Immigrants and a new priest have revitalized a failing Los Angeles church

by Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times
May 26, 2010

His parishioners describe Father Paul Griesgraber as “old school,” a term that is almost laughably open to interpretation, given the 2,000-year history of his particular school, the Roman Catholic Church. In his case, it is used with affection and respect to describe a priest who trusts in the majesty of the Catholic Mass and invests it with deep spirituality — in both English and Spanish.

He is also a priest who brings people streaming through the doors of his church, St. Catherine of Siena in Reseda, a place that, in many ways, reflects the larger Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Once largely white, St. Catherine’s is now mostly Latino. Immigrants have pumped new life into the parish, and Spanish-language Masses draw larger crowds than those in English.

“The church was dead,” Olga Calderone, St. Catherine’s health director, said bluntly of the time before Griesgraber arrived last summer. “Now we are bringing the cultures together. … This is the beauty that Father Paul has brought to our church.”

It is also what parishioners at St. Catherine’s hope the next archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, will bring to an archdiocese that has been battered in recent years by a devastating sexual abuse crisis even as it has grown to become by far the largest Catholic community in the nation.

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