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Parish History

Founding and Early Years

Before 1921 Catholics in the West Valley had to travel to San Fernando (St. Ferdinand’s Church) or to Ventura (San Buenaventura Mission) for Mass. In 1921 Our Lady of the Valley parish was founded and remained the only Catholic church in the West Valley until 1949 when St. Catherine of Siena was established in Reseda.

St. Joseph the Worker was founded in May 1956 to serve the growing west San Fernando Valley. Masses and celebrations took place in loaned and rented buildings in the area until December 1957 when Mass was celebrated in the building that is the present Msgr. Austin J. Greene Conference Center.

Parish growth and construction continued under the leadership of our first pastor, Fr. Austin J. Greene. St. Joseph the Worker School was completed in two phases, in September 1957 and January 1960. The school was staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet who continue to operate the school and provide other important services to the parish. A convent was completed in April 1964. Today this building serves as the Parish Center, and the religious reside in a private home. On April 30, 1961, James Francis Cardinal McIntyre presided at a Solemn High Mass of dedication of the parish. He also dedicated the present church in August 1968.

Msgr. Greene retired in September 1981 and was succeeded by Fr. James Loughnane. Fr. Loughnane undertook needed maintenance projects on the school, convent, rectory, and grounds. He fostered parishioner involvement through the Renew program and a youth program. Other new ministries included the RCIA, Bible Study, Contemplative Prayer, weekly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Finance Committee, Liturgy Committee, Vocation Committee, Children’s Choir, and Youth Choir. The ranks of lectors and Eucharistic ministers increased and women and youth were also invited to participate.

Growth and Construction

In these same years Spanish Mass was introduced and a Hispanic ministry was formed. The Vietnamese Community was also welcomed to celebrate liturgy every Sunday in their native language. In 1989 Fr. Loughnane launched the Capital Development Campaign to fund important modernization of the older buildings as well as new construction. A lunch pavilion adjacent to the school provided comfort and shelter for our students and served as a gathering area for parishioners. Construction was completed in June 1990. Subsequently, the choir loft was expanded and reinforced. The altar railing was removed and was used to construct the baptismal font, the ambo, and the presider’s chair. The altar was relocated to its present position in closer proximity to the assembly.

Fr. James C. Gehl became the new pastor in May 1993. He continued the work started by Fr. Loughnane by completing the newly configured church and the installation of the new organ. The St. Joseph the Worker Gift Shop opened for business in 1993, proving so successful that one year later the seed money to establish the shop had been repaid. The Northridge Earthquake struck in 1994. Because of extensive damage to the church and bell tower, all liturgical activity was moved to the Parish Hall for several months. Parishioners responded generously and enough money was raised to complete all repairs by the following year. The Peace Garden and Gathering Area, completed in 2001 and dedicated to Msgr. Loughnane, provides a welcoming exterior to the church. On April 27, 2002, the remodeled Msgr. Austin J. Greene Conference Center opened.

New Goals and Initiatives

In July 2005 the parish welcomed its fourth pastor, Fr. Kevin Rettig. Soon after his arrival, Fr. Kevin introduced the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi (June), including a procession through the neighborhood. St. Joseph the Worker celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2006. Festivities began with the Anniversary Mass in January, Cardinal Roger Mahony, presiding. Commemorative activities continued throughout the year, including a gala celebration dinner in May. The parish also published a fiftieth anniversary commemorative pictorial album.

The Music Ministry is a source of considerable parish pride. In summer 2008, the 9:30 choir, accompanied by many parishioners, toured Eastern Europe, singing at liturgies in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Berlin.

To increase awareness of the needs of the "least among us," the parish began a new initiative, the annual Cultural Outreach Program, in 2008. St. Joseph the Worker is home to people from all over the world. Each year the parish identifies a need in a country where many in the parish have roots and commits to a fundraising project in collaboration with a local charity. In addition to the outreach purpose, the project enables the community to learn more about the countries many of our parishioners come from.

The parish celebrated Fr. Kevin’s Silver Anniversary of ordination to the priesthood in June 2009 with an Anniversary Mass and reception. Along with Fr. Kevin’s family and friends, the parish joined in songs of joy and prayers of thanksgiving for the gift of Fr. Kevin and his priestly ministry.

St. Joseph the Worker invests a great deal of energy in creating liturgies that are inspiring, prayerful, and relevant. Recognizing that computer technologies and developments in liturgical software offer potential for making the worship experience ever more meaningful, in early 2010 projection screens were installed in the church, enabling the display of the Mass parts, multilingual song lyrics, and digital images.

The members of eight different choirs, from traditional, to contemporary, to jazz, in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, engage the assembly in prayerful song at seven weekend liturgies and other celebrations. Choir members came together to present "Welcome Matt," a musical based on the gospel of Matthew in spring 2011.

Church beautification was a priority during 2011. Over the course of many months, the pews were refinished and new carpeting installed. And beautiful tile now surrounds the altar. The new look makes the worship space every more inviting.

The Music Ministry took its show on the road once again in 2012. On an East Coast Heritage Tour, choir members participated in liturgies and performed in concert in Washington, D.C. (National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception), New York (St. Patrick’s Cathedral), Philadelphia (St. Augustine Church), and Boston (Faneuil Hall).

