HISTORY of NATIVITY CATHOLIC CHURCH in TORRANCE
From the Commemorative of the 75th Anniversary,1924-1999
At the beginning of the century the area south of Los Angeles was a portion of the Rancho San Pedro originally given to Juan Jose Dominguez in recognition of his long service to the King of Spain.There was nothing much here beyond barely fields,wild plants and open ranch country.
Jared Sidney Torrance, a lumberman, realty operator, and banker from New York, saw the possibilities of commerce and development in all these empty fields.The Dominguez Estate company sold him a parcel of 2800 acres for $980,000.The Union Tool Company purchased 25 acres.Then the Pacific Electric Company moved its general repair shops to the area.The Llewellen Iron Works built a new plant.
By 1912 workmen were busy digging foundations, laying pipe lines, putting up homes. In May 1921 the new City of Torrance was incorporated.
A small group of Catholics began to meet around the Eucharist in various places: the library on Cabrillo, a movie theater on El Prado, two homes on Gramercy Street.
Some of the names of these first members are familiar: Mr. and Mrs. John Carson, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Gould, Mr. and Mrs. Barney Gannon, Mrs. Joe Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Smith, Mrs. George Probert.
The priests who served them came from St. Michael’s in Los Angeles: Msgr. Raphael Fuhr, Fr. James Morris.
In 1918 Torrance became a mission of St. James, Redondo Beach. Msgr. Nicholas Conneally and after him Fr. James Deenihan were the priests who cared for the Catholics here.
The little community that would later become Nativity Parish began to take shape and form.In 1921 the first church was built on a site given by Mrs.J.S.Torrance on what is now the parking lot. Fr. Deenihan celebrated the first Mass.
The souvenir booklet published to commemorate the dedication of the school in 1948, writing of this early period said:“...There were only a few Catholic families then but they were generous and self-sacrificing and the new church was in good part due to the untiring effort of a committee made up of the following: Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Anderson, Mr. and mrs. Otto Batsch, Mr. and Mrs.Thomas A. Bray, Mrs. E.W. Burnett, Mr. and Mrs. James Carlin, Mr. Orville Chicoine, Mr. Robert Fyfe, Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Gannon, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Gramling, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Jessome, Mr. William Malin, Mr. and Mrs. John McIntier, Mr. Jerry McLean, Mr. and Mrs.T. Dominick McNeill, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Nullin, Mr. and Mrs. John V. Murray, Mr. and Mrs. James A. Obole, Mrs. George Smith,Mr.and Mrs.Louis C.Smith,Mrs.AnnaVonderahe,and Mr.and Mrs.Theo L.Wertz.
The frame building served as a church for 18 years. After that it was used as Nativity Parish Hall. In 1923,Torrance was transferred from the jurisdiction of St. James in Redondo Beach to St. Anthony in Gardena. Fathers Bradley, Stack and Harnett served here at that time.
Nativity received its first resident pastor, Father Edward Riordan, in December 1924. He built the present rectory in 1926. It was described in the literature of its days as an imposing building. It still stands today.
Fr. Panner served here for brief period at the time and likewise Fr. Sheely. In 1928 Fr. Daniel Hurley was made pastor. He lived here until 1932. Fr. Thomas Kennedy succeeded him and was pastor for almost five years. Fr. Joseph Fitzgerald was appointed pastor in 1937, and before his death in 1940, he had the joy and satisfaction of seeing the new church completed.The first Mass was offered on March 5,1939 at 9:00 AM. Archbishop Cantwell officiated at its solemn dedication on June 18, 1939.
Father Joe Bauer arrived in 1940. He must have been a very able administrator, or the effects of the Depression may have been less severe or probably both; the records show that in four years he paid off the parish debt of $17,000 left from the building of the church. He also had the interior of the church decorated. New stained glass windows were installed and the grounds were landscaped in a manner that still is the admiration of all.
Every Christian community is nourished and made strong by the presence of those who dedicated themselves completely to the care of their brothers and sisters in Christ, who are in a special way a sign of the faith in their midst.The first Sisters came to Nativity in the year before World War II. They were the Missionary Catechist Sisters and they gathered the children and taught religion. World War II burst across the world. Many members of the Parish went away. Some of them did not come back. They gave all they had.
