A Good Shepherd for the SCV Flock
Published in The Signal, 12-4-2005.

Darryl Manzer, 2005     For the past few years the news of the Catholic Church hasn't been all that good. Scandals of all kinds have seemed to rock the very foundations of the faith of millions. Other than the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of a new pope, most folks haven't heard how, once in a while, the Catholic Church really does something right.
    There are thousand of men (and women) in the church who go about the work they were called to, perfectly content in the fact that often the only recognition they get is from God — and God doesn't always tell them much, directly. They work in communities all over the world, serving others with selfless dedication.
    These humble individuals can be found in your own community. Of course, they come in many faiths: Roman Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodists and whatever else.
    This past week, one of those individuals was recognized for his service to the Catholic Church by being named a monsignor.
    For those of you who don't know what that means, maybe thinking of it in military terms might help. It is roughly equivalent to going from a sergeant or petty officer to a commissioned officer, or maybe in the business world it is like becoming a corporate vice president.
    You would think the SCV would have a long tradition and history with the Roman Catholic Church. It was "found" by a Spanish explorer, Gaspar de Portolá, and in his little band of explorers was a member or two of the clergy. As the Spanish colony in California grew, the San Fernando Mission was established, and it took little time for the mission to branch out and build an annex near Castaic Junction.
    After the Mexican revolution, it wasn't long before that government secularized the properties of the church, and the San Fernando Mission properties, including the ones in the SCV, were made into privately owned "ranchos." Not long after that came the Yankees. (We've had the same problem here in Virginia).
    Most of those Yankees who showed up were not Roman Catholic. By the time I was growing up in the SCV, there was only one little parish in the valley — Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It had a small building on Newhall Avenue near Market Street. Later a new building and school was built on Lyons Avenue, where it still is today.
    While OLPH was getting used to a new location in Newhall, a young man in Waterford, Ireland, was being ordained a priest. The year was 1962. He almost immediately came to the United States and served in a number of parishes until 1968 when he became the associate pastor at OLPH. That was when I first met him. I was still a Presbyterian in those days.
    Rev. Michael Slattery served at OLPH for nearly six years until he moved to a parish in that lesser valley to the south of the SCV. By the time of the 1994 earthquake, he was pastor of St. John the Baptist de la Salle Parish in the San Fernando Valley. It is that parish that has oversight of the Old Mission San Fernando today. He stayed at that parish until the damage from the earthquake had been repaired, rebuilding the parish school and an entirely new community center, and accomplishing the repairs to the church building itself. He was then asked to build a new parish in the SCV, in Saugus.
    Maybe it was because he was so good at building that he was assigned as pastor of Blessed Kateri Tekawitha Catholic Church. To hear him tell it, he would say, "It wasn't me but the people of the parish who built this." Enough humility, Father Mike! Those people needed a good leader — or, to use a church analogy, a good shepherd. That you were and are today a good shepherd is what the Church is recognizing.
    I guess I should get used to calling him "monsignor" now. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, I can also use "monsignor" when addressing an archbishop, bishop or abbot. Not that I'll ever meet any.
    Of course, Monsignor Michael J. Slattery is too humble to care much for titles. I'm sure he is much more concerned that his parish gets the recognition. My nephew and nieces called him "Fa-Fa." I guess they'll have to come up with another name now. "Mo-Mo," maybe?
    I doubt if I'm a minority among his friends and parishioners when I say that much of my faith is based on the example he has lived in his life. He was the priest at our wedding, and at the wedding of our eldest son. He baptized our youngest son and most of my nieces, my grand-nieces and my nephew. He humbly serves the whole community, not just Catholics. You won't know when he does it. His service just happens. Quietly. Anonymously. Humbly.
    So just for today, he has to accept the accolades, congratulations, and otherwise general acknowledgment of his work. Then he'll get back to work, continuing to build on the new parish — a new building for all the new people for the parish — all accomplished with the same service and faith as before.
    Is there or can there be a "write-in" candidate for the next pope? Why not an Irish-American from the SCV?

Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.

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