In fall 2011, the parish offered a three-part educational series called "Living and Leaving on Your Own Terms." The presentations addressed issues of life and death: making difficult medical decisions, writing a will, and planning a funeral. The program stressed the importance of advance planning – the gift of a lifetime to loved ones.

The Second Vatican Council opened in Rome on October 11, 1962. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of this ground-breaking event in the life of the church, in fall 2012 St. Joseph the Worker presented "Vatican II and Why It Matters." In four sessions, distinguished speakers lectured on the origins and vision of the Council, liturgical reform, the role of the church in the modern world, and ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.

Soon after the Vatican II commemoration, the parish offered another adult formation program, “Catholicism,” a ground-breaking documentary DVD series about the Catholic faith, created by Fr. Robert Barron, founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire.

During the Lenten season 2013, liturgical ministers had the opportunity to participate in a mini-retreat, “Looking Inward and Beyond.” In keeping with the Lenten theme, “Soul Searching,” guest facilitator Sr. Darlene Kawulok, CSJ, chair of the Religious Studies Department at Mount St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles, led attendees on a journey inward to explore the soul of their commitment to liturgical ministry.

National events have local impact. In response to the news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, our parish choir participated in a spring 2013 concert (April 6, 2013) organized by the City of Angels Community Choirs to bring a measure of healing to the community of Newtown, Connecticut. Proceeds from the concert, held at the Hall of Liberty, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, were used to purchase a set of hand bells, each bell inscribed with a name of one of the twenty-six people who died that day. The hand bells were given to St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, the parish home to many of the Sandy Hook victims.

In spring 2013 the parish inaugurated e-giving (electronic giving), an easy, convenient way for parishioners to make their financial contributions to the parish. Donors make choose to have their contributions made through automatic deduction from a bank account or by debit/credit card. There is no charge to the donor, and the system is safe and confidential.

Farewell, Welcome, and Celebration

On June 8, 2013, parishioner Gus Mora was ordained to the diaconate at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Gus and his wife, Onie, completed a five-year formation program. Deacon Gus assists the pastor at Mass and sometimes preaches, performs the sacrament of baptism, presides at gravesite services and funerals, witnesses weddings, visits the sick, and conducts retreats and days of recollection. Onie supports Gus in his diaconal ministry and assists in the celebration of the sacraments.

At a reception on June 30, 2013, we said good-bye to associate pastors Fr. Ty Bui and Fr. Hugo Neyra, who moved on to new assignments in the archdiocese. Both shared their gift of priesthood with us for many years and their ministry touched our lives in many ways, particularly in the Vietnamese- and Spanish-speaking communities.

In July the parish welcomed new associate pastors Fr Julio Ramos and Fr. Joseph Van Vu. After emigrating from Vietnam, Fr. Joseph entered St. John’s Seminary and was ordained in May 2009. His first assignment took him to Holy Trinity parish in San Pedro where he served four years before coming to St. Joseph the Worker. Fr. Julio Ramos, from Guadalajara, Mexico, completed studies in philosophy and theology at the Universidad Intercontinental in Mexico City and was ordained a priest of the Guadalupe Missionaries order in July 2001. He spent two years in Japan ministering among Colombian and Filipino communities. He was then called to St. Paul parish in Los Angeles, where he was associate pastor for nearly nine years.

The celebrations continued in August with the commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the Vietnamese community at St. Joseph the Worker. In 1983 Msgr. James Loughnane welcomed a new community into our parish family. Since then, we have been enriched by the traditions and beauty of the Vietnamese culture.

The year 2013 concluded with the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the SJW Gift Shop. From a modest beginning, in December 1993, during Fr. Jim Gehl’s first year as pastor, the Gift Shop has grown into a flourishing parish ministry. Staffed entirely by volunteers, the Gift Shop sells sacramental and devotional items, statues, crucifixes, jewelry, books, music, and gifts for all seasons. The Gift Shop is an important source of parish revenue.

The last Saturday in January is the annual Infant Jesus of Prague nine-hour novena, organized by the Infant Jesus of Prague Apostolic Group of the San Fernando Valley. The 2014 event commemorated the novena’s thirtieth anniversary. The program includes prayer, presentations on the chosen theme, blessing of the children, blessing of the images, and celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Another farewell took place in June 2014, when Sr. Angela Faustina, CSJ, Director of Music and Liturgy, announced that she had accepted a leadership position with her community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. During her thirteen years at St. Joseph the Worker, Sr. Angela led the growth of the music ministry, which now features eight choirs and musical traditions.  Under her guidance, our liturgies have become a place of welcome and inclusion, where everyone belongs.

In July, the parish welcomed Nicholas Calzada as the new Director of Music and Liturgy. Well known in our community, Nick had served for many years as parish accompanist and director of the Contemporary Choir. An accomplished jazz pianist and liturgical composer, Nick brings a love of the liturgy, a devotion to prayer, and a gift for music to his new leadership role.

From a modest beginning in the mid-1950s, St. Joseph the Worker has grown into a parish of 4,200 families, who make this is a very special place.