THE HISTORY AND HERITAGE OF
ST. JUSTIN MARTYR PARISH
St. Justin Martyr Parish is a thriving, growing, and faith-filled community dedicated to loving and serving God, guided by His love, the teachings of Jesus, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
The New Parish is Established
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles established the parish on April 14, 1958 to serve west Anaheim. Because this was the feast day of St. Justin Martyr, the parish was given his name. (In 1972 his feast was transferred to June 1.) The nearby Sacred Heart Mission (Misión del Sagrado Corazón), built in 1926 as a mission church for the Spanish speaking community of St. Boniface Parish, was also to be a part of St. Justin Parish.
The Warehouse Gang Begins
The Archdiocese had procured land, an orange grove on Ball Road, for St. Justin parish.
Fr. Hugh O’Connor (later given the title of Monsignor) was appointed as pastor of the new parish, a position he held for 32 years. Fr. O’Connor arrived in Anaheim on May 15, 1958, and immediately worked to find a temporary location to hold Masses and to buy all of the items needed for the liturgies. Just ten days later on Pentecost Sunday, May 25, the first three Masses were said in a rented warehouse on Lincoln Avenue, with about 800 families attending. The founding parishioners who attended Mass in this building became known as “The Warehouse Gang.”
Fr. O’Connor also purchased a house on Emerald Street, just blocks from the site of the future church. While Sunday Masses were at the warehouse, some daily Masses were said in a temporary chapel set up in the garage of this house until the new church opened. The house served as the rectory and the parish office until the new rectory was built in 1964.
Setting the Groundwork
The founding parishioners immediately began volunteering for the needs of their new parish, setting up Religious Education classes, holding fundraisers, and beginning various spiritual, outreach, and social groups. This established the foundation of parishioner involvement that remains an integral and necessary part of parish life today. A building fund for the new church and school began, with a goal of $400,000, along with another building fund for a new Sacred Heart Mission Church.
On November 16, 1958, groundbreaking was held for St. Justin Church which was completed and opened in July, 1959. Two months later the parish school opened for grades 1, 2, and 3, and the lunch shelter was constructed by parishioners in October. The Felician Sisters came to teach in the school the following year. They lived in a nearby house donated by parishioners until their convent (now the Parish Center) was completed in 1961. An addition of 8 rooms was added to the school in 1961, and the following year parish volunteers dug trenches and ran water pipes from Ball Road back to the newly acquired field.
A New Sacred Heart Mission Church
In 1963 Sacred Heart Mission’s fundraising efforts enabled them to buy a half acre of land for its expansion. Groundbreaking for the new mission church was in 1967, with the first Mass in the new church on July 7, 1968. The old original church that was built by the Sacred Heart community in 1926 was converted into a parish center and the mission office, and new portable classrooms were installed. The old church bell was moved to the new church’s roof and it remains there today.
The Growing Parish
The St. Justin parish hall was constructed in 1964 which included a stage, storage rooms, a kitchen, and a room that has been used as a parish library, a craft room, a Catholic gift shop, and now as a meeting room.
The new hall and field were well used by the growing parish, school, and religious education programs. In the mid ‘60’s the school’s enrollment was over 960 with two classes for every grade, the English CCD’s enrollment was nearly 1,400 with 340 First Communicants, and the parish hall was used nearly every night by groups, organizations, and fundraisers. Offices and meeting rooms for the youth and SRE (formerly CCD) were constructed in 1970.
Vatican II Brings Changes
Changes to the Mass as a result of Vatican II also resulted in changes at St. Justin. Moving forward from the Latin, Masses began to be said in English in 1964, which was followed by changes in the guidelines for fasting from meat on every Friday, a reduction in the fasting time before receiving communion, and the addition of Sunday evening Masses.
The early 1970’s brought more changes, with the altar being moved from the back wall and placed in the middle of the sanctuary so the priest could face the congregation. For the first time lay men were allowed to be lectors and distribute communion, and a Saturday evening Vigil Mass was added which fulfilled the Sunday Mass obligation. The communion rails were removed which allowed people to remain standing while they received communion. “Guitar Masses” began. Later in the decade women were invited to be lectors, and the option of receiving communion in the hand began. Instead of confessions behind closed doors, face-to-face confessions began, as well as the group Penance Services.
The Diocese of Orange is Established
In 1976 our Diocese of Orange was established, therefore we were no longer under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Bishop William Johnson was the first leader of our Diocese (1976-1987), followed by Bishop Norman McFarland (1987-1998), Bishop Todd Brown (1998-2012), and Bishop Kevin Vann (2012-present). During that time several men of our parish have been ordained as deacons: Deacon Art Hiraga (1975, the first deacon in our Diocese), Deacon Raymond Duthoy (1979), Deacon Ramón León (1999), and Deacon Jose Ferreras (2009). Since the establishment of our parish, eight St. Justin parishioners have been ordained as priests: Fr. Thomas Stehly (1961), Fr. Mark Stehly (1966), Fr. John Schiavone (1973), Fr. George Gonzales (1979, Sacred Heart parishioner), Fr. Peter Muller (1993), Fr. Joseph Droessler (1995), Fr. Michael St. Paul (2005), and Fr. Jeffrey Droessler (2009).
