“In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” [In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.]
With these words, Archbishop Simon Talarczyk will open a Latin mass the morning of March 4 in honor of his 40 years of service to the Cathedral Chapel of St. Francis By-the-Sea — the second smallest cathedral in the world.
It’s yet another milestone in Talarczyk’s long life; in addition to serving the congregants at St. Francis, he taught languages at an Orange County high school for 30 years.
At the front of the chapel sits the cathedra, or bishop’s chair — Talarczyk’s literal and figurative seat of office.
Hence the chapel is known as a cathedral, although it seats less than 50.
Built in 1933 using rubble from the Long Beach earthquake, it is one of only two locations in Laguna listed on the National Register of Historic Places; the other is Villa Rockledge, a historic Spanish Revival residence.
The tiny chapel is filled with detailed statues of St. Francis, stations of the cross, and a set of gates that open into the altar area.
“They’re from a bar in Long Beach,” Talarczyk said, smiling. “We put crosses on them.”
The rafters of St. Francis, which were believed to be painted by founder Percy Wise Clarkson, contain a number of non-Catholic phrases and words, from Buddah to Osiris; astrological symbols and references to the New Age sit alongside references to Jesus’ teachings.
Talarczyk said that he respects the historic value of the inscriptions.
“I accept everything because it’s there, but not necessarily because I believe in it,” he said.
St. Francis, of the American Catholic faith, is one of several independent Catholic churches in the area, including Holy Angels Orthodox Catholic Church in Newport Beach and St. Matthew Church in Orange, which don’t believe in the primacy of Rome — that is, they don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Pope, and aren’t held to Roman Catholic canon law.
Membership is not required at St. Francis, and anyone who wishes to attend is welcome. Talarczyk said that between 10 to 20 people show up each Sunday for services; several are regulars, and the church also welcomes a number of tourists.
“We’re here for those who can’t find comfort anywhere else,” Talarczyk said. “We’re here to help in any way we can.”
Most of the rituals and liturgy are similar to Roman Catholic traditions. Talarczyk performs baptisms and marriages (often for those who were rejected by the Roman Catholic church, such as in the case of some second marriages), but also offers traditions since discontinued by the Roman Catholics, such as the Latin mass.
A native of Utica, New York, Talarczyk studied in Washington, D.C. before getting his theological roots in the seminary in Rome, where he was ordained by a Roman Catholic bishop in 1954.
“You eat Italian, drink Italian, speak Italian and walk Italian in the city of Rome,” Talarczyk said.
After short stints in places like Chicago and New Mexico, teaching children and prisoners alike, Talarczyk was surprised by his next assignment.
“They told me, ‘You are going to go to Beverly Hills, to the church where the Hollywood stars go,” Talarczyk said.
It only took a summer there for him to learn about the American Catholic Church, of which St. Francis is a member.
To make ends meet, Talarczyk was a schoolteacher and department chair in the Garden Grove Unified School District. He taught Latin at La Quinta High School from its founding in 1963, then retired 30 years after the school opened.
He also taught at Orange Coast College, and says he was one of the founders of Coastline Community College.
He learned of St. Francis from its bishop at the time, and began to help out there while teaching at La Quinta. At the time, he said, there were worries about the little chapel’s future; its founder had passed away some time before, and any income generated was just enough to pay its utilities.
“I said, ‘We’re going to keep St. Francis alive,’” Talarczyk said. He has been coming to serve the church from his home in Fountain Valley ever since.
The church still derives its only income from collections and special events like weddings and baptisms, Talarczyk said, but it’s usually enough to pay the bills; the building is paid for, and Talarczyk pays for anything not covered by the collection plate with his pensioner’s income.
His commemorative mass will be at 10:15 at the chapel on March 4. An English mass will also be held at 9 a.m.
But the festivities will run a little longer than that for Talarczyk; he’s celebrating an 80th birthday this year, and plans to go back to New York this summer to visit old haunts and see if he can find lost friends.
“That’s something I would like to do before I pass on,” he said. “See if there’s anything there that I can relive.”
For more information on the chapel, call (949) 497-4678.