The first assistant pastor assigned here was Fr. Edward Dougery; and after him Fr. Harry Murphy, Fr. Gerald Cosgrove, Fr. Dominic Daly, and Fr. Edward Sullivan. Archbishop Cantwell appointed Fr. Pat McGuiness as new pastor on November 10th, 1944. His main task was to build the new school. World War II continued and new buildings were not allowed The $10,000 in the church building fund was completely inadequate because construction costs were very high at that time.The people were asked to double their contributions. At last in 1946 the property for the school site was secured at Carson and Acacia. In the following year two lots were purchased on Cota for the new convent to house the sisters.The ground breaking ceremony for the new school took place on Sunday, October 12, 1947 and for the convent March 25, 1948.
On September l0th Nativity School saw the first students, all in their school uniforms march into a school, all 303 of them to be greeted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.
Sister Imelda, Sister Rosalia Sister Margaret Ann, Sister Clara Sister Rita .Marie, and their Superior and Principal, Sister Richard were the first Religious to staff the new school.
A financial statement of November 28th, 1948 reads as follows:
— Total cost of new school and convent $176,299.93
— Amount raised in cash $111,119.93
— Amount borrowed from bank $65,000
St. Joseph's Mission on Del Amo Street had always been served by the priests from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Hermosa Beach. On the 14th of October, 1953 jurisdiction over this mission was transferred to Nativity Parish in Torrance.
On the 1st of July, 1953, Father McGuinness asked permission to enlarge the present church at an estimated cost of $35,000, plus some alterations, grading, and cement work at $4,000 more.
Father McGuinness left Nativity in 1955 and he was succeeded by Fr. Joe McArdle. Some of the Assistants of this time (1955's) were Father Robert Gara, who replaced Father Sullivan, Father Michael Moser, who was assigned to take care of the sick at the hospital; Father Thomas Glynn who replaced Father Gara. Father McArdle was successful in purchasing more property for the school. He bought some lots along Madrid, and the fact that our children have a field is due to him.
Father McArdle died suddenly on January 18, 1960. Monsignor Tom McCarthy became Pastor in February, 1960. Before he was transferred to St. John Fisher the following year, he carried on the renovation of the old First Christian Church at the corner of Arlington at El Dorado and Engracia which Father McGuinness purchased and began the building of the present Annex there. In 1961 Father John Cremins was appointed Pastor.
During the decade of the Sixties the Assistants of the period were: Father William O'Toole, Fr. William Apling, Father Daniel Cremins, Father Rudolfo De la Sema, Father Peter Foster. Father Robert Ross was administrator for a short period in 1966 - 1967. He died in the rectory July 3, 1967. Father Felix Tang arrived in 1968.
On the 20th of July, 1968, Father John O Byrne replaced Father Ross and on the 3rd of September, 1970, Father Joseph replaced Father De la Sema. In March of 1972 Father McHugh became pastor. Both Fr. McLean and Fr. Mauricio arrived in August 1973, and were followed in 1974 by Fr. Meisel and Fr. Amangual. Fr. LaBerge O.M.I. served from 1959 to 1973.
The twenty-five year pastorate (1972-1997) of Father Patrick McHugh witnessed a continuous growth in the number of parishioners from various ethnic backgrounds. Fr. McHugh faithfully tended the spiritual and temporal welfare of the growing and diverse parish, giving emphasis to Catholic Doctrine in his carefully prepared and well presented homilies.
Due to his priestly example and tireless efforts a Chapel for the children attending the parish school and school of Religion was opened in the school building. An Adoration Chapel adjacent to the Church was also added to provide a suitable place for Eucharistic devotion and worship. Under Fr. McHugh’s supervision, a new organ was installed as well as many other improvements. In his retirement, Father continues to exercise his priestly ministry, celebrating daily Mass, hearing confessions, serving as chaplain to the Legion of Mary and a host of other activities.The humble pastor emeritus will also observe his 50th priestly anniversary soon. Ad Hullos Annos!
Fr.Paul Albee succeeded Fr.McHugh as pastor in 1997. In a brief yet active administration, Fr. Albee completed the ambitious task of overseeing the restoration of the parish plant. Fr. Albee fostered unity and joy among the parishioners by his priestly gifts and presence. He was selected by Cardinal Roger Mahony to serve as his priest secretary and is presently in that demanding yet fulfilling assignment.
Fr.Alfred Hernandez was assigned as administrator in February of 1999 to succeed Fr. Albee. He was named pastor in January 2000, the 75th Jubilee Year for the parish. He and all the parishioners of Nativity Church will step into the new millennium and into the future with the same faith in God as their ancestors, a faith which will guide and sustain them on their pilgrim way to God's Holy Kingdom.