Repurposing School Rooms
The 1980’s brought a decline in school enrollment which provided an opportunity to add a Kindergarten class and convert some of the classrooms to a library, learning center, science lab, art room, music room, day care room, a teachers’ lounge, and a computer lab. An addition to the rectory provided five offices, and the south end of the lunch shelter was enclosed to provide storage for the St. Vincent DePaul Society. In 1989 air conditioning was installed in the church, and women were invited to be Eucharistic Ministers.
The End of an Era
Msgr. Hugh O’Connor celebrated his 50th Jubilee in 1989 with a Mass, reception, and program in his honor. Parishioners unveiled a plaque mounted on the parish hall, renaming it “O’Connor Hall.” He retired the following June after 32 years as Pastor of St. Justin Martyr Church, and became “Pastor Emeritus”. New living quarters were built for him over the rectory garage. Msgr. O’Connor was replaced by Fr. Joseph Nettekoven who served as Pastor from 1990-2006.
Due to a decrease in vocations, the Felician Sisters notified the parish that they were no longer able to staff the school. They departed in 1993, which left a void in the parish and school but also an opportunity to use the convent for the good of the whole parish. It was converted into a Parish Center with offices, meeting rooms, a patio, kitchen, chapel, and a small living quarters. The following year the grass lot at the corner of Ball Road and Empire Street was turned into a parking lot. The first female altar server program began in 1995. The option of receiving the Holy Eucharist under both species at Sunday Masses began in 1997. In 1998 the area just west of the church was turned into a grotto, featuring a statue of “Our Lady of the Streets.” The parish commissioned a custom icon of St. Justin Martyr which was created and mounted by the west door of the church in 1999. A new cruciform shaped baptismal font was installed in 2000.
A Multi-Cultural Parish
The changing demographics of the surrounding area are reflected in the parish’s multicultural population as well. In addition to the long established Hispanic community, St. Justin’s is one of the religious centers of Chinese culture in Orange County which began in 1988, first with monthly Chinese Masses and later expanding to weekly Chinese cultural school and RCIA programs, and their annual Chinese New Year Mass. The parish also has a thriving Filipino community which began holding Filipino cultural classes at St. Justin’s in 1988, the weekly Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1990, as well as other liturgical celebrations including the annual Simbang Gabi Novena of Advent Masses, and the Santo Niño Mass and festival. The Tongan community participates in many parish programs and holds religious and cultural classes for the youth and adults. The Hispanic Community continues to grow, now having approximately 28 groups and organizations meeting both at St. Justin’s and Sacred Heart Mission. In order to accommodate the growth of the Hispanic community, all weekend Spanish Masses were relocated to the larger St. Justin Church in 1999. Weekday Spanish liturgies are still held at the Mission, and their portable classrooms are used nightly for education and meetings.
The first multi-lingual Mass was held at St. Justin on Thanksgiving Day, 1997, with readings, choirs, ethnic dressed liturgical dancers, and gift bearers, in English, Spanish, Tagalog (Filipino), Chinese, and Tongan. This began an annual tradition that continues today, which now includes Aztec song and dance. In 2009 this multi-lingual participation was adapted to be part of the annual Easter Vigil Mass, and includes readings in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Sinhalese (Sri Lankan), Tongan, Chinese, and Tagalog. The evening Holy Day Masses are bilingual (English/Spanish), along with the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the All Souls Mass, and the Penance Services.
The parish was profoundly changed when a fire in St. Justin Martyr Church began on Monday, July 25, 2005 at about 1:30am. Firefighters attending to another fire nearby saw the smoke and called it in. It took 62 firefighters from Anaheim, Orange, Garden Grove, and the Orange County Fire Authority about 30 minutes to control the fire. No one was injured. It was quickly determined that the fire was started by an arsonist, and a reward was posted for information leading to an arrest. The arsonist was never found.
Most of the fire damage was in the choir loft and roof. There was extensive water and debris damage to the walls, carpet and the pews, with widespread smoke damage throughout the whole building. There were large holes in the roof, and most of the east and north facing windows were broken out. Much of the ceiling was charred. Thick smoke stained the top half of all the walls of the building. Nothing in the altar area or sacristy was burned. The firefighters had carefully removed our Stations of the Cross and statues from the fire area and moved them to the front of the church, furthest from the flames. The large framed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was left in the vestibule directly under the worst part of the fire. Next to Our Lady was an iron rack of burning votive candles. After the fire was out, the firefighters noticed the image seemed to be untouched by the heat, water, and fire extinguishing foam that had been so close to it, and despite the countless gallons of water that was poured on the fire, the votive candles were still lit.
The parish lost all power for 2-4 days—offices were closed, priests stayed elsewhere. There were no morning Masses the whole week. Previously scheduled funerals were moved to other churches. A chain link fence was put around the church. Reporters, curious onlookers, and parishioners in disbelief mulled about.
