For more than 10 decades, St. Brigid Catholic Church has positively impacted African Americans in South Los Angeles. In fact, generations of families have benefitted from the outreach and educational programs offered by the ministry.
Officially, St. Brigid is 101-years-old since the church was founded in 1920, but the COVID-19 pandemic sidetracked last year’s centennial observance. Not to be denied, Pastor Kenneth Keke and the congregation moved the celebration to 2021 with the plan of presenting several uplifting activities.
Among the festivities was the dedication of St. Brigid Square, which took place on December 4. The ceremony recognized the L.A. City Council’s renaming of the intersection of 52nd Street and Western Avenue in honor of the historic church.
Scores of people came out for the program, coordinated by anniversary chair Lavonne Anderson, and witnessed the opening procession of African drummers and a liturgical dance by St. Brigid member Debra Parson.
Following remarks by former pastor, Father Thomas Frank, and current priest, Father KeKe, Mrs. Anne Lanoix-Labat, the church’s longest serving member, shared recollections of her family’s association with St. Brigid.
“St. Brigid is just a wonderful place. In the words of Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ there’s no place like home,” said Lanoix-Labat, who joined the parish with her parents and siblings in the 1950s.
“My father, Gilbert Lewis Lanoix Sr., was known as Deacon Gil and in May 1979, he became a deacon at St. Brigid and worked until 1994,” she said. “I live in Long Beach currently, but I have three siblings that still live in the family home on 54th Street and I always come to St. Brigid to worship.”
Lanoix-Labat also noted some of St. Brigid’s milestones such as citing 1979 as the year that the Josephites, or the Society of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, incorporated the church into its organization, which is dedicated to serving the African American community. Another key year was 1980, she said, “That’s when we formed our gospel choir and now we have over 40 years of our choir ministry.”
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson highlighted significant moments in the life of St. Brigid as well. Recalling the church’s social service ministries, he said, “The people of Los Angeles are grateful to St. Brigid Catholic Church because it’s been a light. I remember as a kid that nobody wanted to deal with the people who had AIDS, but St. Brigid opened up a ministry on Western Avenue for people who had AIDS. That was a big deal at the time.”
In addition, Harris-Dawson emphasized the church’s extensive work to assist the unsheltered population. “St. Brigid started working on homelessness 25 years ago and if everybody had done what St. Brigid did 25 years ago, we wouldn’t have a homeless problem at all,” he insisted.
“Whether it was South Africa or mass incarceration, St. Brigid was focused on those issues. As a young activist, you would have thought that I belonged to this church because they had so many community meetings about social justice issues here and that continues to this day,” said Harris-Dawson. He added that the St. Brigid campus will be part of the renovations and improvements planned for Western Avenue in the near future.
Other outreach ministries sponsored by the church focus on COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and providing assistance with housing, health care, education and public transportation. Also, St. Brigid continues to manage an AIDS/HIV program with the help of volunteers like Edna and Lawrence Williams and Renee Murray.
“I’ve been part of AIDS ministry since 1998,” Murray said. “We do outreach and work with Dr. Jordan at Oasis Clinic where once a month, we provide them with blankets and gifts during the holidays.”
In addition, St. Brigid hosts programs for youth and young adults and senior citizens along with offering a vibrant music ministry for members. Ms. Parson, who is also the choir director and a vocalist, has been in the gospel choir for 35 years and shows no sign of limiting her involvement.
“I’ve been a member since 1981 and with the choir for 35 of those 40 years. I also work with the youth and young adults and teach the praise dancers,” she said as she admitted her willingness to contribute to the anniversary celebration.
“[This special day] lets me know that we have a legacy to continue. I’m just blessed to have been such a part of the legacy and that I’m still here and well enough to still sing, dance and praise. I’m grateful to the committee for asking me to serve and to be of service,” said Parson.
The dedication ceremony was the second event of St. Brigid’s anniversary observance. On September 18, the congregation kicked-off the celebration with “St. Brigid Homeless Connect” in Chesterfield Square Park. The daylong activity offered hot meals, clothing, personal grooming and more to both homeless individuals and others down-on-their-luck.
The 100th anniversary Mass was held on December 5 with Bishop John H. Ricard, superior general of the Josephites, as the celebrant. Previously rector of St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, D.C., Ricard also serves as the president of the National Black Catholic Congress.
Chairperson Anderson said the celebration will continue in 2022 with the 100th anniversary concert and a gala at the Skirball Center in 2022.