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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 18, 2007 • VOL. 45 NO. 12 • Oakland, CA

Two Alameda parishes to ‘cluster’ under one pastor

Two parishes in Alameda, St. Albert the Great and St. Philip Neri, will begin working together later this summer to discern how they can jointly provide spiritual and pastoral care to local Catholics in their communities.

The process will begin Aug. 1 when Father Vincent Cotter, pastor at St. Philip Neri Parish since 2001, adds St. Albert the Great Parish to his pastoral responsibilities. Father Cotter’s appointment takes effect when Father Fernando Cortez, pastor at St. Albert since 2001, leaves the parish on July 30 to begin a sabbatical year.

Father Cotter emphasized that the two parishes are not merging, but rather both parishes will work together with one pastor. This means sharing resources and determining how to collaborate or consolidate ministries, programs and activities. He said Bishop Allen Vigneron uses the word “cluster” to describe the arrangement.

The parishes will likely focus on liturgy, sacramental preparation and social activities. “There may be many more possibilities," Father Cotter said.

A similar arrangement occurred in Fremont in 2000 when one pastor was assigned to St. Leonard and Santa Paula parishes. In 2004 the two parishes merged to become Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.

In Alameda, the island’s four parishes already work together on a number of ministries including a Confirmation/youth ministry program that has flourished for the past 10 years. The deanery also sponsors Evenings for the Engaged, AIDS ministry, pulpit exchanges and regular meetings of area priests, and an adult education program, the School for Faith, described by Father Cotter as “very successful.”

Inter-parish collaboration is at the heart of the deanery concept, Father Cotter said. “It is the idea of parishes working together in developing a vision for their area,” he said. “Since Alameda is an island unto itself,” he added, it is natural for the parishes to explore how to share resources and ideas.
One of the deanery’s original goals was to work toward one central administration with four sites, Father Cotter said. Recently, however, the parishes saw a need to slow things down a bit and investigate other models, he added.

The links between St. Philip Neri and St. Albert are both geographical and historical. When St. Albert Parish was established in 1976, it was created from part of St. Philip Neri Parish.

Although the two parishes will share Father Cotter as pastor, each will continue to have separate pastoral councils, finance councils, and staff meetings. At some point there will be joint meetings, Father Cotter said. This arrangement will last at least until June 2008 when Father Cotter steps down as pastor and takes a sabbatical. Then a decision will be made about how to proceed with the two parishes, following an assessment of the year’s cluster arrangement.

Father Cotter said that in August Father Mark Amaral, parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Parish in Fremont, will transfer to Alameda to serve as parochial vicar of both St. Philip Neri and St. Albert parishes. Both priests will live at St. Philip Neri. Father George Mockel, vicar general for the Oakland Diocese, will remain in residence at St. Albert.

The island’s other two parishes, St. Barnabas and St. Joseph, are discussing ways to consolidate programs and ministries, a relationship known as “twinning.” In this instance the parishes maintain their own pastoral leadership (a pastor or administrator) while collaborating with each other in various programs, ministries and activities.

Both “clustering” or “twinning” are parish structures focused on the same thing, said Father Cotter: how best to minister to everyone. Or, to put it another way: “How to do Church in a smarter way.”


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