The first Mass with Japanese homily celebrated in California was said by Father Albert Breton on Christmas Day, 1912 in the Settlement Chapel of the Settlement House which was located at 711 Jackson Street. In response to a personal letter from Leo Kumataro Hatakeyama to Bishop Alexander Berlioz, MEP. He asked the Bishop if he could confess by mail as no Japanese speaking priest was available. Father Breton was sent by Bishop Alexander Berlioz, MEP of Hakodate, Japan to minister to the spiritual needs of the Japanese Catholics in California. From this humble beginning the “first Catholic Mission dedicated to the Japanese in America” started.
The population of Los Angeles at the time was 300,000 of which 10,000 were Japanese. Fr. Breton requested help from Japan and 1915, eight women arrived from Nagasaki to assist in the mission. The beginnings of what eventually became the St. Francis Xavier School occupied a lot at 133 South Hewitt Street, not far from the present Zenshu-ji Temple.
As the work expanded, a house on Boyle Avenue was obtained and converted into an orphanage for Japanese children and a convent for the Maryknoll Sisters who arrived in 1920. Father Breton returned to Japan in 1921 and the Maryknoll Fathers were asked to work with the Japanese in Los Angeles. Father George Staub was the first Maryknoll priest assigned to the Mission in 1920. Father Hugh Lavery came to Los Angeles in 1927 and was made superior of the Japanese mission in 1935. He devoted 29 years of his priesthood to the Japanese of Los Angeles.
The lot at 226 South Hewitt Street was purchased for $5,000 and two-story concrete building was erected for $29,553. The Maryknoll School was dedicated in 1921. By 1922, there were 200 children enrolled. By 1930, a third floor was added to the school. The ground floor served as a classroom during the week and the Chapel on Sundays. The corner site of the present Chapel was purchased in 1930 for $10,000 and the Chapel, erected for $18,000 was dedicated in 1939. The rectory and auditorium were also added in the late 1930’s. And Maryknoll flourished.
The bombings of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 seemed to spell doom to all of the years of work and sacrifice at the mission. Hysteria ensued across America and the government herded thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans from their homes and put them into concentration camps in 1942. The Maryknoll priests, brothers and sisters stood by their flock, brining comfort and consolation to the internment camps. It was feared that the work of Maryknoll on the West Coast would come to a close following the removal of 110,000 but, when the war ended, the Japanese began to return, gradually at first then in great numbers and Father Hugh Lavery was there to welcome them.
In 1960, the Maryknoll school building had outlived its usefulness, unable to meet new safety codes. In November of 1963, ground was broken for the new school building and on May 5, 1964 four hundred and thirteen students moved into the new Mary knoll school building.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s enrollment at the Maryknoll School gradually declined as Japanese-American families moved out of the area and enrolled their children in neighborhood schools. Maryknoll School became a commuter school for children whose parents mainly worked in the Los Angeles Civic Center area. By 1994 there we only 3 parish families with children enrolled in the School. Maryknoll had become detached from the vision of our Issei forefathers who had seen it as a source of outreach to those who share in our ethnic heritage, language and culture.
In an effort to rekindle the spirit of our founders, the parish leadership asked the Los Angeles Archdiocese to allow the establishment of Maryknoll Japanese Catholic Center with the goal of providing pastoral care to Japanese and English speaking Catholics and reaching out to Nikkei community at large. The Archdiocese graciously granted the request; the Maryknoll School was closed and the building rededicated to this exciting new program of outreach and ministry.
The Maryknoll Japanese Catholic Center was dedicated on September 24, 1995. The Fathers of the Maryknoll Order bade their final farewell in June of 1996 making way for Father Henry Mair and Father David Doerner of the Society of Atonement Friars who arrived in August 1997. In 1998 Fr Henry and Fr. David were joined by Nagasaki-born Fr. Abraham Takayuki Tabata, OFM Conv., and a fourth generation of Catholic in his family, ministering to the Japanese speaking community while improving his English skills, installs Japanese software on MJCC computers and conducts computer classes in Japanese; Sister Cecilia Nakajima of the Poor Clare Missionary Sisters from Japan, joins MJCC community facilitating the ministry for the sick and homebound. In 2000 Fr Henry and Fr Tabata departed from MJCC and the parish welcomed Fr. Ignatius Hideaki Takii from Hiroshima.
