Blessed Junipero Serra Catholic Church, Camarillo

Blessed Junipero Serra Catholic Church, Camarillo

Blessed Junipero Serra Catholic Church, also known as "Padre Serra Church," is a large Catholic church in Camarillo, California established in 1988 after the beatification of Father Junipero Serra. For its first seven years, Padre Serra's parish celebrated Mass in a room at St. John's Seminary. In July 1995, a modern 16,300-square foot (1,467 m²) church, without pews or kneelers, and with a centrally located altar, was opened.cite news|author=Christine Lima|title=Answering Their Prayers Camarillo: The new Padre Serra Church will soon serve a burgeoning number of parishoners as it nears opening day ceremonies July 1|publisher=Los Angeles Times|date=1995-06-10] As of 1995, the parish had more than 5,000 members. In 2007, Padre Serra Church also gained notoriety as the home parish of the first married Catholic priest in the history of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.


Prior to 1988, the Camarillo area was served by St. Mary Magdalene Church, a parish established in 1910. In 1988, as St. Mary Magdalene was no longer large enough to accommodate the area's growing population, a group of 2,500 parishioners in eastern Camarillo and the Santa Rosa Valley formed a new parish. For the first seven years of its existence, the Padre Serra Church celebrated Mass in a room at St. John's Seminary, while planning the construction of a new church. As of 1995, the parish had 5,000 members. It has been served by two pastors: Father Liam Kidney (1987-1999) and Father Jarlath Dolan (1999- ).

The church buildings

A 12 acre site on Upland Road adjacent to St. John's Seminary was selected for the new parish's permanent church. When the founding pastor, Father Kidney, first walked the cleared and graded site, he said, "This is one that Serra himself would have chosen: an elevation that commands a view of the sea, of adjacent valleys and of the mountain ridges of Los Padres National Forest to the north."cite news|author=Hermine Lees|title=Blessed Junipero Serra Church: A history|publisher=The Tidings|date=2004-09-03|url=] Speaking about his plans for the new church, Father Kidney said, "I would want it to speak for the whole community, of awesomeness, of art, of beauty, of life beyond what we have."When the new church opened in July 1995, Cardinal Mahony presided at the dedication ceremony. By that time, the parish's membership had grown to 5,000.

The structure, a modern adaptation of the mission-style church, cost $5 million and was designed by architect David Martin, whose grandfather Albert Martin designed Camarillo's first Catholic church, St. Mary Magdalene, in 1910.cite news|author=Maia Davis|title=Camarillo: Church's Proposal to Increase Size to Come Before City Planning Panel|publisher=Los Angeles Times|date=1993-04-20] Shortly before its dedication, the "Los Angeles Times" reported: "A bell tower announces the building's holy purpose, and multihued, earth-toned walls and a red-tiled roof make it look like a Mediterranean villa." The church building has a number of unusual features, including:
* Unlike the traditional Catholic church, individual wooden seats replace built-in pews and kneelers. The seats are also movable allowing the church to be rearranged for special services.
* In further contrast to the usual rectangular Catholic church with an altar at the front, Padre Serra Church is built in an octagonal shape with the altar in the middle of the room. Architect David Martin noted that, whereas the traditional design served to direct all eyes to the crucifixes and images of Jesus at the altar, his design was intended to put more emphasis on the congregation.
* The tabernacle is not located in the main church building, but is instead found in a separate chapel called the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The tabernacle sits on top of a six-ton (5.4 tonne) granite rock in the center of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
* The church has connecting classrooms, offices, chapel, courtyard and 75-foot (23 m) bell tower. Plans were also in the works for a school and biblical garden."
* All parts of the building face a courtyard that has a fountain, California pepper trees and other plants. The courtyard, facing the Santa Monica Mountains, leads directly to the hall of worship, which features vast, wooden ceilings."
* The high ceiling of the structure is highlighted by its large exposed wood beams. The project designer, Ed Holakiewicz, said, "The sanctuary was designed to create a sense of intimacy. The ceiling's exposed wood creates a feeling of warmth, and it gives the impression that everything is reaching toward heaven, toward God."
* Along with its modern elements, the church combines features of the traditional California mission style, including the large wood front doors, bell tower, courtyard, and fountain.

