Alhambra parish celebrates centennial and its welcoming, inclusive spirit.The Feast of the Immaculate Conception last month also marked the 100-year anniversary of the first Mass celebrated at All Souls Church in Alhambra.Close to 500 people came to witness the historical event which was celebrated by Archbishop José Gomez, Father Joseph Kim Dang Nguyen, pastor, and other priests and associates. The upbeat spirit, punctuated with joyous musical selections, certainly set the mood for this culmination of the golden year-long observance that began earlier this year at Pentecost. The Knights of Columbus led the opening procession amid clicking cameras while parishioners waved to one another across the pews. Many parishioners were wearing red shirts emblazed with the official logo for the church’s 100 years anniversary. The liturgical readings in English, Spanish and Chinese reflected the current status of the parish which — once a haven for Italian, Irish and German immigrants — has always embraced a multicultural membership.In his homily, Archbishop Gomez congratulated the parish on its historic legacy. “There have been so many moments of grace for so many people in this church,” he said of the baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals that have taken place in the parish’s 100 years. “Today we are not only celebrating Mary’s Immaculate Conception, but we are also celebrating our own conception, that new birth in baptism as children of God,” remarked the archbishop. “Let us fill our days with little acts of faith.”Near the end of the Mass, Alhambra Mayor Barbara Messina presented Father Nguyen with a proclamation marking All Souls’ centennial milestone. Messina, a parishioner since 1959 who also taught religious education classes, explained that the church for her was “all about community. It is a great family parish which is seeing a change in its ethnic makeup. But it’s still a welcoming, family community. That hasn’t changed one bit.”Indeed, after the Eucharistic celebration, parishioners and well-wishers gathered for a buffet lunch and plenty of time for reminiscing about their connections — past and present — with the church.“I remember the wonderful Harvest Festivals and what fun they were,” said 83-year-old Madeleine Doerning whose seven sons attended the school. “I am still friends with people I met here years ago and we continue to make new friends in this community.”Many parishioners lamented the loss of the nearby grassy fields which served as a playground, football field and running track. Others were saddened by the closure of the parish school two years ago, but they are tremendously supportive of the new education venture that started up this school year: the first dual immersion elementary school (Chinese, Spanish and English) in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Others had fond memories of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary who taught at the school from 1922-1984. Indeed, the history of All Souls is a testimony to the tenacity and courage of its early members.All Souls was the first offshoot of the nearby San Gabriel Mission, established to meet the growing needs of the settlers in the area — Alhambra officially becoming a city in 1903. A temporary church building was erected on Main Street; Benedictine Father Philip Williams was the first pastor who suggested the church be named All Souls to honor the faithfully departed.The first church was built on Electric and Main; this two-story brown-shingled building served the parish for 25 years.The parish school was added in 1921 with the Holy Names Sisters in charge. Fifty-three students were enrolled in the first year (grades 3-5). In 1923, the enrollment doubled and more staff was added, making for eight primary grades.In 1934, Msgr. Peter Hanrahan was appointed pastor at a time of amazing growth of the parish. He planned the new church, expanded the school and guided parishioners for 38 years.In addition to remembering former pastors and associates, many current All Souls parishioners say that the Holy Names Sisters were instrumental in setting the tone of the parish community back then. Holy Names Sister Barbara Nixon was the last of the sisters to serve as principal (1971-79). As vocations dwindled for the order, so did their presence at the school. “I always loved the nuns and because of them I went to Ramona Convent and would later join them,” says Sally McEachen, now an SNJM associate. “They gave the school such a spirit — they would have great yo-yo contests! The school was filled with All Souls parishioners, it was a large extended family, and we knew it was our home. This is where we belonged.”That overriding sense of community will keep the parish going for the next 100 years, said current pastor Father Nguyen. “Back then, the church was like a mission given its surroundings,” he said. “Today, that’s our key for the next 100 years. We need to be a missionary church once again and reach out to those communities — especially Asian populations, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Burmese, and Chinese — and let them know what we are all about.”Parishioners are not just multicultural, but also “inter-cultural,” he continued. “They reach out beyond their group and feel at home with newcomers. They accept and learn from other cultures. Inclusive. We all have a right to this church.”“I celebrated my first Communion here and I was married in this church,” said 73-year-old Gloria Downer who is pleased that the church has evolved to meet the needs of the Latino population. “I was raised in a Spanish-speaking family and so the transition has been easy for me.”Downer talked about her friendship with Msgr. William O’Toole (pastor emeritus), the old neighborhood, and how her faith has grown in the parish. “This place has always felt like my home with God,” she said. “And it still does. I am pretty sure that I will be buried in this church!“My hope and prayer is that the people today work together so the church can be around for another 100 years here. That would be something to see.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0118/sgallsouls/{/gallery}