About OLR » Parish History

Parish History

Our Lady of Refuge parish was the first of a half-dozen new parishes established in the Long Beach area after World War II. When Father Hugh J. Vandenbergh, a native of Holland, arrived as founding pastor, he found fields of beets, beans and boysenberries which soon gave way to housing developments. This was Post World War II, and the nation was experiencing rapid economic expansion. The mild Southern California climate and job opportunities brought families to Long Beach from throughout the United States. There was a "building boom", and Long Beach was declared the fastest growing city in the United States. 

The official date of the parish's founding was May 10, 1948. In those early years Father Vandenbergh celebrated Mass in a temporary rectory at 1873 Bellflower Boulevard, with 127 families enrolled. On January 12, 1951 Father Vandenbergh moved into the present rectory. 

The first building erected on the present site was the parish hall which served as the temporary church from Easter Sunday, 1949 until the completion of the permanent church at the intersection of Los Coyotes, Stearns and Clark.

Construction of the  parish school  and convent was a priority in the early years of the parish.The school, staffed by the Sisters of St. Louis, opened in 1953 with each classroom named after a devotional title of the Blessed Mother --- "Mary, Seat of Wisdom," "Mary, Queen of Peace." Pupils lived Our Lady's Litany as they progressed from grade to grade.

By 1955, church membership had grown to 2,181 families, necessitating a geographical division into two communities;the fledgling parish of Our Lady of Refuge and the newly-created St. Joseph parish. 

Members of Our Lady of Refuge then embarked on a drive to liquidate the existing parish debt and to complete the task of building their church.The new church was completed in 1961 and featured a large stained glass window of Our Lady above the main entrance.On the first Saturday of September, 1962, a Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated in the newly completed permanent church.

When the community of Our Lady of Refuge Church celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1998, it consisted of  more than 1,700 families. Many parishioners celebrating on the day of the Jubilee Mass were members or descendants of the families which established the church 50 years earlier. 


The present parish family is an active and vibrant community of believers. We rejoice and take pride in our outstanding Elementary School, our flourishing Religious Education program and our many and diverse ministries and service organizations.  We are the God’s people moving forward to help build His kingdom among us, inspired by the example and accomplishments of the past.