St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Costa Mesa


Welcome to Saint John the Baptist Catholic parish in the diocese of Orange. Our parish is staffed by six Norbertine priests assigned by the abbey of Saint Michael in Orange. The Norbertines of Saint Michael’s follow the nine hundred-year-old traditions of the Canons Regular of Prémontré, founded by Saint Norbert. Their primary work, as a Religious Order, is the reverent public chanting of the choir office. In addition to this, the priests serve in the parish church and its grammar school. There are three main language groups (English, Spanish, Vietnamese) ministered to within the parish through Masses, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, prayer groupsvolunteer opportunities and social events. Our primary goal is to make ourselves, together with our parishioners, saints. If that is your goal also, come join us!


Image for St. John the Baptist St. John the Baptist was the son of Zachariah, a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Elizabeth, a kinswoman of the Blessed Mother. He was born after the Archangel Gabriel told Zachariah that his wife would bear a child even though they were advanced in age. John lived as a hermit in the desert of Judea and when he was thirty, began to preach on the banks of the Jordan calling the people to repent of their sins and be baptized because the Kingdom of Heaven was close at hand. He attracted large crowds, and when Christ came to him, John baptized Him, saying, “It is I who should be baptized by You.” When Christ left to preach in Galilee, John continued preaching in the Jordan valley. Fearful of his popularity, Herod Antipas had him arrested and imprisoned. Herod later had him beheaded to fulfill a vow he made to Salome, daughter of Herodias, with whom Herod had entered into an unlawful marriage. John inspired many of his followers, including Andrew and John, to follow Christ when he designated Him “the Lamb of God.” John the Baptist is the last of the Old Testament prophets and the precursor of the Messiah. His feast day is June 24th and the feast for his beheading is August 29th.

Highlights of Parish, Local History and Information

Image for SJBBefore 1820, the geographic parish boundaries included an adobe station of Mission San Juan Capistrano, for the vaqueros tending the Mission cattle. A small church and school were later founded in 1880, near the intersection of Harbor and Fairview and close to the now dormant Fairview sulfur hot springs. In the 1940s, Baker Street was the northern boundary of the Santa Ana Army Air Base, and trainees attended Mass at the Catholic chapel on base. After World War II, part of the base located at what is now Mendoza Street became the Air Force Rocket Engine Facility. The surrounding area was still agricultural land. In May 1958, Cardinal McIntyre of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles granted permission to Msgr. Thomas J. Nevin, then-pastor of St. Joachim’s parish on Orange Ave. in Costa Mesa, to build a new church to accommodate the growing population of the city and relieve the packed condition at the city’s only other Catholic church. Ground was broken on Christmas Eve 1958  at the current site of St. John the Baptist parish for a small annex church and school. The so-called temporary church building was completed quickly with the intention, in the Master Plan from that time, of converting it into a church hall after a permanent church building was constructed. Mass was first said in this designated church on November 8, 1959. Photos from the time show sprawling fields of lima beans bordering the church property. Until May 1960, the church and school were known as St. Joachima’s Annex. In May, the church was officially designated a separate parish and Father McGowan was appointed its first pastor. Like many parish communities, the parishioners of St. John the Baptist have a history of pulling together as a family and generously pooling time, treasure and talent to serve their parish community. Through the years from 1962 to 1997, parishioners helped provide for an expanded elementary school, convent, rectory, parish hall, religious education office, parish office and portable classrooms.

