As well as southern California, the Capuchin Friars were also invited to minister to God’s people in the north. They came to the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the 1920s, working first in the Visitacion Valley, then were asked to move down the peninsula to the community of Burlingame. In 1924 they met with a group of the area’s Catholics and planned out a new parish, to be named Our Lady of Angels, after the patroness of the Franciscan Order. The first friars lived in a small house, and, despite cramped conditions, began a joyful ministry among the growing population of the area.
The parish and school of Our Lady of Angels were built with the generosity and energy of the friars and parishioners. Both kept growing and the present church was built in 1954, along with the friary. Besides the sacramental ministry, the friars in Burlingame have been involved in many local ministries, including hospital ministry and care of the retired Sisters of Mercy. From time to time they also minister to the needs of visiting football teams, who stay at hotels in the parish when they come to play the Forty-Niners!
It is also the home of the St. Francis of Assisi Friary. This friary serves as the headquarters for the Province of Our Lady of Angels as well as a home for friars in hospital ministry and other outreach. It is also a place of hospitality for many friars and others who pass through Northern California.
History of the Friars in Burlingame, CA
On April 25, 1927, the friary and parish of Our Lady of Angels in Burlingame were off to a propitious start. In only seventeen years the friars had established themselves in eleven locations and were known for their hard work and pastoral zeal. In the next years they would still be expanding, as well as strengthening the charges they already had.
In Burlingame, also, there was a large increase of population, and the friars moved to respond to new needs. The present church of Our Lady of Angels was built there in 1950, built by Bro. Cornelius Hyland, who was many-years pastor of the parish. Cornelius also built a new friary and convent, and started a new school. The newly developed Mills Estate area of Burlingame caused such a growth of the Catholic population there that Archbishop Maher asked the friars to build a double school to accommodate all the new children. This work was started under Cornelius Hyland and later completed by Fergus Lawless.
On April 18, 1979, only 69 years after they first came to Oregon, the Capuchin friars in the Western United States became an independent entity within the Order. The Province of Our Lady of Angels of the Portiuncula, the Western American Province, was established amid much thankfulness and joy. Present at the special ceremony in Burlingame were nearly all the friars of the jurisdiction as well as the Minister General, Paschal Rywalski, and other friars from Ireland and the United States and Canada.
The first regular chapter of the province was held in January, 1982, in Burlingame. It opened amid one of the wettest winters in California history. Enda Heffernan told the capitulars: "I do feel we have to face up to our shortcomings; however, Our Lady of Angels is a great province, it is young, it is spirited, it is full of hope and enthusiasm."
The parish of Our Lady of Angels in Burlingame has become very active. It is often said to be one of the model parishes for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
In 1922 the Irish provincial chapter received a request from Bishop Cantwell of Los Angeles-San Diego for the friars to come to his diocese. In that year, Bro. Joseph Fenelon was named superior of the Irish missions in America and he came to Los Angeles to open a house there. On the feast of the Holy Innocents, he formally took possession of the parish of Most Holy Redeemer in Watts. One of his first acts in his new charge in Southern California, which he described as a land of "perpetual sunshine and abnormal development," was to have the name of the church in Watts changed to Saint Lawrence of Brindisi.
Bro. Gabriel Harrington soon arrived in Los Angeles to assist Joseph in Watts. The financial condition of this parish was good, and the friars immediately sought to acquire two lots adjoining the church. This had to be done through an intermediary, as the owner was rather inimical to Catholics and wanted to charge an exorbitant price for his land. Anti-Catholicism was apparently not limited to Oregon.
One of the first concerns in Watts was to build a school. With much hard work by the friars and parishioners alike the necessary funds ($40,000) were raised, and the new school was dedicated by Bishop Cantwell on August 24, 1924. It was staffed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame of Cleveland, Ohio, beginning their long association with the Capuchins.
Watts from the beginning was an active parish, but the friars there were not only involved in parochial ministry. Most of the men who lived there in the early days also did mission work, preaching several missions each month in the Los Angeles area and beyond. In the last three months of 1923, for example, they gave 18 missions, in such places as Bakersfield and Sacramento as well as the L.A. area. They were very popular preachers and filled the churches where they gave missions.
