On the afternoon of Sept. 24, parishioners of Holy Family Catholic Church in Seal Beach marked the end of their year-long 60th anniversary celebration with a festive picnic, music and games. The party also included a surprise birthday cake for the church’s pastor, Fr. Joseph Son Nguyen, who also turned 60.
HOLY FAMILY (SEAL BEACH) PASTOR, FR. JOSEPH SON NGUYEN, IS PICTURED WITH PARISHIONERS DURING A CELEBRATORY PICNIC TO MARK THE CHURCH’S 60TH ANNIVERSARY. PHOTO BY RENNE ENRIQUEZ/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
The timing was perfect—the date was also Priesthood Sunday, the annual day to honor and recognize the work of priests in the United States.
Parishioners at Holy Family were happy to express gratitude for Fr. Joseph, who has been at the parish for the last two years.
The celebration began with a big potluck lunch. Many brought their own favorite dishes to share, and because parishioners are Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Eastern European and Mexican, the picnic included an array of cultural flavors. The parish also provided sloppy joes and hot dogs. Parishioners played lively rounds of bingo and Fr. Joseph raffled off a collection of donated items.
Then the pastor was treated to a surprise performance by local Hula dancers who ended by presenting him with a birthday cake.
AN ARCHITECTURAL DRAWING OF THE FUTURE CHURCH AND RECTORY DATED JAN 1963. COURTESY OF DIOCESE OF ORANGE ARCHIVES
Fr. Joseph was born in Vietnam and raised in Orange County since 1978.
“I am Southern Californian, home grown,” he said.
He graduated from La Quinta High School in Westminster and then started his journey to becoming a priest.
Fr. Joseph attended St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Orange in 1989. He went on to serve in many parishes.
In 2004, Fr. Joseph earned his doctorate in moral theology at Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology.
That same year he became the administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes while concurrently overseeing the building of Our Lady of La Vang Church in a new location. When it was completed in 2006, he was installed as pastor there.
Fr. Joseph continued post-doctorate studies at St. Joseph Hospital’s Clinical Pastoral Education and then became a chaplain. He taught medical ethics and headed the spiritual care service at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine and Medical Center.
Now at Holy Family Catholic Church, he is happy to talk about the church’s history and how it all began.
The famous developer Ross W. Cortese, who created the plans for Leisure World and many other large retirement communities, donated the land for the church, according to Fr. Joseph. The Diocese signed on and sent a priest. The church building was completed in 1963 and the first Mass was celebrated in November of that year as a St. Hedwig’s mission church.
“It was renamed Holy Family Church in 1967,” he said, “and in 1969 it became a parish.”
For many years, attendees were primarily white, then Catholic immigrant families began to find their way to Holy Family Church.
“It really developed into a rich multicultural community during the time of Fr. Jim Hartnett,” explained Fr. Joseph, “and the parish blossomed into a vibrant parish during the time of Fr. Brian Coghlan.”
Today, about 500 people regularly attend one of the four weekend Masses offered.
“About half of our parishioners are homebound,” said Fr. Joseph, adding that he, along with volunteers, bring the Holy Eucharist from Sunday Mass to people who cannot get out to church.
While many churches continue to struggle to bring back parishioners since the pandemic, Holy Family Church is thriving.
“The church is growing despite the difficulty of the times,” said Fr. Joseph. “We are seeing more people each weekend.”
Though he can’t say exactly why this is occurring, Fr. Joseph has an idea of what might be drawing them. “We have a brand-new music ministry — and parishioners are joining our several choirs. People are really participating.”
The look of the church building has not changed over the years, but the structure has undergone some major upgrades. These include improvements to the roof, new tiled floors and new stained-glass windows.
Most recently, Fr. Joseph updated some of the smaller liturgical items such as dedicated candles and candle holders. And he’s working on making the environment surrounding the church greener.
“I am planting flowers and adding planters around the church,” he said.
But perhaps the most significant addition that Fr. Joseph has overseen is the outdoor prayer spaces.
“There is now a small shrine for the Blessed Mother and a shrine for St. Joseph,” he said. “The welcome sign has a statue of the Holy Family, which was blessed by Bishop Kevin Vann last year, at the start of the church’s 60th anniversary celebration.”
Parishioners make good use of these special spots.
“People really like these prayer spaces outside of the church,” Fr. Joseph said. “The shrines make people stop for a moment to pray, have a moment of silence or just enjoy the breeze.