Cloaked in white vestments and eyes lost in prayerful concentration, Rev. Richard Sunwoo’s posture was humble as he was presented with symbols of his new pastoral office: the lectionary to remind him to always be a faithful preacher, sacred chrism and oil of the sick for anointing and the sacred chalice and ciborium as a sign of desire for him to serve the eucharist to the parish.
“To be a pastor is a great responsibility,” said Bishop Edward Clark as he addressed the parishioners at Sunwoo’s installation mass at Our Savior Parish on Sunday. “It is a responsibility that is filled with many joys, but also with some anxieties.”
After two years serving as administrator of USC’s Catholic church Our Savior Parish, Sunwoo has now been named pastor of the parish. In his new position, he will be the designated priest overseeing the church for the next six years.
“I think today is really about celebrating Father Richard, but more importantly I think for the USC community having a leader who’s authentic, who’s genuine, who’s caring,” said Jamie Cappetta, president of the USC Caruso Catholic Center. “Especially in these difficult times in our church, he is an authentic kind of shepherd of his flock.”
Though his daily responsibilities will not change, Sunwoo is now specifically responsible for parishioners at USC.
“We have a unique opportunity to be the face of the young church in America,” Sunwoo said. “All of our parishioners are young. I don’t have the old lady in the corner saying that’s not how my monsignor used to do it … l really want to make sure that the faith is alive, vibrant and relevant to all of our young college students.”
Upon entering as an administrator, he initially focused on ensuring that students knew he was supportive and demonstrating to students that the faith is still present and relevant. Now, he is focusing on discipleship by providing opportunities for students to encounter Christ through retreats, service projects, prayer meetings and community gatherings.
“From that powerful encounter, they’ll want to learn more so that process changes our hearts and when our hearts are changed that’s when we are galvanized to change the world and make it a positive difference,” Sunwoo said. “Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic or searching or whatever it may be, we want this place to be where people can encounter Christ and … be changed by the beautiful message.”
Sunwoo, who was a high school teacher before being ordained in 2009, finds himself once again immersed among young people but in a different way.
“I’m not here to judge people for what they can produce,” Sunwoo said. “That’s the beauty of it. That’s so different for me. I love young people. What I hated was grading them.”
Sunwoo’s involvement at USC has extended further than the Caruso Catholic Center. He attends both home and away football games to pray with players before games.
“I think the message is that religion is used to divide the world, but I believe it’s the opposite. It’s the only self; it’s the medicine that brings healing to brokenness,” Sunwoo said.
When Sunwoo, who previously served at Saint Florence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach, Calif. for five years and at Saint Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, Calif. for two years, applied to the pastorship at Our Savior, he went through an extensive recommendation process. Students, the advisory board and some parishioners filled out evaluations about Sunwoo’s character, contribution to the parish and challenges they’ve observed, which the bishop then reviewed.
“I think Archbishop [Jose] Gomez and Bishop Clark made a great decision,” Cappetta said. “Much of our community is nonwhite, much of our community, USC, is an incredibly diverse place and so to have somebody as the leader of this community with his background … now here leading other students on their journey of faith — that’s pretty powerful.”