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St Brigid Catholic Church—social justice hub and home parish of Amanda Gorman—celebrating centennial this weekend

A nationally-known Black parish in Los Angeles is making 100 this weekend, with the festivities including a Black bishop, a street renaming, and history aplenty.

St Brigid Catholic Church in Los Angeles will mark its centennial this weekend with a host of events celebrating their legacy of faith in South Central, including a street renaming and special Sunday Mass.

They are celebrating after a one-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are the second Josephite parish in LA to make 100 this year, with Holy Name of Jesus having done the same in September.

Palm Sunday at St Brigid in 2018. 

The St Brigid celebration also follows their special homeless outreach, also in September, where they anticipated this weekend’s festivities by giving out meals, clothing, toiletries, legal aid, and COVID-19 vaccines to locals in need.  

(Los Angeles is near the top of the nation in homeless population, with the number topping 64,000 in 2020.)

“St. Brigid has always been a beacon in the community and about giving back to the community,” parishioner Lavonna Anderson told the Los Angeles Sentinel.

“This was a day of service and it was something that we needed to do.”

Anderson chaired the homeless outreach event, and also shared details on additional centennial events scheduled for next year.

“In 2022, we’ll have the 100th-anniversary concert and a gala at the Skirball Center,” she said, referring to the large Jewish heritage center in Bel Air.

Sunday’s centennial Mass, at 10:30am PST, will feature as celebrant Josephite superior general Bishop John Ricard, SSJ, and the homilist will be Fr Tom Frank, SSJ, the immediate past vicar general of the society and pastor of St Brigid from 2007 to 2011.

The service will stream online on the parish’s Facebook page, and an in-person reception will follow. Memorial bricks commemorating the centennial are also available for $150 through New Year’s Eve.

St Brigid was established in 1920 as an Irish Catholic community, meeting in a rented house until a building was constructed in 1953. The parish later became predominantly African American after Black Catholics arrived to LA in strong numbers from Louisiana and Texas during the Second Great Migration.

They brought with them knowledge of the Josephites, who serve African-American parishes and had been in those Southern regions since the society’s founding.

Among the Louisiana transplants—“LALAs”, as they have been called—was one Jean Lawrence, a member of St Brigid who directed the former South Central Catholic Center and encouraged the chancery in the 1970s to bring the Josephites to the parish.

Cardinal Timothy Manning called the society to the parish in 1979, with Fr William “Bill” Norvell Jr., SSJ becoming its first Josephite pastor.

(Among Lawrence’s other successes was getting a vicar for Black Catholics in Los Angeles, Fr Fisher Robinson, SVD, and in 1987, the first and only Black bishop west of Texas, Los Angeles auxiliary Carl Fisher, SSJ—another Josephite.)

Norvell, now retired, is known for establishing some of the first-ever Catholic gospel choirs, and for spreading the trend around the country—including at St Brigid, which quickly became the talk of the town.

They were featured in the Los Angeles Times in 1987, the same year they received the Prophetic Witness Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The parish’s continued work in voting rights, homeless and housing insecurity advocacy, transportation justice, criminal justice reform, and COVID-19 response has also earned it the honor of a street renaming—an effort sponsored by city councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

That ceremony is scheduled for Saturday morning, December 4th, at 11am, wherein the corner of W 52nd Street and S Western Ave will become “St. Brigid Catholic Church Square”.

The parish became nationally known earlier this year when former parishioner Amanda Gorman made international headlines with her poem “The Hill We Climb”, delivered during the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

She has since become a New York Times Bestseller, entered into modeling, and was recently named one of Glamour’s Women of the Year. Last month she debuted a new poem, “The Greatest”, dedicated to perennial gold-medalist (and fellow Black Catholic) Simone Biles, and her next poetry collection, “Call Us What We Carry”, releases on December 7th.

As her popularity has grown, so has the parish’s visibility, with their community being featured in Catholic and secular media for its connection to her, and for its fusion of Black culture, social justice, and the Catholic faith.

Now, marking a century of service, they celebrate and receive their due once again.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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