The original area of St. Lawrence parish was rather large, and that area today is served by three parishes. In the early days, Watts was known for its cool breezes. It was separated from Los Angeles by orange groves, and in Watts itself there were many truck farms. On visitation there Peter Bowe wondered if Watts would ever be joined to L.A. It was eventually absorbed by it.
Not long after their arrival in Watts, the friars were asked to take on another commitment in the Los Angeles diocese. They were offered charge of the Old Mission Santa Ines, located in Solvang, northwest of Los Angeles and near Santa Barbara. This church is l9th of the 21 missions founded by Junipero Serra and the Spanish Franciscans. Dedicated in 1804 by Esteban Tapis, the hidden gem of the missions had been abandoned for many years until it was administered by Fr. Alexander Buckler. The mission was located in Solvang, a town populated mostly by Danes. There were, however, many Catholics in the Santa Ynez Valley who were cared for from the mission. In 1924 there was an opportunity for the mission to again be staffed by brown-robed padres.
After settling legal matters with the bishop and the Franciscans of Santa Barbara, the Capuchins officially accepted the mission. The Tidings, official Catholic paper for Los Angeles, announced the news on November 15, 1924, and later described the arrival of the friars.
"On November 20, Fr. Joseph and Fr. Albert drove to Santa Ynez (sic) old mission in Solvang. A large group of parishioners met them and rang all the bells in the mission tower as a token of their joy at the coming of the friars."
On November 23 the formal function of installation took place. Bro. Joseph preached on the history of the mission and its people. It was a joyous day for all concerned.
The first Capuchin pastor of the old mission was Albert Bibby, assisted by Reginald O'Hanlon and Colmcille Cregan. Albert, a hero in Ireland, had come to California for his health. He was not long at his new charge, however, when he became seriously ill and had to be taken to St. Francis Hospital in Santa Barbara. He patiently bore his illness, but, despite some progress, he died on February 14, 1925. He was the first Capuchin to be buried in the mission cemetery. His remains were exhumed and returned to Ireland for burial at the Capuchin cemetery in Rochestown.
Bro. Albert was succeeded by Bros. Stephen Murtagh and Casimir Butler. In 1929 Reginald O’Hanlon took over as pastor of the mission. He was very close to the people. Of his departure from there a local paper said that "during his stay Fr. Reginald has endeared himself to all...he is a man of God and a true son of the seraphic Francis."
Mission was a very good place of ministry for the friars. Besides being a parish with a widely-scattered flock, Santa Ines was also a historic treasure which had to be cared for. The friars constantly busied themselves in an effort to restore the mission to its past beauty, sometimes obscured by modern 'improvements. In 1947 it was discovered that the Mission had originally had a second story which had been damaged in an earthquake and then covered over. Bro. Cyprian O’Leary, then pastor, decided to restore the second story to provide the parish with more living quarters and office space. He did much of the work himself, and in the process of restoration discovered many treasures of the old Mission.
Parochial matters were not the only duties that took up the friars time. Because it was a historic building, the Mission Santa Ines attracted tourists. In the early days these were few, for the Mission is somewhat off the beaten track. At that time visitors were given a personal tour by whichever friar was available, often Bro. Alexius Paolucci, who was stationed there for many years. The situation changed, however, when nearby Solvang was 'discovered.' The town had been founded by Danes, who had tried to preserve as much of their culture and architecture as possible. When this quaint setting was discovered by the people of Los Angeles, the quiet Santa Ynez Valley became a bit more noisy. As the tourist trade increased, Bro. Irenaeus (Timothy) O'Sullivan, who came to Santa Ines in 1951, realized that personal tours were an impossibility. He therefore set up a museum and a tour of the mission, guided by a set of recordings which automatically 'followed' tourists through Santa Ines.
As the parish grew, the friars also looked to the needs of the local people. In 1957 Timothy O'Sullivan established a school of religion for the Valley. He built a convent and brought in sisters who taught C.C.D. not only locally but in neighboring parishes as well. The people of the Valley were grateful to their Capuchin brothers and the work they did.