Highlights of the New Renovation

Highlights of the New Renovation_infoIn 2004 permission was not granted from the bishop to construct a new church building, but instead was given to renovate the existing structure. The parish did exactly that, consulting together and hiring in artisans from Arte Granda in Spain to design the renovations and custom-make new art, including:

  • Stunning, dominant, behind-the-altar, hand-carved relief of St. John the Baptist pointing out Christ in a Biblical scene Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God). The relief is framed by a gold leaf and rojo marble in laid relief.
  • Three-foot in diameter, bronze medallion, located just under the dominate relief, that features Christ as the Lamb of God and the seven seals from the Book of Revelation. The Blessed Sacrament resides directly behind this medallion, facing the Eucharist Chapel behind the Altar.
  • New altar with rojo marble.
  • Four hand-carved, wooden statues – two placed on either side of the dominant front relief, one of St. Joseph and the other of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child, and two placed in the Eucharistic Chapel, of St. Norbert and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
  • Eucharistic chapel directly behind the Altar. This chapel will eventually house continual, 24-hour Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • New tabernacle with a door that depicts six scenes from Christ’s Passion.
  • At the front of the church, bronze double doors featuring scenes from the Baptism of Christ.

Image for Behold the Lamb of God Relief

Behold the Lamb of God Relief

Dominating the entire Church is the massive relief of St. John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God. The figure of the Baptist is modeled after St. John the Baptist in a famous painting of the Italian artist Titian. The figure of Christ towers over every other figure in the relief and the entire Church. The hand sculpted relief ties the sanctuary and Eucharistic Chapel together with John pointing to Christ as the “Lamb of God”, words used at every celebration of the Eucharist. It is interesting to note that there was no image of St. John in the Church prior to the renovation. The relief, like the other figures on the main wall of the sanctuary, is framed by marble and gilded resin highlights. The wall itself is covered with white limestone from Spain.

Walls Ceiling Floors - St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Costa Mesa

Walls, Ceiling and Floor

A desire for a unified feel coupled with the need to "hide" new electrical and air conditioning conduits was at play in the covering of the walls and ceiling with entirely new materials. The wooden beams/pillars add warmth and perspective to the nave. The floor, made of porcelain tile from Italy, evokes the colors and textures of travertine marble. Nothing remains to be seen of the original walls, floor or ceilings. New windows were added, with the hope that the glass will one day be replaced with stained glass designs.

Image for Entrance DoorsAltar and AmboAgnus Dei Medallion

Entrance Doors

The doors are made of bronze and depict the baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The Baptism scene on the doors reminds us that we enter God's Holy Church through the sacrament of Baptism. The Holy Spirit is not depicted in the doors with a view to a future window of the Holy Spirit in the glass located above the doors (choir area).

Altar and Ambo

The altar and ambo are similar in design and
made of the same combination of white and coral marble from Spain. These are the focal points of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, respectively. The first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" ("chi rho") are inlaid in the front of the altar, made of the same marble as found in the tabernacle.

Agnus Dei Medallion

The Agnus Dei Medallion, which hangs on the west side of the Sanctuary, is hand carved wood covered with gold plate. In the background of the medallion is seen the Book of God's judgment with the seven seals referred to in the Apocalypse of St. John.

Blessed Virgin & St. Joseph

The statues of the Virgin and St. Joseph are hand carved out of wood. The presence of the child in Mary's arms was a deliberate choice to evoke the presence of the Holy Family in the sanctuary and their intercession upon all families of the parish.


The crucifix is hand carved out of wood and
located above the baptismal font where it is a reminder that in the waters of baptism we die with Christ in order to rise with Him to new life.

Baptismal Font

The font is the custom design of J. R. Evans Co. and makes use of marble similar to that used in the rest of the sanctuary.

St. John the Baptist-Our Lady of La Vang

Our Lady of Guadalupe &
St. Norbert

The Virgin of Guadalupe was chosen specifically for the Eucharistic Chapel because the black belt worn around her waist indicates that she is pregnant with the Word of God and therefore the first "living tabernacle" of the God-Man.

The statue of St. Norbert, founder of the Norbertine Order, evokes the presence of the Norbertines in the parish. He holds the olive branch (symbol of the peace he loved to preach) and the Eucharist (to which the Norbertine Order is deeply devoted in imitation of him). At his feet lies Tanchelm, a notorious heretic of the twelfth century who encouraged people to act as if Christ was not truly present in the Eucharist. The chalice with hosts spilling out evokes the disrespect and irreverence towards the Eucharist which St. Norbert was determined to wipe out among the people of God.

