in that our people continue to be faith-filled, prophetic, courageous, and provident. We strive to be disciples, recognizing that discipleship is personal relationship with Jesus Christ which grows in prayer, and by inviting Jesus into our life as Lord and Savior—it is an identity defined by relationship. Action comes from relationship. There is a difference between action and identity—action reflects identity—it does not make identity.
Holy Family Pastors/Parish Life Directors
Rt. Rev. Michael J. Galvin 1922-1923
Rev. James B. Morris 1926-1954
Rt. Rev. Leo Joseph Murphy 1954-1971
Rev. Msgr. Thomas McGovern 1968-1984
Rev. Msgr. Clement J. Connolly 1984-2009
Cambria Smith Tortorelli 2009-2021
Fr. Albert Bahhuth 2021-present