September 17, 1925 ~ March 23, 2011
Msgr. Michael Lenihan, an influential priest who served as the spiritual leader of one of the South Bay's largest Catholic communities for nearly three decades, has died. He was 85.
Lenihan had recently been struck with a lung and kidney infection. He died Wednesday night at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, friends confirmed. He was surrounded by friends and family.
Lenihan was named pastor of St. Lawrence Martyr Parish in Redondo Beach in July 1981, and served in that role for 22 years.
Parish staff members on Thursday described Lenihan as a kind and respected leader whose work transcended the church.
"His arms were always open wide to anyone for anything," said church staff member Virginia Dargen as she fought back tears. "It set the tone for how our parish is."
Lenihan was born the youngest of nine children on Sept. 15, 1925, in Castleisland, a small town in southwest Ireland.
Although health concerns prevented him from realizing his dream of serving as a foreign missionary in Africa - he lost three sisters, two brothers and his mother to tuberculosis - it would be an American recruiter visiting St. Peter's Seminary in County Wexford that persuaded the young Lenihan to come to the United States, according to an obituary released Thursday by the parish.
After his ordination in June 1952, Lenihan became a priest in Corpus Christi, Texas, before moving to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1958. He served as an associate pastor at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Temple City and as a pastor at St. Columbkille Catholic Church in Watts.
Many of Lenihan's former parishioners - and their children and grandchildren - continued to visit Lenihan after he moved to Redondo Beach in the early 1980s, those who knew him said.
"He was wonderful to everyone who came in," said Carol Nadalsky, the business manager at St. Lawrence who knew Lenihan for about 27 years. "He treated everyone with respect and kindness. He always looked for the good in everybody and was very much involved in the whole community."
Lenihan was given the honorary title of monsignor in 1988, and is credited with establishing social programs for parish adults and teens that remain popular today. He also oversaw the completion of major building projects at the church on Prospect Avenue, including a remodel of the parish hall in 1995.
Under his leadership, the church grew from a relatively small congregation to its current membership of about 3, 600 families. He was known as "Father Michael" among church parishioners and spoke in an iconic Irish accent.
He presided over First Communions, weddings and funerals, anointings of the sick, Sunday liturgies and early morning weekday Masses. He baptized countless adults and children.
In 2001 Lenihan was named a protonotary apostolic, the highest rank of monsignor, by Pope John Paul II for his years of service and contributions to the church.
Lenihan retired as pastor in 2003 and lived on church grounds in Redondo Beach, where he continued to serve as a parish priest. At the time of his death, Lenihan held the title of pastor emeritus at the parish.
Lenihan is survived by six nephews and a niece.
Visitation will be from 2 p.m. to midnight Monday in the main parish's church. A vigil will be held at 7 p.m.
A funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, followed by burial at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.
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