Nativity Church is nestled in residential Torrence, surrounded by houses on all sides. Two weeks after Christmas, a drive down the neighborhood’s Engracia Avenue showed the influence of this parish: nearly every other house still had its front lawn Nativity scene lit and on display. Pastor Fr. Hung Tran says this is a yearly event.
This community of neighbors reflects a very special spirit of welcoming, caring and reaching out. Pastor Hung Tran sees his parish as a group that reflects its neighborhood — one that works together as one family in spirit and accomplishes great things in small and large ways.
“The parish has a multicultural atmosphere and acceptance of others [that] reflects a spirit of the neighborhood, of family,” says Father Tran. “Our parish is very friendly, welcoming, accepting. These people love their faith and the church is the center of their lives. They love to get together to celebrate and it is their family life that is mainly the center of it all.”
No doubt thinking of the image of Christ’s birth as he speaks, Father Tran sees Nativity Parish as a “spiritual house of bread,” as the city of Bethlehem was referred to in the time of Jesus. He adds, “This neighborhood church is a place where everyone can feel at home and welcome. They can be part of so much: Bible study, special services, activities like the parish book club, the celebration of feast days important to themselves and others.” Parishioners can also “get involved in outreach giving to the community.”
Necy and Flonio Sumait, originally from the Philippines, have been in the parish over 20 years. Their children attended Nativity School before moving on to high school and college. Both Necy and Flonio are pastoral council members, and together they help form faith formation breakfast groups. They volunteer in other ways as well.
“We really try to do a lot,” says Necy. “Our parishioners are really helpful and generous and they respond, too. Eighth grade students in the school serve the elderly in the parish a Thanksgiving meal. Our parish reaches out in so many ways.”
Necy continued, “My family grew up in the parish and our larger family is the parish, as well.”
Nativity School principal Danina Flores Uy says the school still reflects that “family oriented” atmosphere that so many treasure. “Faith and family education are vital to the school’s spirit,” she says noting that the school has a small town atmosphere with families enrolling generation after generation.
Ellie Hernandez, parish secretary for the past 15 years, has two children who attended Nativity School, went to Catholic high schools and are in college now.
“We all come together, especially when there is a need, like the St. Nicolas’ Society. Last year we collected gifts for the elderly in our area retirement homes,” she says.
“We got together and we did it and we helped the retired Maryknoll Sisters in Monrovia, too. We have been doing that for 10 years,” she says. There is always so much more that could be done.”
As a parishioner for 43 years, Hernandez received all the sacraments in the parish. As Ellie says, “It is the family atmosphere that says it all. It makes it easier to raise your children in this environment — whatever I taught at home, my children also heard it at Nativity School, and it has stayed with them. I am very proud of my kids.”