By Jason Islas
October 28, 2013 -- Saint Monica Catholic Church, one of the oldest Catholic churches west of the 405, will celebrate the end of a $28 million overhaul of its campus Sunday.
Archbishop José Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will attend a special Mass and dedication ceremony at the 87-year-old church to celebrate the opening of three new buildings and a parking garage, a project more than five years in the making.
“These buildings will become, I hope, a great source of refuge and support,” said St. Monica’s pastor, Monsignor Lloyd Torgerson about the project, which adds 103,647 to St. Monica’s campus located between Lincoln Boulevard and Seventh Street in Santa Monica’s wealthy Wilmont Neighborhood.
“But it’s not just about the buildings. It’s about service,” he said.
Torgerson said that the new buildings -- the Tina and Rick Caruso Community Center, Grand Pavilion and Grand Patio and the Carol G. Simon Child and Student Center -- will make it easier to serve the 8,000 households in the St. Monica Catholic Community, which includes the Church, St. Monica Catholic High School and St. Monica Catholic Elementary School.
The project also includes a subterranean parking garage with 175 parking spaces, a vital resource in a neighborhood that has some of the tightest on-street parking restrictions in the city.
The project, Torgerson said, was made possible because of “a ton of fundraising” over many years and a good relationship with a city that understands the importance of service.
Though the Church is located in one of Santa Monica’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Torgerson said it serves the “extremely wealthy to the poorest of the poor.”
Among its flock, St. Monica boasts former California governor and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean Ann Holbrook, wife of City Councilmember Bob Holbrook.
“This is an urban community,” he said. “It’s not suburbia.”
Torgerson said that the parish was “very grateful” that Archbishop Gomez would be there since, with some 270 parishes in the Archdiocese, he doesn’t get to St. Monica very often.
The last time the Archibishop was at St. Monica, it was under much more tragic circumstances.
Last summer, Gomez attended the funerals for 26-year-old Marcela Franco and her father, 68-year-old Carlos Navarro Franco.
The two were killed by 24-year-old gunman John Zawahri during his June 7 shooting rampage that ended when police gunned Zawahri down in the Santa Monica College library.
The elder Franco, a long-time groundskeeper at the college, and his daughter were shot as they were leaving the campus in their car.
But Sunday’s festivities, which are open to the public, will be a world away from the somber proceedings of the summer. They will include live jazz, a food festival and tours of the new buildings.
“This is the day we have all been waiting for.” said Torgerson. “God has graced our parish with the faithful whose numbers have increased, challenging our ability to welcome and serve them properly.”
Sunday marks the completion of phase one of a two-phase project, officials said.
“The second phase will include renovations to the basement of the (high school) gym along with a new schoolyard scheduled for completion in the summer of 2014,” they said.
According to Church officials, the number of St. Monica’s parishioners has tripled in the past 20 years, “making it one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”
The renovations, Church officials said, are meant to accommodate the current number of parishioners and are not in anticipation of more growth.
Founded in 1886, St. Monica predates Santa Monica’s official incorporation as a city by about a year.
At the time, Torgerson said, St. Monica was the parish for a broad swath of territory ranging from Oxnard to Willmington.
“It was the mother church” for over 50 parishes in the region, he said.
The Church, in its current locations since 1926, has come a long way since it was serving as the lone Catholic parish along 77 miles of Pacific coastline.
“We are extraordinarily grateful to God and our parishioners,” said Torgerson.
Sunday’s Mass begins at 1:15 p.m. with the events to follow. For more information, visit www.stmonica.net.