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Raising the roof at St. Finbar Church

BURBANK: THEN & NOW

Nearly 40 years ago, on Aug. 30, 1963, the parishioners of St.

Finbar Catholic Church gathered together to celebrate the 25th

anniversary of their parish. The then-new parish of St. Finbar was

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the second Catholic church in Burbank and was built to alleviate the

overcrowding at St. Robert Bellarmine, known as Holy Trinity until a

name change in 1939. In its first 25 years, St. Finbar experienced

rapid expansion, as did the rest of Burbank.

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Los Angeles Archbishop Cantwell canonically established St. Finbar

on Oct. 31, 1938. Cantwell named the church after an obscure saint

who was an Irish monk and later Bishop of County Cork in Ireland in

the late 6th and early 7th centuries. It is believed that Cantwell

gave the name to Burbank’s newest church after being inspired on a

trip to Ireland to celebrate the silver jubilee of his sister, a nun.

Monsignor O’Brien was St. Finbar’s first pastor. St. Finbar was one

of three churches established in the Los Angeles Archdiocese that

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year.

The first mass was celebrated Nov. 27, 1938, at the American

Legion Hall at 3310 S. Olive Ave., near Warner Bros. About 150

parishioners attended each of the two masses on Sundays and holy

days. By December, the parishioners had created organizations such as

the Holy Name Society and Altar Society, which were found at many

other Catholic churches. They quickly set ambitious fund-raising

plans to construct a permanent place of worship. Their successful

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efforts afforded them land on the corner of Olive Avenue and Oak

Street.

By 1941, the dreams of the parishioners of St. Finbar had come to

fruition with the construction of their first church, which now

serves at the parish hall. While the church was modest in appearance,

it fulfilled the needs of the church for more than a decade.

Burbank’s population exploded during the 1940s and, so too, did the

Catholic population that St. Finbar was created to serve. The modest

church that had been constructed was becoming rapidly inadequate to

meet the needs of the growing parish.

Parishioners, under the guidance of Monsignor O’Brien, again

started fund-raising through church festivals and collections for the

construction of a new church. The location selected was on Olive

Avenue and Keystone Street, across the street from the first church.

Construction for the new church started in 1950. The new church’s

architecture was contemporary Romanesque and seated nearly 1,000

people. Its significantly grander appearance was far superior to the

original church. The church was constructed of reinforced concrete

with a steeple rising 102 feet above Olive Avenue and crowned with a

12-foot stainless-steel cross. The interior of the church was much

grander in appearance as well, and gave worshipers a sense of

holiness and awe. The high ceiling and torpedo- shaped light fixtures

focused attention to the altar. The mural that adorns the altar is

titled “Christ the Pantocrator” (Christ the King of the Universe) by

John H. de Rosen, a muralist of the time. It depicts Christ seated on

a throne guarded by St. Michael the Archangel and St. Gabriel. The

church was completed and dedicated in February 1952 by Cardinal McIntyre.

In 1958, Fox West Coast donated a large Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. pipe

organ. The organ was originally housed in the world-famous Grauman’s

Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Since pipe organs were no longer needed

at movie theaters, it became a welcome addition to the church and has

been enjoyed by countless people in its new home.

By the 25th anniversary, the parishioners of St. Finbar had much

to celebrate. Their dedicated efforts, generous contributions and

vision made their dreams become a reality. They went from celebrating

Mass in a small rented hall to having a new church, parish hall,

convent and rectory. The church they constructed was an instant

landmark on Olive Avenue.

* Craig Bullock is the chairman of the Burbank Heritage

Commission. Reach him at brbnkheritagecom@aol.com.


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