In 2001 the parish established its first website. 2002 the Maryknoll Karate club celebrated it’s 40th anniversary.
With the retirement of Fr. David Doerner, S.A. in 2004, two bilingual priests, Fr. Jim Colligan, MM, after 40 years in Japan in the missions as well as a foreign correspondent for Catholic News Service, and Fr. Jim Frederick, a faculty member at Loyola Marymount University’s department of theology, celebrate the Masses. Cardinal Roger Mahony officiates at confirmation rites of young Sansei-Yonsei teenagers and adults in March at St. Francis Xavier Chapel, a rare occasion indeed.
Fr. Peter Jun’ichi Iwahashi from Nagasaki and on sabbatical from his post as pastor of the Tokyo Cathedral, served as our administrator in 2005. Fr. John Koji Mitsudome arrived from Tokyo in May, named administrator and an Episcopal Vicar for Japanese in the Archdiocese in 2006. Under Fr. John Mitsudome’s administration, the Archdiocese requested that the name of the center be changed back to it’s original name St. Francis Xavier. We are know as St. Francis Xavier Japanese Catholic Center.
With the departure of Fr. Mistudome, in 2007, Fr. Richard Hoynes, was named administrator by the Los Angeles Archdiocese in December of 2007.
October 2008, the St. Francis Xavier Auxiliary was formed by parishioners to provide service to the Parish to and its surrounding community while encouraging the development of Parish growth and participation through spiritual and social activities in alignment with Church Teachings. Auxiliary fulfills its Mission by fully supporting Parish activities and events which develop stronger parish, community, and personal relationships for the greater good of the Parish in a friendly and welcoming environment for all. April 2009 the younger members of the group requested and formed the Auxiliary Youth Group ranging in age from 13 to 25 to meet the needs of teens and young adults.
The parish celebrated our December 25, 2012 centennial with a Mass of Celebration on November 25, 2012 with Archbishop Juan Gomez and Fr. Richard Hoynes, concelebrating the Mass. A luncheon was held at Steven’s Steakhouse in the City of Commerce. On Christmas Day, December 25, 2012, over 200 parishioners gathered for a group picture.
The centennial year was filled with many events including a Pilgrimage to Italy, rededication of the Activity Center to the Maryknoll Activity Center. In October of 2014 the Centennial Photo was published.
In 2015, the long-awaited sign for the Auditorium arrived, renaming it to the Maryknoll Auditorium in memory of Fr Hugh Lavery, MM. A plaque in memory of Fr Hugh Lavery, MM is inside the Auditorium.
In recent years our neighborhood has gone some major changes; new luxury condominiums, apartments and artists lofts have sprung us around us. The neighborhood is now dotted with trendy restaurants.
In July of 2015, Fr Doan Hoang, S.J. arrived at our parish, to help Fr Richard Hoynes. Fr Doan Hoang served as Associated Pastor while Fr Richard was in the hospital. Fr Richard Hoynes, went home to Our Lord, in August of 2016. Fr Doan Hoang is the current Pastor.
In November of 2015 Fr Chu Ngo, S.J. came to St Francis Xavier as our Associate Pastor. Fr Chu Ngo is working part-time with the parish and continuing his work with the homeless.
In November of 2016 we lost our long-time volunteer, Mr. George Takahashi. George was very involved at the parish, Japanese Ethnic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Boy Scout Troop 145.
Our parish is also changing.. new faces, new groups, new events. EVERYONE IS WELCOME!
For more information about our history, please contact the rectory office.
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