In the 1980s, during one of his several trips to the Holy Land to assist on Scripture-based retreats, Fr. Christian Mondor lost his travel bag and had his wallet stolen.
Mondor, whose intelligence and affability sent his charm meter off the charts, was able to convince a hostel manager to give him free room and board for a month.
It was a pattern that he exhibited throughout his life
“He never knew a problem that he couldn’t get himself out of,” said Fr. Ryan Thornton, parochial vicar at Sts. Simon Jude Catholic Church in Huntington Beach, Mondor’s home parish from 1990 until his death on April 25, 2018, two days before his 93rd birthday.
Mondor also had a gift for being extremely personable to whomever crossed his path, from hostel operators in Israel to surfers in Huntington Beach. The latter would take advantage of dead time between sets to listen to Mondor evangelize.
Mondor, of course, is perhaps best known locally as the “Surfing Padre.”
A lifelong swimmer and body boarder, he took up longboard surfing when, at age 65, he was named parochial vicar at Sts. Simon & Jude Parish, transferring from Oregon, where he had served in a variety of roles from young priest to college president.
The entire Franciscan community of Sts. Simon & Jude is celebrating Mondor’s life as they mourn his passing.
“He had an extraordinary impact on the parish and the community,” Thornton said. “We are together in grief and mourning and love for him.”
Beginning in 2007, usually on the weekend of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Mondor coordinated the annual interfaith Blessing of the Waves.
Years ago, church authorities had to gently discourage him from engaging in another favorite activity: placing his surfboard on the sand and using it as a makeshift altar.
But that was vintage Mondor, who tirelessly worked most of his adult life preaching the Catholic faith.
In fact, his last words before he passed away were, “Keep working.”
In a statement, parish leaders said Mondor “died with vision of mind and body unabated, and with the holy oils of Mother Church still wet upon his forehead and hands.
“He was, from first to last, a Franciscan priest and a man of God.”
Mondor was born in Los Angeles. His family moved to Hollywood to a home later purchased by the family of iconic actress Judy Garland.
During his 67 years as a priest, Mondor was involved in high school, college and graduate-level teaching.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Franciscan School of Philosophy at Mission San Luis Rey, a master’s degree in theology from the Santa Barbara Theological Seminary, a master’s degree in education from the University of San Francisco, and a doctorate from the University of Portland.
Mondor’s first assignment as a priest was teaching English and Religion at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix.
He then founded a high school in Salem, Oregon. While teaching at St. Francis Seminary in Oregon in the 1960s, Mondor took up the banjo and formed a folk-singing group called The Troubadours of St. Francis that performed around the Pacific Northwest to promote interest in the seminary.
After coming to Sts. Simon & Jude, Mondor became a regular participant in the annual Huntington Beach Pier Swim and the 1-mile Rough Water Swim in La Jolla. He also competed regularly in local, regional and international swimming competitions.
In 2000, Mondor chaired the committee that planned the first citywide interfaith Procession of Light service of prayer and song at the Huntington Beach Pier Plaza to commemorate the beginning of the new millennium.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mondor helped organize a citywide, interfaith response to the tragedy.
In 2012, he served as Community Grand Marshal for the annual Fourth of July Parade in Huntington Beach.
And in 2013, Mondor was named a lifetime member of the H.B. Longboard Crew, and that summer was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame honor roll.
Mondor formally retired as a priest in 2005 and took the title of vicar emeritus at Sts. Simon and Jude.
But he never really retired.
This past Easter, he heard confessions and was spotted singing in the choir.
Thornton, 34, parochial vicar at Sts. Simon & Jude since 2015, said he is being urged by colleagues to take up surfing to carry on Mondor’s legacy.
Said Thornton: “I’m thinking about it.”
Sts. Simon & Jude will host a Rite of Reception on Thursday, May 10, from 4-6:30 p.m., followed by a vigil at 7 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held on May 11 at 2 p.m., with a reception to follow in Colman Hall. Interment will be at Old Mission Santa Barbara at a date and time to be announced.
In lieu of flowers, Sts. Simon & Jude officials are asking people to please consider donating to the parish in honor of the Fr. Christian Mondor Plaza, which will be formally dedicated later this year.