Brief History of St. Stephen Martyr Church
Named for St. Stephen, a deacon and martyr, St. Stephen Martyr Church was officially established as a parish in 1921 when Rev. John J. Cox became its first full time pastor. Its roots, however, extend back to 1918 and the time when Don Antonio Maria Lugo, the owner of Rancho San Antonio (later named Ramona Acres), gave a small piece of property for the construction of a wooden structure that was to be the first St. Stephen Martyr Church. In 1924 Rev. Michael Conneally succeeded Fr. Cox as pastor and then established the first parish school of four rooms in 1926. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary accepted the invitation to administer the school and continued to do so for 67 years as pupil numbers increased and additional classrooms were built. In 1947 a new convent located at 122 S. Ramona Avenue was built for the Sisters who staffed the school. Today this convent is home to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny who volunteer in various parish ministries. It also houses the St. Stephen’s Community Outreach Center which assists local families with food, clothing and other necessities.
St. Stephen’s parishioners have worshipped in two other church buildings since the original wooden church was constructed in 1918. The present church, erected under the leadership of Monsignor Charles W. O’Carroll, was blessed by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre in 1959. Distinctive to this church are the almost life-size Stations of the Cross painted by John Henryk de Rosen. In the late 1990’s the present Church was renovated to incorporate the saints’ niches (near the main entrance vestibule), baptismal fountain and Eucharistic Chapel.
Like the City of Monterey Park, St. Stephen Martyr Church has been home to peoples of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The first parishioners were predominantly the German, Irish, Italian and Hispanic settlers who came to work the ranch. The 1940’s and 50’s saw an increase in the Hispanic population, followed by the immigration of Chinese and other Asian families in the 1960’s and 70’s. A Mass in Spanish was added in 1970. The Chinese Catholic pastoral ministry and a Sunday Mass in Mandarin were begun in 1981. This ministry was later formally transferred to nearby St. Thomas Aquinas Church at the request of the Archdiocese. The Catholic Ming Yuan Institute, founded by Father Stanislaus Su, began offering classes on Saturdays at St. Stephen’s in 1989. Today, under the leadership of Sr. Agatha Tseng, classes continue during the week in the late afternoon as well.
The newest cultural group to join the parish has been the Indonesian Catholic Community. The Indonesian Community of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (AC-ADLA) consolidated its regional centers and officially joined St. Stephen’s parish in late 2001 and celebrates 10 years as an official group in the Archdiocese in 2011. In 2001, Fr. Linus Tiala, the Indonesian Chaplain, came to reside in St. Stephen’s Rectory and the parish began offering a regular Sunday Mass in Indonesian. Since 2001, the Indonesian Community has been represented in various parish events and celebrations and participates in joint liturgical and formation programs. Since 2006 members of the community have served on various parish councils and committees.
Since its founding in 1921, St. Stephen’s parish has grown and developed under the leadership of 8 pastors, 2 priest administrators and 1 Parish Life Director. Currently the overall leadership of the parish is vested in our pastor, Fr. Leo Ortega and Fr. Budi Wardhana, the Associate Pastor / Indonesian Chaplain. Fr. Leo and Fr. Budi work closely with the Parish Staff as well as with the Pastoral Council established in 2006.
As each new person joins the parish, the faith community of St. Stephen’s grows not only in size, but also in gifts and resources. The history of the parish is a living, dynamic one. Much like its patron St. Stephen did in the early Church, the parish hopes to witness to God’s saving love in Jesus Christ and serve the greater community for many years to come.