Santa Teresita Church may reside in “the projects” of East Los Angeles, but its bright white walls, mission-style architecture and beautifully kept grounds all denote the respect and care its parishioners and neighbors have for this parish. “I love that the church doors open to the projects and the neighborhood,” says Mission San Jose Dominican Sister Mary Catherine Antczak, principal of Santa Teresita School for the past seven years. “I am so impressed with the deep faith of the people. They stop to pray in front of the church and make the sign of the cross as they walk by. “And when I talk with parents, they want hope for their children. They want them to see right from wrong. They know what a lack of moral direction can do to a neighborhood. They want their children to know Jesus.” The school and parish hold a special place in the hearts of Yvonne and Sam Navarro, graduates of Santa Teresita School’s first class in 1955, who eventually married and still attend Mass at Santa Teresita, even though they no longer live in the parish. Their support was perhaps most evident 20 years ago when low enrollment threatened the school’s ability to remain open. Knowing firsthand the difference a Catholic education can make in a young life, the Navarros hosted an event with a group of friends and raised the money needed to fund scholarships and tuition assistance for 120 students for the year. Since then, they have provided enough tuition assistance and scholarships to keep the school open, so that it can be a symbol of what happens when a community believes in itself and works together, imbued by the slogan, “Enrich a child’s life — adopt a child.” Yvonne and Sam host an annual graduation party at their home, and help provide clothing for graduation or First Communion, food and gifts at Christmas, and other essentials throughout the school year. Says Yvonne: “I don’t think I could ever give this up.” Santa Teresita and its neighbor “cluster” parishes, Our Lady Help of Christians and St. Lucy, are administered by Piarist Fathers Miguel Mascorro (pastor), Agustin Arriola (associate pastor) and Raymond Farre (in residence), who work as a team. And while Father Mascorro says that his mostly Spanish-speaking parishioners are “low income, live in the projects and mostly are renters,” they are also “very religious, committed to the Church and involved in the parish.” He also notes that his religious community, like the Mission San Jose Dominicans, “were founded to serve this need in the Church: to educate the poor. We are called to live the values of the Gospel. This is like a little piece of heaven here. The people feel at home and safe here and they have such respect for the sacred. We have never had a problem with graffiti here.“And their generosity is amazing. If painting is needed, or plumbing, they help and share. Sometimes they don’t have money, but they provide in spite of it all.”He and Sister Mary Catherine praise the parish’s three religious communities (which also include the Sisters of the Guardian Angel) for their ability to work together, notably in “the education of the children and parents,” says the principal. “The priests support Catholic education and that is priceless. They are available to the families of the parish. It’s all about the family.” No one knows that better than Cathy Munoz, full-time school secretary and bookkeeper, and her husband Oscar whose three boys, respectively, attend second grade and kindergarten at Santa Teresita School, and San Antonio de Padua Academy Pre-School. Married for eight years, Cathy and Oscar met when she was teaching at San Antonio de Padua School and coaching in the sports program, and he was teaching and coaching at Our Lady of Lourdes School. Oscar now works for the California Conservation Corps and helps train young people as they get back on their feet. Both teach religious education at Santa Teresita, drawn to serve in the parish because of its strong family atmosphere.“The parish is extremely welcoming and the people are very much all for community,” says Cathy. “There is a strong willingness to help; no one is turned away. The support from the priests and sisters is tremendous and very evident. There is a sense of family here — no one is less than anyone else.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1130/teresita/{/gallery}