The Tabernacle

The tabernacle is custom designed with two sides, one visible from the Eucharistic chapel and the other from the main church. One side portrays scenes from the Passion and the other side the Risen Christ. The tabernacle extends through the wall and is about two feet in length. Around the tabernacle on the chapel side is a background of marble, and onyx of Pakistan which allows light from behind to penetrate and bathe the Chapel in soft light.

Our Lady of La Vang

Our statue of Our Lady of La Vang is in honor of the Marian apparition that took place during the reign of Emperor Canh Thinh who saw the Catholic Vietnamese as a threat to his power and ordered their persecution and deaths. Many people fled this reign of terror and sought refuge in the rain forest of La Vang in Quang Tri Province, and while there many became very ill. While hiding in the jungle, the community gathered nightly to pray the Rosary. One night, an apparition surprised them in the branches of a tree, near which they were kneeling in prayer. Our Lady appeared wearing traditional Vietnamese dress and holding the infant Jesus in her arms with two angels beside her. Our Lady comforted them and told them to boil leaves from the trees for medicine to cure the sick, saving the lives of those forced the flee the emperor. When the Christians returned to their villages in 1802, the story was passed on and many returned to the site to offer prayers. Our Lady of La Vang continues to be an inspiration for Vietnamese Catholics, many of whom left their homeland to avoid continued persecution.

Stained Glass Windows

Mother Catherine Stained Glass WindowSaint Andrew Dũng Lạc Stained Glass WindowSaint Juan Diego Stained Glass Window Saint Patrick Stained Glass WindowSaint Elizabeth Ann Seton Stained Glass WindowSaint Herman Joseph Stained Glass Window
Mother Catherine Stained Glass Window

Mother Catherine, a woman of great courage and vision, is the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy who have served in our parish school since it opened in 1959. Mother was born on September 29, 1778 and died November 11, 1841. Her window faces the parish school and is positioned next to two other saints of education (St. Herman Joseph and St. Elizabeth Seton). Mother Catherine’s face is based on a portrait painted while she was still living. She wears the original habit of the Sisters of Mercy. In her right hand she holds the rosary worn by the Sisters which is distinguished by the characteristic “Mercy Cross” (white inner Cross superimposed on a black outer Cross). This Cross also forms part of our parish school’s official shield. She wears on her left hand the simple ring which symbolizes the total consecration of her life to Jesus, her heavenly Spouse. Mother is holding a cup of tea. Shortly before her death, when her sisters had been keeping vigil around the clock and wearing themselves out to take care of her in her final illness, Mother Catherine instructed the superior to “give them a cup of tea when I’m gone”. The background has several details which evoke the Irish countryside, homeland of Mother Catherine and our Mercy Sisters. Typical hills, farmland, cottages, sheep and a grazing horse can be seen in addition to the shamrocks growing at her feet. The cat at Mother’s feet is a special tribute to Sister Mary Vianney Ennis, the Mercy Sister who has served our school the longest. She came to St. John’s in 1962 and became principal in 1975. Sister has endeared herself to generations of alumni and their families and happens to be a great lover of cats (the cat portrayed here belongs to the artist who designed the windows!). The window contains the keys, symbol of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, placed in Mother Catherine’s window because of her great devotion to the mystery of God’s Mercy. They symbolize the power granted by Christ to His apostles (and through them to all priests) to bind and loose sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (cf. Jn. 20:22-23). The keys face away from each other to symbolize binding and loosing of sins. The cross-shaped design in the keys reminds us that it is the Lord’s Cross that unlocks the fountain of God’s mercy in our lives. These keys also happen to resemble the actual keys of Mother Catherine on display at her first foundation in Baggot  Street, Dublin. The shield in the lower panel is that of the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher to which the donor of the windows belongs. The shield bears the typical “Jerusalem Cross” composed of five different Greek crosses, a large one in the middle for the wound in the heart of Christ and two at the top and bottom for the wounds in Our Lord’s hands and feet. All are in the color of blood.