The architect, David Martin, said at the time of the dedication that he believed "the functional, non-traditional design caters to a new generation of churchgoers." Ventura County Supervisor Maggie Kildee, who spoke briefly before the dedication, said the new church would likely become a community landmark since its pink belltower could be seen for miles. Kildee added, "The chapel on the hill in Camarillo will forever be a welcoming landmark for people coming to Ventura County."cite news|author=Tracy Wilson|title=Camarillo: New Church Sanctuary Is Dedicated|publisher=Los Angeles Times|date=1995-07-02]

The non-traditional design has not met with universal praise. One Catholic publication noted that the church "is an oddly designed building; sort of a theatre in the round."cite news|author=Charles A. Coulombe|title=PADRE SERRA, CAMARILLO: Vertigo|publisher=Los Angeles Mission|date=2001|url=] The same reviewer noted the "contorted all-white corpus" of the crucifix mounted on one of the church's columns, creating a vertigo effect, "as one might have in an elevator." The article continued: "There were no stations of the cross, no tabernacle, nothing save the crucifix to imply that this was a Catholic church." Directed to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the reviewer found the tabernacle "shaped like a brass Dutch oven upon a rock" and an abstract crucifix "with shells scattered on it in place of a corpus." A 2000 reader's poll in the same publication ranked Padre Serra as one of the top ten churches in the archdiocese for its architecture, noting: "Complete 'village' concept, integrity, and Indian motifs." [ [ Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission | April 2001 | I Don't Think in Latin: Best and Worst Parish Survey Results ] ]

The first married priest in the Los Angeles Archdiocese

In 2007, Padre Serra drew national press attention when the Rev. Bill Lowe was assigned to the parish. Rev. Lowe was a retired Episcopal priest from Massachusetts who had been married for 44 years and had three adult children and several grandchildren. After retiring to Camarillo, and becoming a member at Padre Serra, Rev. Lowe opted to seek ordination as a Catholic priest. Under a little-known pastoral law, married clergy who have left the Episcopal Church may seek ordination in the Catholic Church and obtain a waiver of the Catholic celibacy rule. In May 2007, Rev. Lowe was ordained by Cardinal Mahony at Padre Serra Church, making him the first married priest in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. He was assigned to his home parish at Padre Serra. [cite news|title=Celibacy requirement waived; married SoCal priest ordained|publisher=USA Today|date=2007-05-07] [cite news|title=A blessed, wonderful journey for the whole parish|publisher=The Tidings|date=2007-03-02] [cite news|author=Ellie Hidalgo|title=Father Bill makes history in Los Angeles|publisher=The Tidings|date=2007-05-11|url=] [cite news|author=Tom Kisken|title=Married man ordained as priest: Celibacy requirement waived|publisher=Ventura County Star|date=2007-05-07|url=]

Connection with Father Serra

In December 1987, Pope John Paul II announced the beatification of Father Serra, the founder of the California Missions.cite news|author=Willaim Montalbano & Mark Pinsky|title=Pope Approves Beatification of Father Serra|publisher=Los Angeles Times|date=1987-12-10] At that time, the Los Angeles Archdiocese announced that, though beatification is an interim recognition that precedes canonization as a saint, Cardinal Roger Mahony (Archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese) had "taken the extraordinary but not unprecedented step" of petitioning Rome to allow the new parish in Camarillo to be called "Blessed Junipero Serra." The parish's first pastor, Father Liam Kidney, recalled that it was Cardinal Mahony who asked him to name the new church in honor of Father Serra.

The beatification of Father Serra and decision to name two new parishes in his honor led to controversy over Father Serra's treatment of native Americans at the California missions. California Indian leaders criticized the move and asserted that Father Serra played a part in the destruction of a rich civilization.cite news|author=Mike Wyma|title=Dispute Still Rages About Father Serra's Treatment of Indians: Pope Will Beatify Missionary Who Critics Say Helped Destroy a Culture|publisher=Los Angeles Times|date=1988-09-22] The controversy was further sparked when Msgr. Francis J. Weber, then director of the San Fernando Mission, was interviewed by the "Los Angeles Times" and rejected the notion that the Indian population had a rich civilization: "They were on par with what we studied in school as the Stone Age. Now if you think that's a good era to be in, then you can see where you would end up in this ongoing controversy of did we destroy their civilization. In my opinion, they didn't have any civilization to destroy." Weber also dismissed charges that Serra's missions imparted unduly harsh physical discipline, including whippings, on the Indians. Weber noted that "spanked" was a more accurate word: "In Europe of the time, a father spanked his children." A CSUN archeologist responded that the California Indians "had a complex economy, stable villages and elaborate systems of belief in art and religion," and asserted that Weber's comments were "an heir to the kind of thinking that let European societies eradicate whole cultures."


The priests who have served as pastor at Padre Serra are:
* Rev. Liam Kidney, 1987-1999
* Rev. Jarlath Dolan, 1999-

ee also

* Santa Barbara Pastoral Region


External links

* [ Padre Serra Parish web site]
* [ Blessed Junipero Serra Church: A history, by Hermine Lees, "The Tidings"]

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