The story of American Martyrs Catholic Community begins years before the morning of November 9, 1930 when ten people sat on folding chairs in a Hermosa Beach home on 28th Street to hear Mass celebrated on an old sideboard. The story starts with a prophecy. Sometime in the early 1900's, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini visited the tiny hamlet of Manhattan Beach, seeking donations for an orphanage in Los Angeles. Before she returned to her convent, she climbed the high dunes that overlook the Santa Monica Bay, took in the panoramic views of the ocean, the farms, and the little village below, and proclaimed:
"Here is where a church should be built, on this hill, a beacon for the villager and the sailor. And it shall be."
And so it has become. Our Church--like a beacon--now towers on the same dunes where Sister St. Xavier Cabrini once stood. The bells ring every hour on the hour. They make us stop, reflect, and smile. They call us home.
From the beginning, American Martyrs was like "the little church that could." Within a week, Mass was moved to a drafty hall on Fourth Street and plans for a new Church were on the drawing board. Nine months later, American Martyrs Church, a small Anglo-Norman structure at 1004 Highland Avenue, was dedicated. At the time, Father Leo Lambrick, our first pastor, worried that there were not enough people living in the beach communities to fill his little church. But by the 1940's, Pastor Edmund O'Donnell knew better. With an eye on expansion, he bought several acres of sandy "wilderness" at the crest of the hill. American Martyrs School was built in 1947 - along with a convent for the eight sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet who staffed it. Soon, the parish was bursting at the seams. The little church on Highland which was built to serve forty families in a town of 3500 now needed to serve 1600 families in a community of 35,000. So, in 1957, a new Church was erected on the top of the sand dunes at 15th Street. The first Mass was celebrated on Sunday. Sister Francis Xavier Cabrini's prophecy was fulfilled.
Over the years, the parish facilities have continued to expand to include the Parish Center, O'Donnell Hall, the St. Kateri Room, the St. Joseph Spirituality Center and Meditation Garden, many other meeting facilities, additional school classrooms, a pre-school, a Gymnasium and playing field and a parking structure. But more importantly, the parish has experienced a profound spiritual growth. Under the inspired leadership of Monsignor John Barry, who became our pastor in 1983, we have an active Pastoral Council and five Parish Life Commissions with more that 50 vibrant parish ministries serving our community and many others in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and far beyond.
Our Church is a living memorial and a reminder that from small beginnings great blessings and accomplishments can be realized. From the extraordinary devotion of our parish namesakes, the eight North American Martyrs, to the visionary leaders who followed, American Martyrs has grown to become a faith community of 6,500 families. Our hilltop Church is the physical and spiritual home of our parish. It truly is a beacon on the hill and its bells toll for us all.