Saint Andrew Dũng Lạc Stained Glass Window

St. Andrew is the most prominent of the Vietnamese martyrs. He was born in 1795 and died a martyr for the faith on December 21, 1839. He belonged to a peasant family, but eventually entered the priesthood at a time when the church was being severely persecuted by the Vietnamese authorities. His presence in this window represents another major ethnic group of the parish, the Vietnamese community, and indirectly, all those of Asian descent. He completes the trio of windows celebrating the ethnic diversity of our parish (which is by no means limited to the three cultural groups represented in the windows). The face of St. Andrew is based on a popular representation consistent with the limited iconographic tradition. Although he is often portrayed wearing the black biretta of European origin, here he wears the typical conical hat which is a symbol of traditional Vietnamese life. It is worn throughout Vietnam and also appears in rural areas of neighboring Laos and bordering areas of Cambodia. In this window the hat is especially symbolic of the poor peasant background of St. Andrew’s family members who worked the land under the hot sun of Asia. St. Andrew wears the vesture of a diocesan priest (black cassock, white surplice and stole). The red stole, reminiscent of his martyrdom, has a typically Vietnamese textile pattern. Around his neck is a thin red line, evoking his eventual martyrdom by beheading in 1839. His hands are chained to recall his suffering through imprisonment for the faith. At his feet are the typical Asian neck harness worn by prisoners of the time on their way to execution, as well as the blade used in his beheading. St. Andrew stands calmly above these instruments of death which he knows ultimately have no power over his soul. He holds the palm branch, symbol of his victory over death. In the background are plants typical of Asia, including palm trees to the left and right of his shoulders, evoking the psalm text, “The just man shall flourish like the palm tree” (Ps. 92:12). In the panel above his head is the sun, appearing here in the only window of a saint from the east. In the panel below his feet are lotus flowers and tropical fish evoking the beauty and colors of Asia. The stole worn by St. Andrew is a common symbol of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In this context, it takes on an even richer significance because it is worn by one who did not hesitate as a priest to “lay down his life for his sheep.” The shield in the lower panel is that of Bishop Tod D. Brown, third bishop of the diocese of Orange (from 1998 to present). The left side of the shield is that of the diocese of Orange with the characteristic Santa Ana mountains, orange tree, mission courtyard and waves of the ocean. On the right side of the shield are the personal arms of Bishop Brown.

Saint Juan Diego Stained Glass Window

St. Juan Diego is the humble Indian peasant of Mexico to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 and to whom She gave the famed likeness of Herself. He was born in 1474 and died on May 30, 1548. Together with the other windows on this side of the church, this window celebrates the marvelous cultural diversity of our parish and represents in a special way all those of Mexican and Latin American background. The iconographic tradition for St. Juan Diego’s face is sketchy. In the earliest known image (the so-called “verdadero retrato”), he is depicted with dark skin and facial hair. Also present in this earliest depiction of St. Juan Diego is his broad-rimmed hat. He wears the hat which evokes both his cultural background and his labors and journeys under the hot sun of Mexico. He is also dressed in the traditional garb of the Mexican peasant, the sandals on his feet once again underlining his humble origins. We are reminded in this window that Mary has most often chosen to visit the humble and the poor in Her apparitions on earth. St. Juan Diego holds the tilma in front of him with roses spilling out, recalling the events which surrounded the first “unveiling” of the holy image. The miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is at the center and heart of the window, imprinted on St. Juan Diego’s tilma, as She was at the center and heart of the saint’s life. St. Juan Diego’s Indian name (Cuauhtlatoatzin) means “the talking Eagle”. In the panel above his head there is a soaring eagle with beak opened. Pictured in the background of the window are some typical plants and cacti native to Mexico. The mountains in the background flatten at one point evoking the mesa-like landscape of the southwest. The window contains a bottle at St. Juan Diego’s feet with the initials “O.I.” which stand for Oleum Infirmorum or “Oil of the Sick”. St. Juan Diego was on his way to seek the sacrament of the sick for his uncle who was seriously ill when Our Lady stopped him to give him the miraculous image on December 12th, 1531. The bottle at his feet represents his errand of mercy interrupted by Our Lady (who also looked after the cure of the sick uncle). Growing at St. Juan Diego’s feet are the aloe plants which are native to Mexico and contain many healing properties—a further symbol of God’s abundant graces granted to the sick who receive this Sacrament. The shield in the lower panel is that of Bishop William R. Johnson, first bishop of the diocese of Orange (from 1978-1986). The left side of the shield is that of the diocese of Orange with the characteristic Santa Ana mountains, orange tree, mission courtyard and waves of the ocean. On the right side of the shield are the personal arms of Bishop Johnson.

