Teresa Hernandez searched Orange County for weeks before finding a church that would honor her daughter with a private quinceanera Mass.
She was lucky.
Hernandez's daughter, Janneth, was one of a few to receive the special Mass, a traditional Latino celebration in which a girl makes the transition into womanhood.
"I didn't have a \o7 quinceanera, \f7 but I watched my seven sisters have their \o7 quinceaneras\f7 and I couldn't let Janneth go without one\o7 ,\f7 " Teresa Hernandez, 37, said in Spanish. "It's too special, and she deserved to be honored with a Mass of her own."
But growing demand for the special religious service has made such private Masses rare. Most girls seeking the Mass are being doubled and tripled up because of increased demand.
Church officials attribute the increase to the growing Latino population, coupled with the resurgence of interest in the religious aspect of the tradition.
"It's not just a party," said Juanamaria Amezquita, an administrator of the Diocese of Orange's Hispanic Ministry. "It's the 15th anniversary of a girl's birth, when she is presented to society as a woman with a Mass. That's what our ancestors did."
To accommodate the increase, diocese officials said large churches throughout the county are beginning to celebrate monthly group Masses.
A \o7 quinceanera, \f7 or 15th birthday, "is very important," said Father Joe Knerr of St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim, which last year began celebrating group Masses. "To them, being Catholic is what they are, and to have this celebration at all, of course they want the Mass."
Wearing a floor-length, white, beaded gown with red trim and tiara, Janneth celebrated her private Mass on Saturday at Sagrado Corazon Mission.
The mission is one of a dwindling number of Catholic churches in the county to celebrate the Mass for just one girl. Others include small neighborhood parishes such as Our Lady of Loudres Church in Santa Ana and St. Polycarp Church in Stanton.
"I've dreamed about my \o7 quinceanera \f7 since I was 5 years old," said Janneth, a freshman at Western High School in Anaheim. "Because the Mass was just for me, it was more meaningful."
Her father, Enrique Hernandez, 37, said: "We did everything possible to have this celebration."
And the event was a grand affair that cost about $8,000.
With the help of 28 godparents, Janneth's party came complete with an abundance of flowers for the church, souvenirs for her 500 guests, \o7 mariachi \f7 and \o7 Banda \f7 bands, a dance hall for the reception after the Mass, and birria, marinated goat meat for dinner.
During the church ceremony, Janneth vowed to help the poor and promised to try to be a spiritual guide to other youths.
"Basically, it's an action of thanks," said Father Antonio Zapata, of Sagrado Corazon Mission. "The young ladies thank God for their lives and renew their faith."
In addition to performing group celebrations, churches increasingly are expanding classes that prepare the teen-agers to emphasize the religious significance of the tradition.
Zapata said he is planning to offer one-day retreats for the girls so they will more fully understand their new responsibilities as they enter adulthood.
"I want to place an emphasis on values and morals," the priest said in Spanish.
He added that he hopes his church will be able to continue offering the private Masses. But because weddings and baptisms take precedence\o7 , \f7 it's possible Sagrado Corazon also will begin blessing the girls in groups. The move also would help reduce the cost of the celebration, which often reaches into the thousands, he said.
Twelve-year-old Jazmin Rodriguez of Stanton said she is looking forward to a group Mass.
"I think it will be better because I won't be that nervous," she said.
Another girl, who is planning to have her Mass by herself in May, said she looks forward to being in the spotlight.
"I want the priest to tell me I'm special on my big day because that's when you stop being a little girl," said Adriana Carillo, 14, of Stanton. "When you become a \o7 quinceanera, \f7 you take on more responsibility. It's a milestone in your life that shows you are maturing. A \o7 quinceanera \f7 is a tradition that will never die and, God willing, I will pass it on to my daughters someday."