Strangers No Longer

February 1, 2010

Early in December I was privileged to be invited to the 70th anniversary celebration of St. Bridget Chinese Catholic Church in Los Angeles, California. In 1935 Columban Father John Cowhig was forced to leave China along with other missionaries and foreigners who were expelled by the communists. Upon his assignment to the U.S., Father Cowhig was directed by the Society to seek support for a mission for the growing number of Chinese immigrants then settling in Los Angeles

Father Arturo Aguilar

Father Arturo Aguilar

How consoling it must have been for him, grief-stricken upon being expelled from China, to be able to gather into a community those Chinese Catholics who found themselves strangers on the shores of a new homeland. And it must have been quite comforting and consoling for the immigrants to find a welcome and a home at what was to become the St. Bridget Chinese Catholic Center.

Fr. Cowhig was followed by Fr. Anthony O’Doherty in 1954 and later by Fr. Matthew Quinn in 1963 as directors of the Center. The 40 years of dedicated service to St. Bridget Chinese Catholic Center of these three Columbans continues to be a source of pride and treasured history for Columbans worldwide. As you probably know, the Society was founded in 1918 for mission work in China.

Hence, the Chinese people, country and culture have long been beloved of our Columban Society. St. Bridget Chinese Catholic Center grew throughout the years and developed many projects and programs of service and outreach.

In 2000, it was upgraded from center to parish. It first served Chinese immigrants in the area, more recently reaching out to all neighbors in need with a focus on recent immigrants. The hospitality and assistance offered by the parish is a gift to the entire community. As a beacon of acceptance and aid in a brand new world for many people, the church must seem as welcoming as the stable did to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem when they were immigrants.

The hospitality and assistance offered by the parish is a gift to the entire community.

When I had the opportunity to meet Fr. Matty Quinn in Ireland shortly before his death in 2007, I was treated to story after story of the people and the church and his love for both. It was during Matty’s tenure that the church’s outreach to the increasing number of Chinese-speaking immigrants from all parts of Asia expanded significantly.

At the meal after the anniversary Mass, many people came up to me to share stories and memories and to express their gratitude for our mission and for creating the spiritual foundation of the community. For the members of St. Bridget Catholic Church, as well as for the Columban Fathers, the spirit of those who have gone before us continues to be an inspiration.

Though administration of the parish ultimately passed into the hands of the Salesian Fathers, we Columbans continue to feel a bond with the Chinese Catholic community of Los Angeles. We celebrate our history and common tradition and look forward to new ways of collaborating in mission.

From the Director
By Fr. Arturo Aguilar