Saint Patrick Stained Glass Window

St. Patrick is the great missionary monk and bishop who evangelized the people of Ireland. He lived from about 390 to 460 A.D. Together with the other windows on this side of the church, his window celebrates the marvelous ethnic diversity of the parish. He represents the Irish and other Anglos of European background who were instrumental in establishing the parish in its early years. The founding pastor of St. John’s, Rev. Msgr. Anthony McGowan, was Irish, as were all the Sisters of Mercy attached to St. John’s. This is the primary “dedication” window of the parishioner who donated all of the stained glass windows in the church. It (together with the other windows) is dedicated with humble gratitude to the memory of Msgr. Daniel Brennan who brought the donor into the Church at St. John’s and confirmed him. The face of St. Patrick, which has no reliable iconographic tradition, resembles that of the very Irish Msgr. Brennan (while St. Patrick is often portrayed with a beard, serious studies of his iconography actually prefer a beardless St. Patrick). St. Patrick bears the insignia of a bishop – miter, crosier, and ring. The crosier is decorated with a shamrock leaf, highlighting its effective use by St. Patrick as a tool for teaching the mystery of the Trinity. Over his green chasuble (evoking the Irish) is the white pallium with superimposed crosses which represents his role as the founding bishop of the Irish Church. In the background is a small stone church, symbolizing the many ancient churches and dioceses which St. Patrick founded in Ireland. Shamrocks grow at his feet and snakes scurry away. Though the ancient “legend” of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland can be historically questioned, the fact that he drove out many demons (represented by snakes in the tradition of the Scriptures) remains. His crosier is planted firmly on the head of one of those unfortunate “demons”. Kneeling at the feet of St. Patrick is an adult representative of the many thousands brought to the faith by St. Patrick as well as those who have come into the Church through the ministry of St. John the Baptist parish. He wears a simple white alb, like those worn by the catechumens on the night of their baptism at the Easter Vigil. St. Patrick is administering the Sacrament of Confirmation to the kneeling figure. A dove overhead symbolizes the Holy Spirit received in the Sacrament. St. Patrick’s thumb is signing the forehead of the kneeling figure with the oil of Chrism, as is done by the bishop at Confirmation in our own day. The shield in the lower panel is that of the Order of the Knights of Malta to which the donor belongs. The shield features the typical “Maltese Cross” with pointed ends on each arm of the Cross to evoke the sharp nails and thorns in Our Lord’s Passion.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Stained Glass Window

