The choice of the new pope started me thinking about the Catholics I know, as well as those I know who have had some connection with the church.

As of late, the church has struggled with its image: High-ranking clergy have been accused of not reporting alleged child abuse on the part of priests, U.S. nuns are protesting the exclusive power given to male priests. Then too, there is the controversy concerning the dispensing of birth control medication at hospitals, which has put the church in the spotlight.

Putting all this aside for the moment, let me give you my limited take on Catholicism:

My mother’s cousin, Agnes Ichikawa, lives in L.A., close to Crenshaw and Olympic.  She lives with her brother, David, who is about my age. David is retired from a long career as a building construction framer. When we’ve driven around Chinatown he has pointed out, with pride, the buildings that he has framed. Ruth, who is younger than Agnes, lives in Pilgrim Tower, on Vermont close to Pico, a residence for the hearing-impaired.

Agnes was a nursery school toddler when her mother enrolled her at Maryknoll School in Little Tokyo. She was a senior at Catholic Girls High School on Pico Street (where it remains today) when the family was incarcerated, first at Pomona Fairground, then Heart Mountain. Although she did not graduate, she was given her diploma by the school.

Ruth Ichikawa

After the war, the family relocated back to the same area they had left, and Agnes says she felt fortunate to get a job as financial manager at Orville Wright Junior High in Westchester. She retired as financial manager at East L.A. Community College.

A few years ago, Maryknoll Chapel had a name change to St. Francis Chapel — namesake of the recently chosen pope. He is Francis Assisi, and the Little Tokyo church is Francis Xavier. Although Agnes and David attend mass close to their home, she still participates in many of the activities at St. Francis in Little Tokyo.

Agnes tells me the church was very helpful to the Niseis and their parents in the resettlement period after the war. The church found jobs and places to live for the many returning from camp. They were also helpful in making contact with relatives in Japan.

Richard Kawano and his wife, Misa, are members of the Nikkei Seniors golf club, to which Marion and I also belong. I have known Richard since we both attended Foshay Junior High after the war. Our backgrounds are similar. We both attended 37th Street School and, after Pearl Harbor, were incarcerated at Santa Anita and Amache, Colorado. But at that point our lives took a different turn.

Agnes Ichikawa

Richard’s father had died in a vehicle accident, and his mother married a Korean man. Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment, did not allow for any exceptions; 10-year-old Richard and his Japanese mother had to go to camp, while his Korean stepfather remained in L.A.

Richard tells me that at his father’s request, Father Lavery, a Catholic priest who became well-known for his advocacy for JAs, wrote letters to President Roosevelt and Gen. John DeWitt and was successful in gaining the release of Richard and his mother. Richard says that except for a couple of incidents, his two-year stay in wartime L.A. was uneventful.

Three friends I know at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center seem to value the education they received at Maryknoll School. Karl Nobuyuki was past president of the center, and Nancy Oda presently fills that position. It seems the nuns seated the pupils in their class according their academic ranking. The two of them joke about who was seated where in the class they were in together. Genevieve Lew serves on the community center board and was past president of the Meiji Club, a community center senior club. A few years ago, Karl chaired a large gathering of those whose lives had by touched by Maryknoll.

So, despite whatever may be the present popular perception of the Catholic Church, I believe it is well to acknowledge the force for good it has been, and continues to be, in our community.

Postscript:  I emailed Nancy Oda with this column and she told me a lot more about the history of the church in relation to the JA community. I will relay this information in a future column.

Also, I neglected to mention an event at our community center this Saturday, April 13.  Our center, along with the JACL and athletics, are sponsoring a showing of “The Manzanar Fishing Club.” This viewing is noteworthy in that the main characters in the film are Valley people: Mas Okui, Bob Kobata, and Sets Tomita. They will all be on hand after the showing for a question-and-answer session. Mas is a retired history teacher at Canoga Park High in the Valley and longtime docent at Manzanar.

I attended a showing of the film in Santa Monica and noted the large number of older Sanseis in the audience. I have heard the comment from them that their parents never talked about camp. Mas, particularly, does a good job of speaking of his life in Manzanar. This can be an opportunity for them to hear the camp stories from someone who lived it, and tells the stories in an entertaining way. I think their Yonsei children would find it of interest as well

The community center is located at 12953 Branford St., Pacoima 91331. It will start at 3 p.m., with refreshments following. The admission of $10 for adults and $5 for children will be donated to the Manzanar Committee and Friends of Manzanar, whose project is the restoration of Block 14 at Manzanar.

Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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