Building church and community in La Colonia
The new Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Oxnard --- nearing its long-awaited dedication --- represents a triumph of spirit as well as a remarkable financial accomplishment.
For all the fundraisers that have been held (and there have been many) over the past eight years to help build a new Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Oxnard, none can compare to the knowledge that this parish in the city’s historic La Colonia district has built a solid base of spiritual support that, if anything, surpasses the financial support which made the new church possible.
Because it would make no sense to go to all the trouble of raising money to build a new church if those who came felt little sense of ownership of their parish, or their handsome new building.
Which is why, less than a month before the March 28 dedication of the new church, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s pastor speaks with sincere pride when he assesses the ever-deepening spirituality of his parishioners.
“If we build a community, the people will come,” smiles Missionary of the Holy Spirit Father Roberto Saldivar, seated in his office that, quite naturally, features a painting of the parish’s patron saint on a wall behind him. “We build church not just by having a nice new building but by addressing the spiritual needs of our people.”
And that is why, soon after becoming pastor in 2008, Father Saldivar abruptly stopped what appeared to be a never-ending stream of fundraisers, and devoted his efforts to drawing parishioners’ attention to what it means to “be church.”
“I said, ‘Let’s see where we are going; let’s see what is in our heart. We need to understand why we really want this building, if we are going to be truly successful in our mission to bring the Gospel to the people of our community.”
That meant establishing a pastoral team to assess and address the needs of the parish community, a community that has never been financially robust and has been hard-hit by the economic malaise of recent years. It meant devoting more time to improving the liturgies, to creating more opportunities for spiritual growth (including parish retreats), to building up outreach ministries through the local Knights of Columbus and St. Vincent de Paul Society, to focusing on youth issues especially in connection to combatting the lure of gangs and drugs.
Along with the new church, a new pastoral plan is being unveiled, the result of two years’ work by a core leadership team --- a plan that, Father Saldivar hopes, “will bear much fruit” as the parish moves forward with its new house of worship in place. A house that has been built, he says, because the parish community is more supportive, because they better understand “what it means to be a community of faith.”
Double the capacity
The new, 17,000-square-foot church sits on the northeast corner of the parish property, kitty-corner from the 40-year-old building on the southwest corner that will become the parish hall. With a seating capacity of 1,400, the new church more than doubles the capacity of its predecessor, which for many years has been insufficient to seat all who flock to the nine weekend Masses (plus two more at Christ the King parochial mission a mile away).
Designed by Victor Newlove of Armet Davis Newlove, the new worship space features plenty of natural light that splashes on white walls, plus a sanctuary wall whose color gradually changes from deep blue-green to white as it rises behind the altar, a feature duplicated in the adoration chapel visible from most every pew.
The pews themselves --- many donated from the chapel of the former St. John’s Seminary College, where Father Saldivar was a student --- are arranged in a fan-style configuration that enables all 1,400 people in a capacity setting to still be close to the altar.
Remarkably, the $7 million cost of the church will soon be paid in full, the large majority from parishioner donations, plus sizable donations from the Cardinal’s Awards Dinner as well as the Gene Haas Foundation, which donated more than $1.1 million towards construction. That includes a $100,000 matching foundation grant to help finance a tile floor, after parish officials worried that the floor would need to be left as concrete because the funds were running low.
“We had to raise a lot of money ourselves in a short time,” says Father Saldivar. And in three months, thanks to a campaign that allowed people to “sponsor” tiles at $40 apiece, funds were in place.
Another popular fundraiser that will add to the aesthetics of the new church arose from a day Father Saldivar, wondering how to raise necessary funding, gazed prayerfully at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe by his desk.
“I could hear her speak to me, saying, ‘Use my stars,’” he recalls with a smile. “So I counted up the stars on her mantle --- 46. We then put 46 ceramic-tile stars for sale at $5,000 each, and now they will be on the floor of the new church, in a reverse color-scheme [blue-green instead of gold].”
There are still some features that, at this time, will not be completed, like molding around the doors and windows, although every effort is being made, says the pastor, “to make everything look beautiful.” Further down the road will be a new capital campaign to raise funds to renovate Our Lady of Guadalupe School.
“But we have been careful,” adds Father Saldivar, “to ask for no more than we need. And the people have come through.”
As one who grew up in Oxnard and attended Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 1970s and ’80s, Father Saldivar is, understandably, almost overwhelmed as the reality of having the new church sets in.
“The mood here is one of pure joy,” he grins. “The people who have been here a long time, through all the fundraisers and the waiting and the frustrations, are especially pleased. They have been behind us, supporting us, even when they felt disappointed that progress was not happening.”
He points to the flower that serves as the parish logo, a flower found on the patron saint’s dress.
“When Juan Diego showed the people his tilma with the Blessed Mother’s image,” he says, “the people knew that the flower represented God, the divinity. That must be at the heart of our spirituality, that Our Lady leads us to God the Father. So that has been at the center of our spiritual life here: how our life in the Church leads us to Jesus, and how we can help lead others to him. And that has been our greatest joy.”