By: Rod Light
LPC alum “Miss Mary Lou” Canata (’64) was one of a kind.
Mary Lou’s passion for children was much more than crusades and Bible stories. She was an advocate and defender. When she gave her life to Christ as a little girl, God promised to make her life count. And He did.
Mary Lou and little sister Rose grew up the daughters of first generation Italian-American parents living in Los Angeles. The girls and their mother attended an Italian-speaking church on the corner of Avenue 22 and Broadway called Christian Assembly, where Mary Lou gave her life to Christ.
The girls were barely teenagers when the family was splintered and they became entangled with the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services. Then, their father began serving a life sentence for child abuse.
At 18, she was granted full legal custody of Rose. Later, Mary Lou became “Mom” to her niece and nephew, helping her brother when his wife abandoned the family. She hoped that by sharing her story with them, she might steer them to a life of redemption in Christ. As with most things Mary Lou said, her message was blunt, loving, and life changing. “If God can do this for me,” she would say, “He will do it for you.”
Earning her Bachelor’s Degree at LIFE Bible College, Mary Lou formed friendships and ministry alliances that would become networks for her lifetime of sharing the gospel. She traveled the U.S. from coast to coast, alone in a car that was overflowing with teaching supplies, flannel boards, and her prized 3-foot candy bars. Even in retirement, Mary Lou racked up more than 70,000 frequent flyer miles ministering for the Lord. In all, Mary Lou hosted crusades in all 50 states and 19 nations.
An innovator of children’s media, Mary Lou hosted “Sunshine Farms” on TBN, and a regular radio broadcast on KFSG called “Joy Club.” Thousands of kids picked up the phone to call “Dial a Story,” a pre-recorded Bible story line that Mary Lou hosted at Angelus Temple, her home church in Los Angeles.
Her energy seemed boundless and she was never without an opinion. After Mary Lou’s passing, longtime friend Winona Helms (‘49) said, “Mary Lou is in Heaven now, and Heaven will never be the same.” Those who loved Mary Lou know exactly what Winona means.
In 1997, Mary Lou was awarded a Doctor of Divinity by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel for her ministry, serving exclusively in ministry to children. In 2015, at her 50th reunion as LIFE alumni, Miss Mary Lou received the Lifetime of Service award. When President Jim J. Adams gave her the award, she was surrounded by close friends, and loved ones who have been influenced by her love and leadership for decades.
Shortly before her death, Mary Lou wrote, “Not bad for a city girl from an Italian immigrant family.” We couldn’t agree more.
President Jim J. Adams reflects on Miss Mary Lou
Mary Lou may have been one of a kind, but one can’t help but wonder how many others like her are students right now at Life Pacific College, building their own networks of ministry effectiveness.
Mary Lou would be the first to say that the rest of us must step up and make sure current students fully embrace God’s call to reach the next generation for Christ. She would tell us to make every possible commitment to nurture them in the ministry, and provide financially to make the way as easy as possible.
By: Rod Light, M.A., an ordained Foursquare minister, LPC adjunct professor, and Communications Coordinator for Foursquare Missions International.