Pastors and parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Church in Westminster gathered together on June 18 for a joyous celebration marking the church’s 75th anniversary with music, food, dance performances, prayers and most of all, gratitude.
Bishop Kevin W. Vann joined the parishioners and clergy who first gathered for prayers near the outdoor altars filled with flowers. Following prayer, everyone walked in the Corpus Christi procession, carrying banners for their various groups, and stepped into the church entrance, which was festooned with balloons.
Inside the church, the pews were filled as the special Saturday Mass began. Words of the songs, hymns, prayers and petitions were projected on large screens on either side of the altar in multiple languages. Fans whirred overhead and a live band and singers— many of whom were children—provided musical accompaniment for the milestone
Rev. Tuyen Nguyen, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church, welcomed everyone and thanked Bishop Vann for his support.
He also introduced Rev. James Hartnett who served as the first diocesan pastor of Blessed Sacrament from 1986 to 2005. The parish gave him a hearty round of applause as he stood on the altar before them. The church was founded in 1947 by the Columban Fathers, who led it until Fr. Hartnett arrived.
Today, the church has a robust parish of 4,700 registered families, said Fr. Nguyen who noted that it also has a Catholic school attached for about 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It coordinates a vacation bible school program during the summer, in addition to a teen ministry, several adult formation classes, parenting classes, more than 10 choirs and many other faith-filled activities throughout the year. The church and school campus covers about eight acres.
In the early years of the church, the parish consisted of mostly Anglo families, but after 75 years, the parish has diversified. Currently, the parish consists of Vietnamese, Filipino, Spanish and Anglo families. Masses are celebrated in English, Vietnamese and Spanish every day of the week; some of which are livestreamed.
It is a lot to do for the clergy, but “our work is shared,” said Fr. Nguyen. “We don’t feel burdened; we are joyful.”
Fr. Nguyen was born in Vietnam and came to the U.S. in 1982 by way of the Philippines. Earlier in his life he had attended St. Thomas Seminaries for the Diocese of Long Xuyen, Vietnam. While trying to escape Vietnam, he was captured and sent to a re-education camp for a year. He still remembers how the other prisoners kindly shared rice, chocolate and sugar with him before he got out and was picked up by a German boat.
Vietnamese Catholics, he said, are grateful for the new life they found in Southern California.
“We still remember the tragedies and we thank God that we survived the war and survived the trials in the jungle or at sea,” he said. “It’s still fresh and we give thanks to God.”
After Fr. Nguyen came to California in 1982, he studied at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo and was ordained in 1987 by the late Bishop McFarland. He has served in many parishes around Southern California including St. Callistus in Garden Grove. Fr. Nguyen was vice-rector at Christ Cathedral for three years before coming to Blessed Sacrament Church in July 2016.
Within the Catholic Church and depending on its varying needs, priests are typically assigned to a sequence of posts amongst diocesan parishes. Thus, Blessed Sacrament has recently bid farewell to Fr. Khoi Phan and Fr. Al Baca who have been reassigned to new parishes.
A GROWING PARISH
Over the years, Blessed Sacrament has gained many parishioners, and to meet its growing needs, many upgrades have been made.
“When I came here, the church already expanded with two wings,” Fr. Nguyen said.
He is currently overseeing some needed upgrades.
“I continue to enhance the church to make it comfortable for the people,” he said, mentioning that that the church does not have air conditioning. “You are sure to have
a warm welcome in the summer,” he joked.
After the 75th anniversary Mass, crowds of parishioners poured out of the doors into the hot afternoon sun to pick up containers of food and to watch performances put on by children and teenagers, including boys in red dragon costumes racing across the lawn, and girls wearing gold and pink dresses beating out rhythms on huge drums. Souvenirs including candles and keychains commemorating the day were on display on outside tables.
What is the secret to Blessed Sacrament Church having survived and thrived over these seven-plus decades?
“There is no secret,” said Fr. Nguyen. “When we are baptized, we are Catholics, and when you are a Catholic you join a parish where you live. No matter who you are—Anglo, Vietnamese, Spanish—you find your church and you can call it home.”