When our parish was founded in 1948, it was named after our Blessed Mother under her title Our Lady of Refuge. The statue of Mary, Refuge of Sinners, stands at the front of our Church. It portrays a gentle mother holding the child Jesus in one hand, with the other hand extended, beckoning us to draw closer to Jesus.
This title of Mary has a long history paralleling the story of our State. On January 4, 1843, the first Bishop of the Californias, Bishop Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno stood at Mission Santa Clara (near San Jose) and proclaimed Our Lady of Refuge patroness of both Baja California (now a State of Mexico) and Alta California (now the State of California in the US). The entire text of the Bishop's proclamation is found in Mission Santa Clara's Libro de Patentes. He said: "We make known to you that we hereby name the great Mother of God in her most precious title, 'del Refugio, 'the principal patroness of our diocese… With so great a patroness and protectress, what can we not promise ourselves? What can be wanting and whom need we fear? If through the centuries this most worthy Mother of God has shown goodness and compassion to all peoples and nations… will she not do likewise for those peoples who bind themselves to her as their refuge and special patroness?"
In the early days of California, the feast of Our Lady of Refuge was celebrated with great solemnity at all the mission churches. The entire coat of arms of Bishop Garcia Diego included only the image of Our Lady of Refuge. A painting of Our Lady of Refuge holding her Child, usually the product of a local or native artist, graced each mission church after the bishop’s proclamation. To this day most of the twenty-one missions of Alta California still display this image in the churches or in their museums.
The original painting of Our Lady of Refuge came to the Franciscan College of Zacatecas in Mexico from Italy. An Italian Jesuit missionary brought it to Mexico to explain the enthusiastic interest in Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners, that had developed in parish missions in eighteenth century Italy. Devotion to the Mother of Jesus under this title and in this pictorial representation gained wide popularity among the Mexican and California Franciscans and the people they served.
Paintings of Our Lady of Refuge are, with few exceptions, quite similar in design and execution. The heads of the Infant Jesus and his Mother Mary lean together with no background between them. Both figures wear a crown. Mary’s eyes are turned toward the observer, while the gaze of the child seems to turn left of the viewer.
Celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Refuge continued during the mission era of the State, but with the securlarization of the Missions under the Mexican governement in 1833, the custom waned, and was eventually displaced by other more popular images of our Lady (including Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima). Still, the memory of Our Lady of Refuge remained, with a handful of parishes from Brooklyn to Long Beach entrusted with her care. After a prolonged effort to recognise her importance to California, in 1981 the California Catholic Conference of Bishops petitioned the Vatican Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship for authorization to observe the feast of Our Lady of Refuge on July 5th as an obligatory memorial. This was approved by official document dated January 15, 1982, and signed by Archbishop Giuseppe Casoria. While the feast is not generally observed, it does reamain a feast on the Liturgical Calandar for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the other diocese in the State of California.
The feast is also celebrated in Mexico on its original day of July 4th, but owing to the conflict with Independence Day in the US, our celebration was moved to July 5th.
We are honored that our parish has been graced with Our Lady of Refuge as its patroness, a reminder of her loving care for us and the people of California.
Our Lady of Refuge, Pray for us.
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