Sunday, November 24, 2002

LA church reopens after 1999 fire

In the long three years of rebuilding, of bureaucratic delays and the seemingly overwhelming task of raising $2 million, unexpected gifts of generosity appeared and reappeared like miracles to keep the congregation's spirits high.

The new church retains its historic twin domed towers topped with crosses. But a wing has been added, doubling the capacity to 950. New windows symbolizing the Holy Trinity and the Latino culture of most of the congregants were designed by Father Donie Keohane, an artist and pastor at St. Martin of Tours in Brentwood.

"In many ways, we're more blessed now than when we started," Cunnane said. "We have a new and bigger church, and a wider circle of friends and supporters. We've certainly realized that church is not a building; it is us, the people."

Contributions came from major donors like Palos Verdes Peninsula resident Mary Centofante, whose still-cherished memories five decades after graduating from St. Thomas Elementary School prompted her to donate $200,000 to build a new Blessed Sacrament chapel inside the church.

Living the faith is not about "how often you go to Mass, but what you do to help people," Centofante said in explaining her gift, which she donated in memory of her husband, Albert.

But half of the needed funds came in myriad small donations, many from parishioners whose average annual income of $14,000 skirts the poverty line, said St. Thomas' director of development, Joe Neeb.

The congregation of 8,000 families comes from most of the countries in Latin America, and also includes a sprinkling of whites, blacks, Filipinos and Koreans.

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