Fatima: Historical Facts and Theological Context

The parish church, Holy Family Church, was established in 1930 with very humble beginnings.  It was originally located at the corner of Corby Avenue and 188thStreet.  In 1943, Holy Family welcomed its fourth pastor, Fr. Patrick O’Connor. Within months of his arrival, he initiated plans to expand the parish facilities and in 1945, he was granted permission by the Archdiocese to purchase a 4-1/2 acre site at what was then, 17th and Vine Street (today 187th and Clarkdale Avenue).  This area would serve as the home of a parish plant to include a new church, a convent and school, a church rectory and additional office space.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were invited to run and staff the school.  And as they had before, parishioners rallied behind the plans, particularly members of the Our Lady of Fatima Society.  Led by Mrs. Joe (Adeline) Fernandes, Sr., they set out on a door to door campaign, collecting donations (over $50,000.00) to ensure the construction of the new educational facility. 

Three years later, on August 22, 1948, the Most Reverend Joseph T. McGucken, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, officiated at the dedication of a new elementary school, and three weeks later, on September 13, 1948, Our Lady of Fatima School opened.  The school was named in honor of our Blessed Mother who appeared in Fatima, Portugal.  The school’s name, different from the parish name, was chosen to honor the hard work and generosity of local Portuguese and Dutch parishioners who made this school a reality.  At the time, OLF held the unique distinction of being one of the few Catholic schools not named after its home parish, and the only school in the United States named after Our Lady of Fatima. 

Most importantly, the school was quickly recognized for its educational excellence, providing instruction for the elementary and middle school grades.  In 1951, the first school uniforms were introduced, and in 1953, the school hired it first lay teacher for grade 7.  Headed by its first principal, Sister Blanche Marie, the motto of the school, “A Caring Place to Grow” became well-deserved.  Several alumni still remember with pride and fondness the knowledge, self-discipline, confidence, and mutual respect that they gained at the school which have become hallmarks of its well-rounded curriculum.  In the course of the past 60 years, thousands of students have benefited from the quality education that is second to none.

Father O’Connor was also in large measure responsible for the school’s notoriety, energetically expanding its sports program.  Throughout the 1950’s, under his guidance and support, OLF became the site of the grade school annual basketball tournaments, with athletes from surrounding parishes and districts competing for titles not only inside the auditorium, but on the numerous courts extending across the campus blacktop.  The many basketball hoops located even today behind the church are one testament to Fr. O’Connor’s sports program, as are the numerous trophies won over the years by generations of OLF students.

One of the most beautiful landmarks located on the parish grounds dates back to 1956.  In May of that year, during the Our Lady of Fatima celebrations, dedicated and committed people came together to erect the open-air shrine in the school courtyard of the Fatima apparition.  The shrine was designed by architect Earl Trudeau and was built under the supervision of Robert Lee of Westminster, with stone work by Hendrik DeBoer ofAnaheim, and tile work by Roy Applegate of Long Beach.  At its centerpiece is a magnificent eight-foot marble statue of Our Lady sculpted in France by the renowned artist Georges Serraz.  For more than 50 years, this peaceful corner of greenery nestled between the auditorium and the school office has held special significance for students, faculty, and parishioners, commemorating the three shepherd children who witnessed and transmitted the messages of the Blessed Mother to the world.

In the fall of 1981, Dr. Larry Thompson was appointed as the school’s first lay principal.  In 1986, Dr. Thompson was succeeded by Mrs. Rina Ngo, who was principal of school until 1996, when she was succeeded by Ms. Marie Vella-Bonavita.  From 1999 until 2008, the school was led by Dr. Kathleen Meyer who was followed by Mrs. Josie Hallum.  Since 2009 the school has been under the leadership of Mr. Juan Nagore.  These principals and the school’s dedicated staff of teachers and volunteers have preserved OLF’s reputation as one of the finest elementary schools in the area, and its high standards of education continue to shape the minds, hearts, and lives of the children of this parish and the cities of Artesia and Cerritos.

Since the school was built, the parish demography has changed.  Artesia was once a small town with several neighboring farm communities.   The farms gave way to the birth of new communities and housing developments. Our parish has become culturally diverse which is reflected in our school.  Through the generous efforts of our pastor, faculty, staff and parents, and the support of the parish community, the school continues its tradition of helping the children of the parish grow, both spiritually and intellectually.  Together they work to realize Fatima’s claim to excellence!