Saint Peter’s Catholic Church was founded in the small town of Wilmington, California in 1865 by Bishop Thaddeus Amat, C.M., Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles. It was the twentieth year of the reign of Blessed Pope Pius IX. That year also saw the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The first Mass was celebrated on November 29,2015.
The first church building was a simple wooden structure on the corner of G Street and Neptune Avenue, and was constructed by soldiers of the 1st California Infantry Regiment, U.S.V, stationed at nearby Drum Barracks. The boundaries of the parish included all of what is now the southern part of Los Angeles County, from present-day Compton south to the ocean, and from Redondo Beach to Orange County. The first pastor of the parish was Fr. Antonio Ubach, O.F.M., the last of the Franciscan Padres in the line of Blessed Junipero Serra, O.F.M., the great Apostle of California. Around the end of the nineteenth century the name of the parish was changed to Saints Peter and Paul.
In less than 60 years the church was no longer big enough to house the growing congregation. Father Bernardino J. Schiaparelli, who became pastor in 1922, oversaw the design and construction of the present church on the corner of Opp Street and Lagoon Avenue. Unfortunately before work on the church had been completed, the Depression struck and some of the plans for finishing the interior of the church had to be postponed indefinitely. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated in the new church for the first time by Fr. Schiaparelli on Christmas Eve in 1930, and the church was formally dedicated on Sunday, March 15, 1931, with Bishop John J. Cantwell officiating.
In 1943 Father John V. Hegarty became pastor. He established a school on the parish grounds and invited Sisters from the Congregation of St. Francis of Penance and Charity to teach there. Father John Dunne was appointed pastor in 1945 and built a new parish school at the present location on Bay View Avenue. He invited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny to staff the school and built a convent for them opposite the church on Lagoon Avenue.
Monsignor John Brennan became pastor in 1960 and during his pastorate SS. Peter and Paul Parish celebrated its centenary with a Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving on April 24, 1966, with His Eminence James Francis Cardinal McIntyre presiding. Following Msgr. Brennan’s death in 1983, Monsignor Clement Morian was appointed pastor.
With the death of Monsignor Morian in 1993, Father G. Peter Irving III became pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Church. Father Roberto L. Pirrone became associate pastor in July 1999. Fr. Irving and Fr. Pirrone did much to restore the parish church back to the original design and thoughts of Msgr. Schiaparelli. Due to their dedicated priestly service, the spiritual life of the parish was greatly strengthened.
During the Great Jubilee Year 2000, Cardinal Roger Mahony designated SS. Peter and Paul Church as one of only 20 pilgrimage churches in the Archdiocese. On May 13, 2004 Fr. Irving inaugurated the new Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel with the enthusiastic support of the parishioners. Under the leadership of Fr. Irving, the parish also built the Eugene Sullivan Parish Hall and constructed the Pope John Paul II Memorial Garden, which includes a statue of the late Pope.
On July 1, 2006, upon the expiration of Fr. Irving’s term as pastor, Cardinal Mahony placed the parish under the care of the Norbertine Fathers of Saint Michael’s Abbey in Silverado. Fr. Raymond Perez, O. Praem. became its first Norbertine pastor. He served from 2006 through 2015, along with Fr. Michael Perea, O. Praem., Parochial Vicar; Fr. Patrick Foutts, O. Praem., school chaplain; and Fr. Adrian Sanchez, O. Praem. and Fr. David Gonzalez O.Praem. , who assisted the parish on the weekends. On July 1, 2015, Father Hildebrand Garceau, O. Praem. became the new church pastor and Father Charbel Grbavac, O.Praem became the first school rector. He continues to work diligently to ensure the health and vitality of the school community, overseeing all faculty and staff, and working closely with the school principal, Nancy Kuria.
During 2011 in August our parish was greatly blessed upon the arrival of three Norbertine Sisters from the country of Solvakia: Sister Adriana Gacikova, the superior, Sister Benedikta Hornikova, and Sister Roberta Spriakova. They were sent by their superiors to start a convent here at our parish. Their duties in the parish involve teaching in our parish school and CCD program, managing the parish bookstore, and running our Poverty Program. In August, 2014 the Sisters opened their doors to three new young postulants, who are the first American vocations. The parish is so very blessed with the presence of the Sisters who also serve at the school to help with religious instruction and the transitional kindergarten program.
Under the leadership of Father Raymond and his confreres, many material improvements occurred on our parish plant. Among those are: a new church roof, all debt for the entire parish hall paid off, a new sound system, and a restoration of the original church bell, which rings regularly each day on the hour. The Norbertine Fathers have added many parish groups such as Hermandad de San Dismas, Women of Grace, Groupo de Hombres, a new Guadalupana group, a parish youth group, and a Norbertine Lay Order both in Spanish and English. St. Peter and Paul Parish is greatly blessed with our dedicated priests, sisters, and lay staff who are building upon the foundation of the great ones who have gone before us.
The year of 2015 marked our parish Sesquicentennial Anniversary. Our parish celebration began on November 29, 2014 with a solemn Mass celebrated Abbot Eugene Hayes, the superior of St. Michael’s Abbey. The parish celebrated 150 years of history with many celebrations throughout the year, including a Mass celebrated at our school property where the first church was located and a solemn Mass celebrated by Archbishop Jose Gomez on July 26, 2015. This year of great blessing ended with a Mass celebrated on November 29,2015, the actual 150th Anniversary of our historical parish.