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CURRENT ISSUE:  September 4, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 15Oakland, CA

New Parish of Christ the Light forms in Oakland

Bishop Allen Vigneron and Bishop Emeritus John Cummins consecrate the Eucharist during the Aug. 27 liturgy which officially marked the start of the new parish. CHRIS DUFFEY PHOTO

Two parishes merge as parish for cathedral

Parishioners bid sad farewell to Oakland church

Two parishes merge as parish for cathedral

A bell resounded outside Oakland’s St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Church on Sunday, Aug. 27, to mark an historic moment for the Oakland Diocese – the official beginning of the Catholic Parish of Christ the Light.

The new community, a merger of St. Andrew-St. Joseph and St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales parishes, will form the nucleus of the Cathedral of Christ the Light being built at the corner of Grand Avenue and Harrison Street. The site is about 1.5 miles from St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Church where the merged parish will continue to worship until the cathedral opens in 2008.

“Today marks a new stage in the journey of all of us whom God is gathering together,” said Bishop Allen Vigneron during his homily at the “union liturgy.” The Mass was attended by many of the St. Andrew-St. Joseph parishioners who had said a final goodbye to their parish and church the previous Sunday. “I am happy that we are journeying together on the road to our new home,” Bishop Vigneron said.

The liturgy was a clear sign that the diverse communities that comprised the two parishes are already becoming one. Images of Our Lady of Africa and Our Lady of Guadalupe, lovingly carried by parishioners from St. Andrew-St. Joseph the previous Sunday, were welcomed into St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales as part of the entrance procession.

Two young African American men who have been altar servers at St. Andrew-St. Joseph’s English liturgy were in the sanctuary, assisting Bishop Vigneron and Bishop Emeritus John Cummins. The liturgy’s “joyful noise” was sung by a choir that included members of both parishes.

“It was a beautiful thing,” said Grace Robinson, a long-time St. Andrew-St. Joseph parishioner.

But the journey to this celebration included many challenges as both communities struggled with implementing the bishop’s decision that they become one. There were months of meetings with parish councils, committees and staffs. Decisions had to be made on everything from where to place treasured statues to how to honor the linguistic needs of a multi-cultural parish that includes Vietnamese, Spanish, English and Tagalog speakers.

Bishop Cummins acknowledged the community’s apprehension and anticipation during his Aug. 20 homily at the final liturgy of St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Parish. He recalled with humor a Marian litany written by Father Henri Godin, a French priest who embarked on a new mission at the docks of Marseilles at the end of World War II. One of the petitions read, “From seeing the difficulties when undertaking any work, please deliver me, Mary.”

Father Quang Dong, who guided the process as pastor of St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales, is the new community’s pastor. “We have much work ahead of us,” he told them. “Just as in any family, each member of this family has something to contribute to the whole.”
Father John Direen, administrator at St. Andrew-St. Joseph for the past three years, worked closely with his parishioners during the transition. While encouraging them to become part of the new parish, where he will serve as parochial vicar, he also helped them explore other options.

He invited Jesuit Father Gregory Chisholm, pastor of neighboring St. Patrick Parish, to speak Aug. 13 at the Spanish Mass to let Latino parishioners know they are welcome at his church. Many of them live within St. Patrick Parish, but became part of St. Andrew-St. Joseph in the years before a Spanish Mass was offered at St. Patrick.

Spanish Masses will be part of the new parish's weekly liturgies.

The new parish will continue to worship at the former St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Church at Eighth and Jefferson streets in downtown Oakland.


Luong Bui, aided by Tam Nguyen, rings the bell marking the beginning of the new Catholic Parish of Christ the Light. The bell, salvaged from St. Francis de Sales Cathedral when it was razed, was refurbished by parishioners of St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Parish

Members of the newly formed choir of Christ the Light Parish sing during the “union liturgy,” Aug. 27. Singers are from both St. Andrew-St. Joseph and St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales parishes.

The new parish is characterized by its cultural and ethnic diversity.

Choir members sing during the “union liturgy,” Aug. 27. Lidia Carlos Reynes, choir director at St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales, coordinated the music.

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The new parish has an expanded offering of Sunday and weekday liturgies as follows:

Sunday liturgy:
Saturday, 7 p.m. (Spanish)
Sunday, 8:45 a.m. (Vietnamese)
10:30 a.m. (English)
Noon (English/Filipino)

Daily liturgy:
Monday-Friday, 5:10 p.m. (Spanish/ English)
Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri., 12:10 p.m. (English)
Thurs., Fri., 7 a.m. (Vietnamese)
Sat., 7:30 a.m., (Vietnamese)
Sat., 9 a.m. (Spanish/English)
Wed., 12:10 p.m. (Communion Service)

Adoration of Blessed Sacrament/ Benediction – Saturday, 5 p.m.
Sacrament of Reconciliation – Saturday, 6:15 p.m.

Father Quang Dong, pastor, welcomes worshippers, including those from St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish. Father Dong will be the rector of the new Cathedral of Christ the Light.


Parishioners bid sad farewell to Oakland church

By Carrie McClish
Staff writer

Like the dark overcast skies that lingered over the West Oakland neighborhood, the mood inside St. Andrew-St. Joseph Church was solemn.

Four statues that had stood with the community in prayer over the years seemed poised reluctantly near the exit.

