California has iconic beaches and legendary surfing, high mountain lakes and giant redwoods, scorching deserts and rich wine-growing soil.
But this is also the land with a string of towns and cities under the patronage of angels and saints, indicating a rich Catholic history that predates its entrance into the Union.
Catholic in L.A.
I studied documentary production in graduate school, and I wanted to network a bit during my recent trip to Southern California. Almost 14 years prior, I had an internship in Burbank with a major television network, one — like other major networks — that has exported immoral “entertainment.”
Fortunately for me, my Catholic faith has since been very much strengthened, and I wish to produce pictures that will inspire, educate, motivate and ultimately give glory to our Creator, but not exclusively in a religious context.
One of my first stops in the Los Angeles area was visiting Movie to Movement. The founder, Jason Jones, was one of the producers of Bella, and this organization seeks to promote and produce works that “promote a culture of life, love and beauty.” Bella, the award-winning, artistically strong family film, has been instrumental in saving nearly 600 lives from abortion, and these are just the ones that were reported.
That same day I caught up with my friend Christin, an actress who made the big move from the East Coast to L.A. about a year ago. She earned a master’s degree in theater and has toured with her Mother Teresa Project, a one-woman show with vignettes of the Blessed of Calcutta. In L.A., she signed on with Central Casting and has been a background actress in various productions, including CSI: New York. She likes being a Catholic presence on set, which has led to spiritual conversations. She will soon debut the Mother Teresa Project in L.A.
Christin and I attended daily Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in Glendale (next to Los Angeles), with Eucharistic adoration afterward. I highly recommend visiting this gem of a church, with its colorful interior and vibrant Filipino and Latino communities. Later that evening, we caught up with another actress friend of ours, Alexis, and prayed a Rosary at a grotto outside another church.
For Catholics looking to work in the entertainment business, I highly recommend two stops. First, be sure to visit the good people at Family Theater Productions, right on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Founded by Father Patrick Peyton, whose canonization cause is under way, the media outfit has been producing family-friendly programming for 65-plus years. The center offers daily Mass and the Rosary, a weekly Bible study and Holy Hour, and a monthly prayer and pasta evening.
Christin also recommended that I visit Pauline Books and Media in Culver City to talk with Sister Rose Pacatte of the Daughters of St. Paul, the religious order known for its work in media. I highly recommend you do the same if you want a primer on the entertainment landscape with a Catholic worldview. Sister Rose is an excellent source, with a number of contacts, who was happy to help me connect with some documentary producers. The bookstore also has a Blessed Sacrament chapel.
This access to prayer and the sacraments was a reassurance that there is solid Catholic fellowship in the area.
John Paul, Family and Faith
This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my second cousins Jim and Bette (who are like an uncle and aunt to me). As they did years ago for my whole summer internship, they hosted me in their home in the San Gabriel Valley — a true testament to the hospitality and necessity of family.
From my base there, I drove south to San Diego, where I made a visit to John Paul the Great Catholic University. If you have or you know a young person who has an interest in screenwriting, directing, producing, animation or business in a solid Catholic and theological environment, you need to check out this school. In one of the classes I attended, a course about adapting stories to screen, I heard both undergraduate and graduate students pitch a variety of tales. I was impressed by their energy and creativity.
It was wonderful to stay with my cousin Vincent and his family in the nearby town of Encinitas; we had dinner together and checked out the scenic beach there.
Speaking of family connections, my parents drove out from “nearby” Arizona and met me at Jim and Bette’s house. Along with our cousin Marilyn, we took a trip to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. This mission is one of 21 founded in California between the years 1768 and 1824. A visit here showcases the extraordinary hard work of men like Blessed Junipero Serra, whose feast day is July 1, to found it and Msgr. St. John O’Sullivan to restore the mission in the 20th century. Seeing an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on one of the walls and visiting the 18th-century chapel, where Padre Serra celebrated Mass, gives one a firsthand sense of our faith’s history. If you are in the area, be sure to visit the mission and take advantage of a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable docents.
At the end of this great family day, my parents and I headed south back to San Diego, and my cousins went north back to the Los Angeles area.
I spend some time with los padres in San Diego and Arizona before returning to Boston. My mother bought me a book about Blessed Junipero at the mission bookstore, so I’ve been considering since: His life would make a great movie.
Justin Bell writes from Boston.