Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa Church: A history
Besides the famous Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe that contains the miraculous image of Mary, another shrine also honors the Blessed Mother in a special way at Talpa de Allende in the state of Jalisco in Mexico.
This story of Marian devotion, according to the parish history, began in the 17th century in the impoverished village of Santiago de Talpa where sacred images were made of cornstalks for religious observance and devotion. However, with the passage of time, such fragile constructions deteriorated.

The village priest decided to destroy the decaying images and a village woman took the one of the Blessed Mother and attempted to bury it. But the image was suddenly covered by an intense light and then was completely transformed. This miracle of Sept. 19, 1644 has since been venerated at the Basilica of Talpa de Allende.

That devotion and tradition remained integral to the Mexican people and continued with those who were escaping religious persecution in the 1920s. "These fervent exiles, without priests or churches, fought to conserve their faith and tradition," the church history notes.

By 1926 Bishop John Cantwell had started catechesis centers for the exiles. A small chapel was built on Second Street and one of the exiled priests from Mexico, Father Cordero, was named administrator of the Mission of Our Lady of Talpa. The first Mass was celebrated on Ash Wednesday 1927, the first baptism on Oct. 27, 1928. Assisting the mission were clergy from nearby St. Mary Church.

In 1930, the first diocesan procession in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe was organized in the East Side where thousands of Mexican refugees had settled. By 1938 the Mexican priests were able to return to Mexico and the Vincentian Missionaries from Spain took charge of the East Side parish.

The first Vincentian pastor was Father Joseph Cervera, a native of Nogueruelas, Spain, who had previously worked among Puerto Ricans in New York. The lingering effects of the Depression left great hardships and unemployment in the area, and Sunday offerings averaged about $7. For two years Father Cervera depended on the charity of his parishioners for meals.

Yet during his 24 years as pastor, he built the church, school, convent and rectory. Among his many educational, cultural and ivic improvements for the parish, Father Cervera also founded a large boys' band that won statewide championships. The new church on East Fourth Street and Evergreen Avenue was dedicated in 1943; the parish school opened in 1951, staffed then and today by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

Father Cervera died in 1964 and for two nights the parish's 1,500 families filed past his bier where their "nuestro Padre" laid at rest and around his neck was a medal of Our Lady of Talpa. The next six pastors were all Spanish Vincentians, though records of only a few remain. Father Santiago Lluch served as pastor from 1968 to 1971, but was also an associate at the parish at various times for a total of 16 years. Following him was Father Nicolas Herrero, a native of Segovia, Spain and a former faculty member at St. John's Seminary. He served until 1974 when Father Santiago Arribas was named administrator.

In 1977 Father Pedro Villarroya was appointed and headed the parish for six years. Now serving in the Vincentian Provincial Office, the Spanish-born priest fondly remembers his pastorate at Talpa. "At that time," he said, "there was great respect for the priests. I was never afraid of walking in the neighborhood." Drug use and gangs were not as rampant, he noted, and parish participation was fervent and frequent.

Although Mexicans primarily lived in East L.A. and spoke Spanish, Father Villarroya held two Masses in English and was the founder of UNO (United Neighborhoods Organization). "The school was a big influence in the change," he said, "and the Daughters of Charity were wonderful to work with." Education and demographics gradually changed both language and devotion in the parish.

Father Francisco Mateos, who had served as associate from 1961 to 1973, was pastor twice (1983-90, 1996-2004). Father Victor Elia served for six years between the two pastorates of Father Mateos who was the last Spanish Vincentian to head the parish.

Vincentians from Mexico were appointed in 2004 to head Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa. The Congregation of the Mission priests, known as the Vincentians, follow the tradition of their founder, St. Vincent de Paul, in the mission of evangelizing and serving the poor. Father Silviano Calderon, born in Jalisco, Mexico, served as pastor from 2004 to 2008, then was appointed the provincial of the Vincentian Fathers in Mexico. His associate pastor Father Margarito Martinez, a native of Oaxaca, is now the administrator of the parish that is named for Mary under her title of Talpa.


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