Clean up began almost immediately with the removal of all broken windows, pews, and carpet. Every item in the church building, the upstairs of the rectory, and the school attic had to go through a process of cleaning and detoxifying. The first items to be cleaned were those needed for Sunday Masses. All other items had to be photographed, inventoried, and packed for storage at an offsite facility.
By Saturday, the parish hall was set up for weekday Masses, and a huge tent to seat 1,000 was erected in the back parking lot for weekend Masses. The tabernacle and altar from the Parish Center were moved for use in the hall and tent. For over a year we endured the heat, cold, wind, rain, and unpredictable elements of the tent. We didn’t miss a beat— we persevered.
A building fund was established almost immediately after the fire, with a goal of one million dollars. “With Christ as our Foundation, We are Rebuilding” was our motto. Donations came in from various parishes, businesses, families, parishioners, and children. Fundraisers were held most weekends for over a year. Thanks to a donor who matched funds, we eventually reached our goal shortly before the church reopened.
After everything had been cleared from the church, huge blowers were brought in to dry the walls, and a sealant was sprayed on the ceiling and walls to mask the odor of smoke. After plans were agreed upon by the insurance adjustors, the construction department of the Diocese, and Fr. Joe Nettekoven, construction began on February 28, 2006. In addition to rebuilding and replacing areas that had been damaged by the fire, a handicap accessible restroom was added and Building Fund money was used to earthquake retrofit the building, remove the asbestos flooring, upgrade to insulated windows, install a new large custom stained glass window, upgrade the altar and all sanctuary furniture, and install a security and fire alarm system.
The finishing touches were completed just hours before the first Mass in the rebuilt church on August 10, 2006, the Mass of Dedication. This ancient rite was witnessed for the first time by many priests and parishioners, local religious leaders, city officials, and the most honored guests – members of the Anaheim Fire Department. Bishop Brown presided at the Mass which included the unique rites of anointing the altar, lighting a large bowl of incense on the altar, placing the St. Justin relic in the altar, and priests anointing four walls just below the special Dedication candles. A Certificate of Dedication was signed by the Bishop and Pastor and was sealed in the altar with the relic embedded in the altar stone. After Mass a reception was held in the tent, its last official use.
Final Farewell to our Founding Pastor
In December, 2007, Msgr. Hugh O’Connor passed away at the age of 93. He had been our pastor from the parish’s beginning in 1958 until his retirement in 1990. He continued to live and serve at St. Justin until his last few years when he moved to a retirement center for priests. His funeral at St. Justin was attended by bishops, many priests, friends, current and former parishioners, and his family from Ireland. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Our Third Pastor
After 18 years as our pastor, Fr. Joseph Nettekoven was transferred to a different parish in 2008. Fr. Joseph Robillard was then appointed as our new pastor, being only the third one in the parish’s 50 year history.
The newly refurbished church provided a perfect setting to celebrate the parish’s 50th Anniversary Mass in August, 2008. Various parish property improvements were done the next few years, including new roofs for O’Connor Hall and Sacred Heart Mission Church, energy efficient lighting, and drought resistant landscaping. In 2012 the office at Sacred Heart Mission was closed, and the secretary along with all of the records was moved to the St. Justin Parish Office.
The parish hired a Coordinator of Youth/Adolescent Ministries in 2012 and began its new youth group, “Anchor”, the following year. In addition to the Chinese Lunar New Year Mass presided by our new Bishop, Kevin Vann, 2013 also saw St. Justin’s first Mass for the Lunar New Year celebrated in the Vietnamese Tết traditions with our priests and deacons wearing traditional Vietnamese vestments. An old tradition of the parish picnic was revived this year, with many groups and organizations working together to coordinate the picnic which commemorated the parish’s 55th Anniversary and St. Justin Martyr’s feast day.
A New Cathedral
The Diocese of Orange also took giant steps for its growth during this time. In 2011 it purchased the existing Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, and is in the process of converting it to a Catholic worship space, the Christ Cathedral, and center for our Diocese. St. Justin Parish along with all of the other parishes in the Diocese is taking part in a Capital Campaign fundraiser, For Christ Forever, to assist in this process.
St. Justin Martyr Parish and Sacred Heart Mission continues to serve the community by offering liturgical, spiritual, educational, outreach, social/well being, cultural, and youth programs, ministries, and services.
Currently St. Justin’s has over 4,000 registered families and is served by the pastor, two parochial vicars, one priest in residence, and four deacons. The average total attendance at the nine Saturday/Sunday Masses (English and Spanish) is over 5,600. There are also fifteen Masses during the week and a Mass in Chinese twice a month. Over 70 groups and organizations use the facilities at St. Justin and Sacred Heart Mission for their meeting and event spaces. We provide Religious Education for adults and children in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Tongan. Baptisms are held three times a month, and on average there are 1-2 funerals and 1-2 weddings every week.