Just up the street from the notorious Nickerson Gardens housing projects, the church and school of St. Lawrence of Brindisi in Watts form something of a small oasis in a part of LA known for gangs, poverty, and high crime rates.
The pastor here, Father Matthew Elshoff, OFM Cap., is a 67-year-old Ohio native with light blue eyes and the remains of a Midwestern accent. He goes by “Padre Mateo” (as the sign on his office door indicates) and a few weeks ago, while on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, he received the surprise of a lifetime: Pope Francis had named him one of LA’s new auxiliary bishops.
“Francis, come rebuild my Church, Francis, respond to the call of the Church. That’s been playing in my head many times over the past three weeks,” admitted Elshoff when asked about the serendipitous timing of the phone call from the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre.