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St. Therese: Monks, prayers in Latin, and a rocking family festival

Last weekend St. Therese Catholic Church became a carnival. In the midst of it all were "retirees" Joseph and Lorraine Mizerski. As a deacon of the church for the past 11 years, “Deacon Joe” along with his wife have kept busy serving the church, which they have faithfully attended for over half of the church’s 87 years (Joe for 44 years, Lorraine for 68!). They spoke with the Alhambra Source about why the only language other than English that they have services is Latin, serving as a police chaplain when an officer dies, and why there are monks instead of priests.

You have witnessed some real changes in this church and community over the years. Can you describe some of those changes?

Deacon Joseph and Lorraine Mizerski.

This used to be the neighborhood church; people would walk to this church and send their kids to school here too. Back then it was a mostly well-to-do Anglo congregation, but nowadays it’s diverse both socio-economically and ethnically–Anglo, Filipino, Chinese, Latino, Vietnamese. There’s been a recent influx of young families, some connected to the school, but it’s a good mix of generations. We have 1400 registered families, with a few thousand who attend our five Masses on the weekends.

However, unlike All Souls (on Main Street) which has a Spanish service and St. Thomas Aquinas (in Monterey Park) which has a Chinese service, all our services are in English, except with the one Latin service.

Yes, explain why you have a Latin service!

There are still some who are nostalgic for the past,* and so we still have a well-attended Latin Rite service where we attract people from all over our region, since we’re one of the few Catholic churches who still offer this.

*Vatican 2 in 1965 was the official endorsement from the Roman Catholic Church that services could be done in the vernacular instead of Latin. The vernacular is the overwhelming practice now within the Roman Catholic Church.

You (Joe) are also a police chaplain for Alhambra. Were you called out when Officer Ryan Stringer was involved in that tragic accident?

Yes, I was actually just finishing up my on-call shift when I got a call from the chaplain who took over if I could come out.  It was very tragic, because I remember going out when he had his motorcycle accident in July 2010. I was asked to bless him from his mom, since he was in an induced coma, and there wasn’t much to do but wait. So it was a miracle he survived that one with his brain injuries. And so when I came to the hospital the second time, Ryan’s father saw me and told me, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”

How did you (Joe) become a deacon, and what does that mean in a Catholic context?

Well I wasn’t actually aspiring to become a deacon, but the Father at the time asked me to consider it as I approached retirement after working 39 years with what was Pacific Telephone (now AT&T). 

The diaconate program is a four-year program that is a lot like seminary, but not as super in-depth. You are trained to do different rites like weddings, homilies, and funerals. Our main function is to help the priests in many of the rituals short of consecrating communion and giving last rites. We do a lot of the marriage and baptism ceremony preparation.

The word “deacon” means “service” in Greek, and it used to be more of a role of serving the community outside the church. But lately with most Catholic churches only having at most one priest, the deacons have become more important to help with the ceremonies and rituals within the church. The amount of appointments for a priest can be overwhelming, so deacons help alleviate their workload.

Our church is a bit unusual, since we have three priests here. But part of the reason for that is that we have order priests (monks) rather than priests assigned by the diocese.  The church was founded and run by order priests and nuns, so it’s a continuation of that relationship. We have an ongoing relationship with the cloistered Carmelite nuns and The Retreat House (also on Alhambra Road).

Given how much work the diaconate entails, how did you (Lorraine) feel about Joe taking on these extra responsibilities?

I went to all the trainings with Joe to understand what he’s going to do. There is an understanding that the wives are an integral support for their husbands who are entering the diaconate and they need to know how all that service can affect a marriage. I am also able to help when liturgically proper, like helping with funerals, baptisms, and visiting the sick and shut-ins. I used to be an administrative assistant in the corporate world before I retired, but now I still do that for my husband!

We also recently became a “journey couple” to new couples that are going through the diaconate training. There’s a lot more training of deacons because of the priest shortage.

Is there a difference of having monks instead of regular priests at St. Therese?

The monks are contemplatives, so there are regular times when they retreat and meditate as part of their order. They always wear their brown monastic robes too. Because they take a vow of poverty, they cannot own anything, unlike regular priests. So if they have a car, it’s a car that belongs to their community rather than the individual monk. Stipends or honorariums they receive for services also go back to the community purse.

Are you a member of a congregation you think we should profile? Send an e-mail to editor@alhambrasource.org.

St. Therese Catholic Church

510 N. El Molino StAlhambra, CA 91801-2827 US

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