Where the Stars Go to Pray: The Churches of Hollywood
TRAVEL feature: Oscars-related
I’m as jaded a New Yorker as they come, and it takes a great deal for me to look up from my weekend bagel, coffee and newspaper. Though my out-of-town friends are thrilled whenever they spot a star pounding the pavement along with us, their pedestrianism doesn’t impress me as much. However, I am thrilled to find out a star of stage, screen or tube is a devout Catholic — or, even better, a convert to the one, true, holy, catholic and apostolic faith.
The list of Catholic actors is seriously impressive, even if we missed a couple here and there. For example, it’s too bad Groucho Marx wasn’t Catholic. Just imagine how funny that’d be! With Oscar season upon us, here’s a look at Hollywood’s famous Catholic churches, where stars and their fans pray side by side.
The Crystal Cathedral
12141 Lewis St. (at Chapman Ave.)
Until 2013, this building was owned by Crystal Cathedral Ministries, a congregation of the Reformed Church in America, founded in 1955 by Robert Schuller. Crystal Cathedral Ministries filed for bankruptcy in October 2010, and the building was sold two years later to the Catholic Diocese of Orange for use as the diocese’s new cathedral.
The interior is being renovated to accommodate the liturgy and is due to be consecrated in 2017, to formally be renamed Christ Cathedral and become the seat of the Diocese of Orange.
It’s the world’s largest glass building and holds one of the world’s largest pipe organs. With 12,000 panes of glass, the star-shaped building is a spider-web framework of white steel fitted almost entirely with glass.
The interior is veritably drenched in sunlight. The church will comfortably seat more than 4,000 people once it’s transformed into a Catholic house of worship.
St. Charles Borromeo
10828 Moorpark St.
St. Charles Borromeo is in the center of North Hollywood, so it has the greatest percentage of stars attending Mass.
Founded in 1920, the church, located at the corner of Lankershim and Moorpark, is an impressive Spanish, colonial-style structure.
Bob Hope prayed here even before he converted to the Church, as his wife, Dolores, was a parishioner. And in 1969, Bing Crosby attended the wedding of Bob Hope’s daughter, Linda, in this church.
In April 2003, the funeral of John Wayne’s eldest son, Michael, was held here. And Tracey Gold, the actress who played Carol Seaver on ABC’s Growing Pains, was married at St. Charles in 1994.
Actor Eric Estrada (“Ponch” on CHiPS) and Andy Garcia are parishioners, as is Jeopardy!’s Alex Trebek. Frankie Avalon attends Mass, too, as does Angela Cartwright (Penny on Lost in Space) and her sister, actress Veronica Cartwright (Alien).
Bob Gunton, the warden in The Shawshank Redemption, is a parishioner at St. Charles, too. He’s also an extraordinary minister of Communion and lector at the parish. And Paul Salamunovich, director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale who has done extensive film work, has been the parish organist for 55 years.
8634 Holloway Drive
St. Victor’s was established in 1906 to serve rail and oil workers who lived too far to walk to Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood. The church is dedicated to St. Victor I, the Church’s first African pope. He chose the current means by which we determine Easter every year (the first Sunday after the third full moon every year).
St. Victor’s is a sleek and elegant modern structure that reflects the history and culture of Hollywood. It has an active Latin Mass community, too. The church is located just off the famous Sunset Strip and predates the city of West Hollywood.
After Vincent Price and Nat King Cole’s son Kelly converted to the faith, they both became parishioners. Ricardo Montalban, Loretta Young and Cesar Romero are all on the parish roll. And the statue of Mary in front of the church is a gift from Danny Thomas and his wife, Rose Marie. Even though President Ronald Reagan wasn’t Catholic, his father, John Edward “Jack” Reagan, was. The family had his funeral at St. Victor’s in 1941.
Christopher Hewitt, who played “Mr. Belvedere” on TV, was a lector , and Jimmy Durante, Bing Crosby, Jane Wyatt and Loretta Young all sent congratulatory messages at the dedication of the new church in 1960.
Other celebrities seen at St. Victor’s include Jane Wyatt, the mother of the Anderson clan on Father Knows Best, actor James Woods and actress Christine Baranski.
St. Victor has an important claim to fame in the annals of motion-picture history overall.
Msgr. John Devlin, pastor of St. Victor’s from 1929 to 1976, served as the head of the Legion of Decency, the organization that was the precursor to the modern rating system.