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born citizen to be canonized a saint, completes the trio of education saints facing the school. She is considered the Patroness of Catholic Schools in the United States. Mother Seton was born on August 28, 1774 and died on January 4, 1821. She married and had five children before her conversion to Catholicism after the death of her husband. Mother Seton’s face is based on two original portraits painted during her lifetime. She is wearing the original black habit of the Sisters of Charity, the Congregation which she founded, with the characteristic “bonnet”. Her rosary hangs from the habit, a reminder of the emphasis she placed on prayer in her life and the life of her Sisters. She is holding a classic one-room American school house in her hands. Mother Seton established one of the earliest U.S. Catholic schools, St. Joseph’s Academy, shortly after her arrival in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1809. Mother holds the American flag in her hand, symbol of her distinction as the first “American” saint. The flag has fifteen stars and stripes, as it would have looked at the time of the founding of her first school. In 1818 Congress reduced the number of stripes to thirteen, allowing only the addition of stars for each new state. Also emphasizing Mother Seton’s American background are the flora and fauna of the Eastern United States: the Monarch butterflies and Milkweed plant (upon which the Monarch depends), Lazy Susans and the Baltimore Oriole (state bird of Maryland where Mother Seton founded her congregation and school). There are also two hefty Elm trees to the right and left of her cape. Mother Seton is wearing a precious wedding ring on her left hand, symbol of the Sacrament of Matrimony. She would not have worn this after becoming a nun, but it symbolizes the “treasure” of marriage which she left behind after her husband’s death to seek another kind of treasure. For parents with challenging children, Mother Seton is a wonderful patroness who struggled mightily and grieved deeply over the choices of her wayward son. In the lower panel is the Shield of Bishop Norman F. McFarland, second bishop of the diocese of Orange (from 1987-1998). The left side of the shield is that of the diocese of Orange with the characteristic Santa Ana mountains, orange tree, mission courtyard and waves of the ocean. Bishop McFarland’s personal arms are on the right side of the shield.

Saint Herman Joseph Stained Glass Window

St. Herman Joseph, a priest of the Norbertine Order, was born in the Rhineland around the middle of the 12th century and died at a great old age on April 4, 1241. As a young boy he attended one of the first and best known of the Order’s schools. He is the patron saint of students educated by the Norbertine Fathers. His window is positioned next to Mother Catherine, representing with her the commitment of dedicated religious to the work of education in our parish school. St. Herman Joseph is the only saint in our windows whose head is uncovered—out of respect for the Lord present in his arms. His face is based on the ancient statue found in the abbey church of Steinfeld in the Eifel, Germany, where he entered the Order as a young boy. He wears the monastic tonsure (haircut) common in that epoch. He is dressed in the white habit of the Norbertines as it would have looked at that time. From his childhood St. Herman Joseph had many mystical experiences. In one of them, as a boy, he offered an apple to the statue of the Virgin and Child at the church of the Capitol in Cologne. The statue came to life and the Child Jesus took the apple (He is holding the apple in the window). He holds the Child to evoke the nurturing aspect of the work of education. The Christ Child is dressed as King with His Sacred Heart exposed. St. Herman Joseph wrote the earliest known hymn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which opens with the line, “I hail Thee kingly Heart most high." St. Herman Joseph wears a ring on his left hand which he received from the Blessed Virgin during the celebration of their mystical espousals. The white roses growing at his feet are reminiscent of the saint’s purity and great love for the Blessed Virgin whom he liked to call his “Rose”. The crescent moon above his image also evokes the Virgin. The bats flying in the air recall a story from his youth when he chased the bats out of the abbey bell tower using a volume of St. Augustine—the bats symbolizing the inner demons against which the true monk must struggle for a lifetime. St. Herman Joseph shared the profound devotion of the Norbertines for the Blessed Sacrament. He holds a chalice, symbol of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the Church’s life. A wooden pail sits by the side of the stream in the lower panel. This evokes the period in the saint’s life when he was sacristan of the abbey church, and would rise early each morning to fetch from a pure mountain stream the water which would be poured (a single drop) into the chalice at Mass: he wanted nothing but the best for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries. In the lower panel is also the coat of arms of Abbot Eugene J. Hayes, O.Praem., the abbot of St. Michael’s Abbey (1995—current) under whose tenure the Norbertine Fathers arrived at St. John’s. The left side of the shield is the coat of arms of the Norbertine Order (crossed crosiers and fleur-de-lis) and St. Michael’s Abbey (the wing of St. Michael). On the right are the personal arms of Abbot Hayes.