A few steps from the statues were a group of tables on which stacks of Bibles and books on spirituality were neatly arranged alongside baskets, plastic office trays, parish anniversary books from 1982, and even a typewriter. Tucked among the items were handwritten instructions on slips of paper that simply said: “Free.”
But as parishioners caught sight of one another, they moved quickly to offer warm smiles and hugs as they did every Sunday. But this was no ordinary Sunday. On Aug. 20, members of St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish gathered for the final two liturgies at the Oakland church.

The 9 a.m. liturgy, presided by Father Tom Edwards, a former parochial vicar, and Father John Direen, parochial administrator, departed momentarily from the usual liturgical order after Deacon Eugene Stelly proclaimed the gospel.

Instead of listening to a homily, the 75 current and former parishioners were invited to step up to the ambo and share their thoughts and memories of their soon-to-be-shuttered parish. The remembrances were at times heavy with heartbreak.

“How do you say good-bye to your church home?” asked Aleta Rivas. Finding the answer too difficult to answer, she gave a heartfelt testimony about how the parish had sustained her family “for at least 60 years.” Rivas said her family joined the parish when she was 10 and the church was located at 36th and Adeline streets.

“My mother lived and died for this church,” she said. “Sometimes we would get mad at her because we had to come up here to see her because she was always here. She loved this family and in turn we loved this family.”

John Wright also spoke from the heart about the impact the parish had made in his life. He recalled first coming to the church as a 13-year-old for religious education classes. He also participated in the Confirmation program, the parish’s youth program, and was a junior Knight of Peter Claver. “I met five of my long-time friends here,” he said.

When he and his family were going through difficult times, it was Father John Maxwell, pastor from 1968-94, had helped them “work it out.” He added: “I have a lot of good memories here and I can really say that this is my first church home.”

That feeling of home also made a difference to Cecilia Contreras, who attended the 11 a.m. Spanish Mass on Aug. 20, which drew some 200 people.

Contreras and her family have traveled from Daly City every Sunday for the past two years to attend the Spanish liturgy at St. Andrew-St. Joseph. “We liked the community, they were very close and they had a great faith,” she told The Voice. “But the most important reason we liked this parish was because of Father John Direen. He is so spiritual and helped us with our faith.”

Earlier that day, Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole, a director of the English-speaking choir, humorously recalled how the size of the choir increased and decreased over the years. “At one time there were more members in the choir than there were in the pews. There were times when there were only two of us. There were times when I was up there by myself. But I’m going to really miss singing in this church.”

The Aug. 20 liturgies marked an end of an era and the promise of new life at St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish, which had been formed in 1965 from two west Oakland parishes. On the following Sunday, Aug. 27, St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish formally merged with St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Parish, to become the Catholic Parish of Christ the Light.

The decision to join St. Andrew-St. Joseph with St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Parish, which itself was formed in 1993 with the merger of the two downtown Oakland parishes, came after a year of dialog. The process examined the parish’s ability to maintain its facilities and support various ministries in light of financial limitations. With those issues in mind, Bishop Allen Vigneron invited the parish to become part of what would eventually be the parish of the new diocesan cathedral.

In March, Bishop Vigneron announced the plan to merge the parishes, saying that he was convinced it was the “best way for the people of St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish to receive pastoral care and be supported in living out their Baptismal call.” At the same time the bishop conceded that the decision would be difficult for some.

Parishioners at both liturgies expressed their sadness with the decision and some said they were undecided about where they will worship now that the church is closed.

Aleta Rivas said she and her family members were feeling “kind of lost” and would probably not follow the St. Andrew-St. Joseph community to downtown Oakland “because this is our home.”
Jose Baires, who has attended the Spanish language Mass for the past 15 years, said the parish “felt like one family” and now “the community was broken apart.”

While acknowledging the difficulties in leaving their longtime church home, Deacon Stelly and his wife, Mary Lou, reminded the congregation that while they are saying good-bye to certain parish traditions and the church building, their faith remains.

“We bid farewell to this establishment, but we don’t bid farewell to Church because we are Church,” Deacon Stelly said.

He noted that St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish has built a lasting legacy of service in both the diocesan community and in the streets of West Oakland. “We have seen many good things at St. Andrew-St. Joseph,” he said.

For example, the parish, along with neighboring St. Patrick Parish, joined forces with Satellite Senior Homes Inc. to build homes for low-income older people. “We were the only Catholic churches to do this,” said Mary Lou Stelly. St. Andrew Manor opened its doors across the street from the church in 1973.

The parish also tackled issues facing youth. It organized a child care that opened in 1972 with 25 youngsters.

On Thanksgiving Day 1975, the parish began a Sunday meal program to feed the hungry. The program quickly expanded and the parish opened a soup kitchen the following year, an outreach that continued until Aug. 18, when the last meals were served.

The parish also sponsored a job collective to help the unemployed and a rehabilitation program for those addicted to drugs and advocated for an end to prostitution along San Pablo Avenue.

Several parishioners were leading advocates for the establishment of the permanent diaconate in the Oakland Diocese. Shortly after taking the idea to Bishop Floyd Begin, they saw the idea become a reality. The late Deacon Morris Soublet, a longtime parishioner, was one of the first class to be ordained. Deacon Stelly and fellow parishioner, the late Deacon Leo Edgerly, Sr., were ordained as part of subsequent classes.

The parish also proudly claims to having produced a priest, Father Leo Edgerly, Jr., who grew up in the parish and is now pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Piedmont. The parish also happily boasts that one of its former pastors is now bishop of Honolulu. Bishop Larry Silva served as pastor from 1994-99.

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Parishioners of St. Andrew-St. Joseph carry images of Our Lady of Africa and Our Lady of Guadalupe out of their church during the final liturgies there, Aug. 20.


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