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Some Veto Rebirth of St. Isidore as Center

Facing $300,000 in earthquake retrofitting, the church closed. New use plan not popular with all.

August 14, 2000|CHRIS CEBALLOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Not everyone in the predominantly Latino east and west Old Towne neighborhoods is happy about a plan to reopen the doors of St. Isidore Catholic Church as a community center.

The church was closed last year after church officials found that the 77-year-old building would be unsafe in an earthquake. The officials estimated that retrofitting would cost $300,000.

The Comite de Amore (Committee of Love) is working on a proposal to lease the building with an option to buy. The Comite has found a contractor to do the retrofitting for free and plans to use the building as a community center.

But some residents say that merely reopening the church is not enough.

"We want a mission church like the kind they have in Oxnard, where they have religious services twice a month; not to betray the community and sell it out for a community center," said Seferino Garcia.

But church officials say they do not plan to reopen the church to pastoral services for the approximately 200 people who once belonged to the parish. The nationwide trend for Catholic dioceses is to close smaller-congregation churches and consolidate with larger neighboring churches.

When St. Isidore closed last September, the neighboring parish, St. Hedwig, began offering an afternoon Spanish-language Mass on Sundays.

"It's not in their nature to be there at 1:30 in the afternoon," said Robert Luna of the elderly churchgoers in the Old Towne neighborhoods. "They've expanded out to churches in Hawaiian Gardens and Cypress."

Luna is the spokesman for the St. Isidore Community Development Council, a splinter group of the Comite that still wants pastoral services at St. Isidore.

"Some of those services [the Comite proposes for St. Isidore] already exist," says Alfonso Aguilar, a member of the council. "We're taking about offering things different from that, that will really help in the community."

Aguilar says he is concerned about the deterioration of his neighborhood and points to the encroachment by medical-service providers. The city's Planning Commission recently approved the construction of a medical center on Cherry Street and the removal of two homes on Reagan Street to provide parking.

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Chris Ceballos can be reached at (714) 966-7440.

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