St. Bernard Catholic Community, comprising of 8 parishioners, celebrated its first mass together in a private home among farmers in a farmland. They invited a visiting priest, Father J. E. Fitzgerald, to celebrate mass in the home of Mrs. L. P. Cote. The community named their church “Assumption.” Six months later, the parish bought a 2-bedroom house at 538 Center Street.
Bishop John Cantwell established a parish naming it in honor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the 12th century Cistercian who founded the famous monastery. Similar to the simple beginnings of this parish was the foundation of the Cistercian monasteries that grew from St. Bernard’s initial effort. The parish named after St. Bernard of Clairvaux was founded in a town named by area dairy farmers for the bellefleur apple that grew abundantly in their orchards. The first parishioners were all farmers that were of Latino, Portuguese and Dutch descendants.
* * * Father Eugene Villemure was assigned the first Pastor. * *
The first church building was completed for a contract cost of $6,000, financed by the Bank of Italy. Within a year, the parish grew to 200 families located in Bellflower and surrounding areas of Artesia and parts of Paramount.
Father Eugene Villemure ends his last year as Pastor of St. Bernard Parish.
Father Thomas J. McNamara becomes the second Pastor of St. Bernard Parish.
In October of this year, Norwalk was added to the parish. St. Bernard Church is now the mother church of many churches in this area. The liturgy was said to be very lively at this very early stage.
Father Stephen Kiley succeeds Fr. McNamara as the third Pastor. Father Kiley was a native of New York, whose first of six pastorates was at St. Bernard Church. He was named a monsignor before his death in 1962.
Monsignor Maurice Dee of County Tipperary, Ireland, served the parish for one year but spent 48 years ministering in the archdiocese before he died in 1972.
Monsignor Patrick O’Dwyer, another native of County Tipperary in Ireland, received his first pastorate at St. Bernard, serving three years. He died in 1971.
Father Leo Lambrick serves a 3-year term as Pastor. He was a native of Toronto who came to California in 1924. A feature article relates the story of his 20 years of severe arthritis and the “cure” that happened on the feast of St. Joseph. He died in 1972 at age 79.
Father Michael Conneally, one of the famous Conneally family members from County Galway, filled the post of Pastor. He died in 1940.
Father Cornelius Sullivan becomes the Pastor at St. Bernard Church. During his term, 1940 - 1950 (died in 1957), a search for a new location for the parish began.
The property on Palm Avenue (now Beach Street) just west of Bellflower Boulevard was purchased as the new location for St. Bernard Church. The construction of a temporary church, a convent, and a 4-room school began soon after.
Bishop Joseph T. McGucken, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and Apostolic Administrator, dedicated the new buildings on March 23. The first Parish Festival was held in September of this year. Mrs. Donna Santos was the first queen of the festival because she sold the highest number of tickets.
Father Sullivan felt the need to expand the school for the growing community. He had 300 students and 60 on the waiting list. The number of parishioners was increasing fast. There was a great sense of community at this level.
Monsignor Michael Carthage Healy of County Cork, Ireland, became Pastor and headed the parish for 25 years. He continued and completed the construction began by Father Sullivan. Monsignor Healy came with energy, vision, and enthusiasm.
Father Michael O’Shea, a new arrival from Ireland, was sent to St. Bernard Parish on August 26 as an Associate Pastor. By then, the population of the parish had outgrown the Church built by Father Sullivan.
On August 26, Father Healy requested that a permanent church be built. According to his letter, “the auditorium which has been used for seven years is no longer adequate. It seats 350, but more than 100 are standing.” During this year, plans were finalized for the construction of a church that would seat 700 people.
New church building begins. Bellflower’s population had swelled to 60, 000.
The Church was completed in April because of the enthusiasm and the deep faith of the parishioners. The first mass in the new Church was held at 6:30 a.m. on May 8. Cardinal James McIntyre dedicated it on December 4. The new Church featured a cross-topped 72-foot high tower, now an area landmark that is very visible when traveling west on Freeway 91. Completion of the Church cost nearly $240, 000. In addition to the church building, there was the reconstruction of the temporary Church (now the Friendship Hall) to a parish hall and the addition of several garages. The complete building program cost nearly one million dollars.
Monsignor Healy built the new school with eight classrooms, offices, and teachers’ rooms.
Monsignor Healy dies in 1975 at age 68, after 46 years of priestly ministry.
Father Philip McGrath of County Kilkenny, Ireland, succeeded Monsignor Healy and was appointed Administrator of St. Bernard Church on November 1, 1975.
Father Philip McGrath was appointed Pastor in April, and served the parish for 23 years. Among his many contributions was the capital building campaign. He continued the construction by building the current new rectory, new church offices, and the new main Parish Hall. A new 2-story wing and the existing school were also constructed containing new room facilities for a larger Library, a Computer Lab, a Science Room, an Art Room, and a Music Room. Father McGrath died in 2008 at age 79
On June 3, St. Bernard Church celebrated its 25th anniversary. After the celebration, alterations were made inside the Church to put in a new altar with a crucifix made in Rome.
Father Thomas Feltz, a native of Ohio, comes to St. Bernard Church as administrator.
Father Feltz becomes the Pastor for six years. He is now a Senior Priest residing at Our Lady of Grace Parish Church in Encino.
Father Michael Ume was named as the new administrator at St. Bernard Church.
He immediately planned for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the current Church.
On November 18, Father Ume was installed as the new Pastor. He worked on uniting all the ministries under one goal: to serve with love. With the help of the Finance Council and an ad-hoc building group, he restored and beautified the Church, adding a baptismal font. His loving ministry to St. Bernard Church ended on June 30, 2018.
On July 1, Father Toribio Gutierrez came as parish administrator and new spiritual leader. He has worked nonstop to clean, repair, and organize our surroundings. He has a great concern for security and safety for parishioners. We look forward to his weekly letters to our parishioners in our Weekly Sunday Bulletin to motivate the community to come together in prayer and ministries.
Father Gutierrez was appointed Pastor on July 1, 2020. Despite all the new challenges faced in the world with COVID-19, he has sought many communication methods to stay connected to parishioners and transmit live-streamed mass to parishioners in quarantine. He continues to amaze us with this light and happy spirit.