Msgr. Michael John Duffy, founding pastor of St. Bonaventure Catholic Church, died Saturday from injuries suffered in a car crash that occurred as he was traveling to a church meeting. He was 77.
Duffy had been pastor at St. Bonaventure for 23 years before his retirement four years ago. Since then, he had served as pastor emeritus and was active in overseeing most of the church's events. In April, the parish celebrated Duffy's 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.
Duffy was born in County Mayo, Ireland. He graduated from St. John Seminary, in Camarillo, in 1942. Duffy served as pastor of a parish in Los Angeles before being appointed founding pastor of St. Bonaventure in 1965, where he played the principal role in building the parish into the 3,900-member community that it is today.
"He founded the parish when it was just an empty field," said the Rev. Kerry Beaulieu, Duffy's successor at the church. "He was a friend to thousands, schools, citizens, the brokenhearted, the poor, those who were in trouble and those who worked here for a long time."
When the Catholic Diocese of Orange was established in 1976, Duffy was appointed Episcopal Vicar of Religious Education, and a year later was named adviser to the late Bishop William R. Johnson.
Saturday morning, shock and sadness resounded through the parish at news of Duffy's death.
"We've lost a priest and a brother today," said Msgr. Lawrence J. Baird, spokesman of the diocese. "He spent half a century dedicating his life to serving people in the parish. He was a quintessential gentleman who personified the best in the priesthood."
Theresa Finizza was Duffy's secretary for 15 years. "I had lunch with him the other day and he said he was going to go on the trip soon," she said. "I feel very much at a loss and very shocked right now."
Barbara Alberts, 50, who also did secretarial work for Duffy added: "He always wrote me thank-you notes for anything I did for him--the smallest, smallest things that I did."
After the accident, which occurred shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, Duffy complained of internal pain and was transported to Pacifica Community Hospital in Huntington Beach. There he underwent surgery for internal injuries. He was pronounced dead at 4:33 a.m. Saturday, according to police.
Beaulieu said he visited Duffy at the hospital and vividly recalled the monsignor's last words.
"He said, 'If I should pass from this mortal orb, give my regards to the faithful,' " Beaulieu said. "He loved language and at first, I took (what he said) humorously, but then I thought about it for a moment and I think he meant it exactly the way he said it."
According to police, Duffy was driving on Magnolia Avenue and turning left into the driveway of St. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in Huntington Beach. As he was making the turn, his car collided with an auto coming from the opposite direction on Magnolia, Police Lt. John Foster said.
The driver and passenger of the other car, Roberto Islas, 28, and Albert Orduna suffered minor abrasions, Foster said.
Police on Saturday were still investigating the accident and no citation has been issued, Foster said.
A Mass will be held at St. Bonaventure at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, which would have been his 78th birthday. The funeral is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Bonaventure, with burial to follow at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange. Bishop Norman F. McFarland will celebrate the funeral Mass.