Over the last 20-plus years, plenty of guardian angels have watched over the effort to build a new church for parishioners of the Guardian Angel Catholic community in Pacoima.

But last month, at last, trucks were moving dirt and pouring concrete behind a gate adorned with a piece of plywood that reads “12305 Terra Bella Street.”

The milestone was celebrated as a testament to the faith of Guardian Angel’s parishioners at a Sunday, June 18, ground-blessing ceremony attended by Archbishop José Gomez and nearly 400 people at the four-acre parcel of land steps away from Pacoima’s Hansen Dam Recreational Center.

The new 17,000-square-foot church, on track to open in summer 2024, will seat some 1,300 people. The project calls for parking space for more than 200 cars, parish office and meeting room space, plus widened surrounding streets and new sidewalks.

It is a notable improvement over the site of the current 200-seat church that sits about a mile east, built almost 70 years ago at 1088 Lehigh Ave., just off Van Nuys Blvd. It is surrounded by the densely populated and landlocked San Fernando Gardens, one of the oldest low-income public housing project developments in Los Angeles that has overcome a troubled past with gang violence.

Parking there is almost nonexistent. Even when the church celebrates five Masses every Sunday, it only allows for about 1,000 total worshippers. A small patio behind it with folding chairs serves as a gathering spot, whether for Mass overflow or fellowship afterward despite often baking in the San Fernando Valley summer sun or on chilly winter days….

While the Guardian Angels parishioners could do fundraising — sales of tamale or menudo or fruit drinks on Sundays, or larger raffles and fiestas — it wouldn’t be nearly enough. Wilkerson asked leadership at the 55 parishes of his region to help purchase the land through a three-year donation added on to their Together in Mission commitment. When some $2.5 million was raised, a six-acre L-shaped spot was bought in 2009, with the plan to have not just a larger church on one end, but room for the school, a rectory, and parish hall.

Now the challenge was finding a way to pay for all the construction.

Guitron’s plans to the archdiocese building commissioner were considered not financially viable. After revisions, more land entitlements, and permits, architectural firm Jp Darling & Associates was hired for the project in 2014. Wilkerson retired in 2015, but not before he reluctantly agreed that two acres of the original six-acre plot had to be sold off in order to fund construction.

When Father Rafael Lara arrived as pastor in 2018, he tried to rebuild momentum and tamp down discouragement, but was dealt two new setbacks in 2020: the death of architect Darling and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, architect Chuck Kluger — with more than 25 years experience in archdiocesan projects — was brought in to work with the existing designs….

Kluger described the new Guardian Angel church with its arches, tiles, and colors as a modern interpretation of a traditional Spanish architecture. He said he feels it fits well into the personality of the community it will serve.