Father Paul Spellman’s story
As you may know, I am the Pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Los Angeles, on Jefferson Boulevard, between Arlington and Western.
My journey to the priesthood has been a bit of a winding road, but each turn has filled me with many of God’s graces. I grew up in a Catholic home in Memphis, Tennessee with my Mom and Dad, my older brother and two younger sisters. In 1977 I graduated from the University of Memphis with a degree in Accounting and came to California to work as a Certified Public Accountant for Price Waterhouse, an international accounting firm. For the next four years I continued to attend Mass each Sunday, but never got involved in my local parish. I guess I was just too busy to give God anything other than one hour per week of praise and worship.
In 1981, at the age of 26, I entered graduate school at the University of Southern California, and got involved in the Newman Center (Catholic Center) on campus. Two years later, in 1983, I graduated from USC with an MBA (Master’s in Business Administration) with the idea of becoming a financial consultant and then working my way up the corporate ladder. While at Mass one Sunday at the Newman Center, I saw a notice in the bulletin regarding the Catholic Chaplains’ Program at Central Juvenile Hall in East Los Angeles. I thought I would go and check it out, and from the minute I stepped in to their small chapel, I felt God working in my life. Through the priests, sisters, and lay ministers, I began to experience my faith on a much deeper level. And through the incarcerated youth I had an experience of Jesus in ways that I had never dreamed of. We celebrated Mass each Sunday morning, met with the youth in small groups, and then came back on Wednesday evening to meet with them individually. As a result of these discussions, I began to read the Bible more, especially the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, in which Jesus says, “When I was in prison, you visited me.”
Six years later, in 1989, I began volunteering at Covenant House in Hollywood, driving around the streets in the Covenant House vans and reaching out to the homeless adolescents who were living on the streets and under the freeways. Again, I saw the face of Jesus in those whom society considers, “the least of our brothers and sisters.” Three years later, in 1992, I was appointed Treasurer for the House of Ruth in East Los Angeles that provides shelter for homeless women and children. All this time I kept working at my day job as an accountant, and volunteering at Juvenile Hall. For twelve years Juvenile Hall was my home parish, the center of my faith community.
During this time I began to really ask what God’s plan was for me in my life, and I took it to prayer and began meeting with a Spiritual Director. I was spending so much time at work, earning money, but it was my time at Juvenile Hall, Covenant House, and the House of Ruth that really energized me. Could God be calling me to change my time commitments to truly serve Him? Finally I began to realize that God was calling me to the priesthood, and after a long series of interviews, retreats, and applications, I entered Saint John’s Seminary in 1995, at the age of 40. And six years later I was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, on June 2, 2001.
You can see why I say that my faith journey has been a bit of a winding path. And throughout my six years in the seminary, I continued to follow that trend. During our summer breaks I would travel to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, in an effort to see what the Catholic Church was doing to help the poorest of the poor, and to see if I could learn a bit of Spanish. In the spring of 1999 I traveled to Bolivia and lived and worked in an orphanage as part of a program with the Maryknoll Missionaries. Once ordained I joined a group of folks with Catholic Relief Services and went to Cambodia to get a first-hand look at how the Church is helping the people of this impoverished country in Asia, and four years ago I went to Uganda in East Africa to visit two friends of mine from my seminary days who are now priests in this poor African nation. It was an incredible experience, especially when we went to the outlying villages to celebrate Mass.
My first assignment as a priest was as the Associate Pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Claremont, about 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. It is a wonderful parish and there I met a lot of fabulous people. We expanded our Saint Vincent DePaul Society, and began a Side-by-Side Ministry to help people navigate the system of social services and help them get the assistance that they need. I was the celebrant at each Sunday’s 5:00 afternoon Youth Mass, which is aimed at reaching the teens of the parish, and that was very rewarding. This was a blessed experience for me as a newly-ordained priest, and I had a wonderful four years in the parish.
I am now in my eighth year as Pastor at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Los Angeles (South Central Los Angeles, in the Jefferson Park community). The area is much more impoverished than Claremont, but the people of the parish have been most welcoming! There is a lot more gang activity, drug abuse, and violence, but the people of the parish have a great sense of spirituality in them. I have really enjoyed getting to know the people and walking with the people of God on our Journey of Faith. We have shared our stories, and have walked together in the Light of Christ. We have a school, Kindergarten through 8th grade, and I visit the classrooms each Tuesday and teach the children about the Good News of the Gospel. I am blessed to be able to share our faith with our school children, and on Saturdays I meet with the students of our Religious Education program. We also have a Soup Kitchen that serves soup and sandwiches to the homeless of our area, and our St. Vincent DePaul Society is quick to help anyone who may be struggling financially (or otherwise). Each Friday I join the Eucharistic Ministers as we take Holy Communion to the sick and the elderly, especially those who have been long-term members of our parish but are physically unable to join us for the celebration of the Mass.
Throughout my twelve years of priesthood God has blessed me in so many different ways, and for that I give thanks to God!
This is my guest Show stars 4 pm pst 03/31/2013 on