Church of the Good Shepherd
505 North Bedford Drive
The oldest church in Beverly Hills, the parish was founded in 1924 and designed by architect James Donnellan. The structure, typical of southern California, reflects “Mission revival style” architecture.
Two side altars added in 1959 are dedicated to Sts. Felicitas and Perpetua and St. Vibiana, patroness of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
Among those who have worshipped in this sacred space: silent film icon Rudolph Valentino, Bing Crosby, Mischa Barton (who played “Marissa Cooper” on The O.C.) and even Paris Hilton’s parents.
Although the church’s interior is simply decorated and not particularly commodious, this church has been featured in several films, including the funeral scene in 1954’s A Star Is Born with Judy Garland.
Gary Cooper converted to Catholicism at Good Shepherd.
And Elizabeth Taylor was married to Nicky Hilton at this church, in a wedding gown designed by Edith Head, as 3,000 fans waited outside. Loretta Young was also married here.
Zsa Zsa Gabor’s recent funeral was held here, as well. She was a convert from Judaism, along with her two famous sisters. Eva Gabor had her funeral here in 1995. Merv Griffin, Danny Thomas and Frank Sinatra all had their funerals at Good Shepherd, as did Mary Frann, who played Bob Newhart’s wife Joanna on the Newhart show.
Other celebrity funerals at the parish include those of actress Rita Hayworth (1987), Cooper (1961), William Frawley (“Fred” of I Love Lucy fame, 1966), director Vincente Minnelli (husband of Judy Garland and father of Liza Minnelli, 1986), legendary director Alfred Hitchcock (1980) and Carmen Miranda (1955).
A memorial service was held here in 2002 for singer/actress Rosemary Clooney, as well.
Blessed Sacrament Church
6657 W. Sunset Blvd.
Blessed Sacrament Church, founded in 1904, was the first Catholic church in the Hollywood area.
It is a stately church that speaks of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The new school (1923) and church (1928) were designed by Thomas Franklin Power. Both were built in the Italian Renaissance style.
The church has a clear Basilican style of the same period. Its tile roof stands in contrast to typical Roman churches. Power’s inspiration for the church’s interior came from San Paolo and St. Clement Basilicas in Rome. The church has a 223-foot campanile and a beautiful ornate exterior. It can seat 1,400 people.
Back in the day, Blessed Sacrament was the primary parish church for many Catholic celebrities, including Irene Dunne and Loretta Young.
Bing Crosby married Dixie Lee at the church in September 1930. In 1956, John Wayne, another convert to the Church, attended daughter Toni’s wedding at Blessed Sacrament, with Bob Hope and Loretta Young in attendance. Wayne later attended the wedding of his other daughter, Melinda, at this same church.
In October 1957, the then-widowed Crosby was married for a second time here. His second wife, Kathy Grant, converted to Catholicism at this parish. Interesting tidbit: The church made its own TV appearance in a 2001 episode of ER.
St. Martin of Tours
1967 Sunset Blvd.
This beautiful, Moorish-style church, with a clear Spanish colonial architecture motif, is located in the ritzy section of Brentwood. It’s adjacent to Gary Cooper’s estate.
Its Catholic celebrity sightings over the years have included Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara. It has also hosted big-name funerals: in 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson’s; on March 9, 1994, John Candy’s, with Dan Aykroyd delivering the eulogy; and in July 2012, Sage (son of Sylvester) Stallone’s.
And in 2013, singer-actor duo Fergie and Josh Duhamel had their infant son baptized here.
725 California St.
Most people know St. Monica’s as “St. Dominic’s” in Going My Way (1944) and its sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). Established in 1886, St. Monica parish predates the city of Santa Monica, which was named after the parish. The current building only dates back to 1926, as the former church was damaged by an earthquake. Interestingly, Barry Fitzgerald’s character in Going My Way was based on Msgr. Nicholas Conneally, the pastor of St. Monica (1923-1949) who was a good friend of writer-director Leo McCarey.
Every year, Catholic celebrities host Octoberfair, St. Monica’s annual three-day charity event. St. Monica’s parishioners have included June Lockhart and Lawrence Welk and, currently, Martin Sheen, Brooke Shields and Kelsey Grammer. In addition, the church hosted a memorial service in 1989 for Lucille Ball.
And so, if you ever kneel down in prayer at Mass in Hollywood, consider that you may have seen your fellow pew mates someplace before.
writes from New York.
- angelo stagnaro
- faith and hollywood