Orange County is home to a diverse flock of Catholics, but many of the churches serving that flock date back to a time when the Diocese of Orange didn’t exist, and some of those houses of worship are beginning to feel their age.
When the suburban boom of the 1960s, itself a product of the postwar 1950s, brought thousands of people to Orange County, Baby Boomers were looking to settle down, and Disneyland and local universities had created thousands of jobs. As subdivisions spread across Southern California and veterans on the GI bill snapped up houses for as little as $10,000, parishioners sought spiritual homes as well. Then-Archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese James McIntyre hurried to construct dozens of churches in the newly formed cities, all built in a similar style because of the need for efficiency. Since its founding in 1976, the Catholic population of the Diocese of Orange has more than doubled, from 400,000 to more than 1 million, with Orange County’s Catholic churches standing as significant milestones of growth and development.
Some parishes, such as Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, have built entirely new structures, while others, such as St. Polycarp Church in Stanton, still enjoy their original church building.
The churches that were built in response to the postwar population boom mostly were constructed as temporary structures that could hold an emerging congregation until parishes had the resources to replace the original structures with permanent buildings. “Many of the churches that were built in the 1960s were built somewhat quickly; they certainly would not be characterized as churches of stellar or outstanding architectural quality, and many have already been replaced with newer and larger churches,” says Monsignor Art Holquin, the Rector Emeritus of Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano.
Having found that its original 1961 building couldn’t fit its growing parish, Our Lady Queen of Angels Church—which began with 300 families and now includes 3,800 families—celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011 by breaking ground for its new and permanent church building and adding 10 new classrooms to its school, which now enrolls 468 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The new church, which was built with stronger building codes in mind, opened in 2012 and seats 1,170 people. Having this larger space enhances parish life and strengthens the parish community, says Father Kerry Beaulieu, the pastor.
“Parish life is very important, because that’s where most Catholics come into contact with the Scriptures,” says Father Kerry. “The quality of the parish [physical structures] is important to nourish the faith of parishioners.”
While Our Lady Queen of Angels has seen a physical transformation in its facilities, St. Polycarp has evolved culturally and is thriving in its original church building, also built in 1961. The church has undergone minor maintenance and repairs through the decades, such as the installation of new pews and kneelers and air conditioning repairs—improvements funded by a jubilee fundraiser for the parish’s 50th anniversary in 2011. But overall the building is holding up well to the test of time and to the growth of its congregation. What began, like most other Orange County Catholic churches, as a mostly white congregation has evolved into a multicultural parish with 50 to 60 percent Hispanic parishioners and 23 percent Vietnamese congregants. Of its nine weekend Masses, four are in English, three in Spanish, and two in Vietnamese. On holidays, parishioners join together for a popular Mass in four languages (including Tagalog) with music, food, decorations and clothing from each culture.
“The multicultural aspect at St. Polycarp is the Catholic faith. It’s one Church, one Lord of all. We have all the faces of the diocese here; it’s really neat,” says Father Michael St. Paul, the pastor, who sees the parish’s diversity in a positive light. “It’s a worldwide Church and we can all benefit by each other and learning about different cultures.”
The next 50 years promise to be full of further growth for the church: Father Kerry hopes to build a new gym, pipe organ, and childcare room, as well as expand the community and parish programs at Our Lady Queen of Angels. Father Michael hopes to expand St. Polycarp’s facilities to include more space for its church and community groups, to increase school enrollment, and to continue serving the community through providing hot meals in conjunction with Second Harvest Food Bank.