Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Hollywood
History and museums
Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church is a parish in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles located on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood, California. The church today serves an urban, multiethnic community and is known for, among other things, its gay and lesbian ministry and its many outreach programs, including programs to assist the poor. Founded in 1904, the parish was the home parish for many actors during the classic Hollywood era of the 1920s through the 1950s, including Bing Crosby, John Ford, Irene Dunne, Loretta Young, Ricardo Montalban and Ann Blyth. The Italian Renaissance church, built in 1928, but not completed until 1954, received a historic preservation grant in 2000 for the J. Paul Getty Trust and is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
Blessed Sacrament Church was formed in 1904, and the first church, which accommodated 250 people, was built on Hollywood Boulevard (then called Prospect Ave). As the movie business developed in the 1910s, the population of Hollywood increased dramatically. By 1919, the old church was "literally bursting at the seams every Sunday." Enrollment at the parish school also jumped from 17 students in 1915 to 140 in 1919.
In 1921, the parish paid $75,000 for the land on Sunset Boulevard that is the current home of the church. Benefiting from a Hollywood real estate boom, the church later sold its existing property on Hollywood Boulevard for $300,000.
The new church and school on Sunset Boulevard were designed by Thomas Franklin Power. Power designed the Blessed Sacrament School, which opened in 1923, in an Italian Renaissance style. When the new school opened, its enrollment was 370 students. Power next turned his attention to the new church, which he adapted from the Basilican style of the Italian Renaissance style. The roof, however, was made of tile instead of the flat roof typical of Roman churches. Power designed the interior with flanking arches to be reminiscent of the San Paolo and St. Clement Basilicas in Rome. The new church was dedicated in June 1928. With its 223-foot chimes tower, ornate exterior and seating for 1,400 people, Blessed Sacrament quickly became a Hollywood landmark.
Though the structure was completed in 1928, completion of the interior decoration and ornamentation was delayed when the Great Depression began in 1929. One interior element that did move forward during the Depression was the Stations of the Cross. Noted Italian artist, Carlo Wostry, had been hired to paint murals at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Pasadena, and was also hired to paint the Stations of the Cross at Blessed Sacrament. Wostry began working on the Stations in Italy in 1930 and finished them in 1932. It was not until 1951 that architect, J. Earl Trudeau, was hired to complete the interior design. Trudeau said he "chose a rather simpler treatment, featuring economy of means both in the artistic and economic senses." The interior work was finally completed in early 1954.
The parish's longest-serving pastor was Father Cornelius McCoy, who was pastor for 25 years from 1932 to. 1957. He took over the parish in the middle of the Great Depression and oversaw the completion of the church. When he stepped down as pastor in 1957, the parish had 6,000 members.
In recent decades, the Hollywood area has experienced an economic decline, with large numbers of homeless and poor people living in the area. A low point for the parish came in October 1987, when a gunman opened fire into a crowd of hundreds attending the church's carnival, spraying the area with bullets. Two adults and two children (a 15-year-old and a 9-year-old) were wounded in gunfire.
In 1992, the church drew national media attention after a repentant man who had looted the "Frederick's of Hollywood" lingerie museum during the Los Angeles riots delivered a bag of pilfered celebrity lingerie, including Ava Gardner's "bloomers" and a push-up bra once worn by TV actress Katey Sagal, to the church's pastor, Father Bob Fambrini. An Austin newspaper noted that Father Fambrini "may be the only priest in America to ever comfort a man who felt guilty about stealing celebrity bloomers." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that such an "uplifting story could only happen in Hollywood."
In July 2000, Blessed Sacrament was one of 20 Los Angeles landmarks to receive a "Preserve L.A." grant from the J. Paul Getty Trust for the preservation of historic buildings and sites throughout Los Angeles County.
In May 2007, The Jesuit order agreed to pay $16 million to settle claims that one of its priests, Father Mark Falvey, sexually molested four girls and five boys between 1959 and 1975 at Blessed Sacrament. Falvey was an assistant pastor at Blessed Sacrament from 1959 until his death in 1975. Falvey was never charged with a crime. A Jesuit representative said he agreed with the plaintiffs' lawyer that "Father Falvey was not handled correctly by the Jesuit order", and that he "should have been removed from ministry" after the first victim.
In 2004, Cardinal Roger Mahony presided at the parish's 100th anniversary Mass, which was celebrated in three languages (English, Spanish and Tagalog). Cardinal Mahony noted the parish's long tradition of outreach to the Hollywood community, especially the poor and homeless. He praised those efforts: "I am proud of you because you have done this well. It helps us identify with what Jesus is calling us to in today's Gospel." Cardinal Mahony also thanked the Society of Jesus for their long history of service to the parish, and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart, whose religious community staffed the school for many decades.
Located in the heart of Hollywood, Blessed Sacrament has had close ties to the movie industry in its early years. As early as June 1916, the "popular stars of filmdom" were giving their time and talents gratis for a three-act burlesque on the "old-time melodrama" and novel specialty numbers.
When the parish needed funds to build a new church in the 1920s, the movie industry, which often used the church as a shooting location, again offered its help. The movie studios including Universal and Keystone helped the parish raise funds for the new church, providing actors and equipment for the church's fundraising events. In October 1926, the Los Angeles Times reported that Blessed Sacrament was holding the "biggest bazaar ever held in cinema town, with the co-operation of practically the entire motion-picture industry" to raise funds for the new church. The Times noted that the bazaar was housed under a canvas top, "with gaily decorated booths, gorgeous articles donated by the motion-picture stars, and by wealth persons engaged in other industries."
The parish's history reports that the church was so central to the early movie business that the first professional organization for Hollywood's screenwriters and actors (precursor to the Writers and Screen Actors Guilds) was formed at the church.
Blessed Sacrament was also the site of "the annual parade of Catholic movie stars" (including Loretta Young, Irene Dunne, and Ricardo Montalban) into church for Cardinal James Francis McIntyre's annual Communion breakfast for the entertainment industry. It was held during Lent so the industry's Catholics could also make their Easter duty.
With its location in the heart of Hollywood, Blessed Sacrament was for years the home parish to many noted actors. It was also the site of many celebrity funerals and weddings, including the following:
Blessed Sacrament has also been used as a shooting location for movies and television, including:
Since its formation in 1904, Blessed Sacrament has had 21 Pastors and Parish Life Director (PLD). Since 1914, the pastors have been members of the Society of Jesus. In 2011, Blessed Sacrament installed its first Parish Life Director (PLD). The pastors and PLD who have served Blessed Sacrament are: