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placeholder St. Louis Bertrand celebrates 100 years

Mausoleum dedication with reinterment of Bishop Begin, Nov. 2

Malta Clinic for uninsured opens as part of complex at new cathedral

Cathedral construction workers honored at a special Mass

Blue Mass at Saint Mary’s College honors dozens of first responders

New seminarians study to become priests for Oakland Diocese

Soon-to-be deacons reflect on their vocation

California bishops urge passage of Prop. 4

Bishops urge ‘no’ vote on Prop. 6

Dominican Sisters urge lawmakers to grant U.S. visas to Iraqi refugees

Iraqi prelate optimistic Christians will be represented in elections

Israeli lawmaker: Arab Christians can be ‘bridge of peace’

Archbishop argues for more human rights protection

Bible a unifying element for Christians

French bishop urges understanding of how Jews read Scriptures

Despite hardships, American in Mexico recommends mission life

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placeholder October 20, 2008   •   VOL. 46, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA

Members of Danza America of St. Louis Bertrand Parish lead a procession from the site of the parish’s first church to the current church during the centenary celebration.
JOSE AGUIRRE PHOTO
St. Louis Bertrand celebrates 100 years

The Knights of Peter Claver, Inc. and Ladies Auxiliary, the largest African American lay Catholic organization, join in the celebration of the centenary liturgy at St. Louis Bertrand Church.
JOSE AGUIRRE PHOTO

With an appreciative nod to the past, members of Oakland’s St. Louis Bertrand Parish gathered Oct. 5 for a joyous celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding as a community of faith.

The event began at the site where the first Mass was celebrated — a home at 98th Avenue and A Street. Bishop Allen Vigneron joined parish leaders, including Father Jesus Hernandez, the parish’s pastoral administrator, and current and former parishioners, pastors and staffs at the residence to hear a history of the parish, a Scripture reading in Spanish, and prayers from the pastor and bishop.

The group then walked, with police escort, to the parish church at 100th Avenue and International Boulevard and joined the 1100 people gathered there.

Bishop Allen Vigneron blesses the congregation gathered at St. Louis Bertrand Church for the parish’s 100th anniversary Mass. Preceding him is Father Antonio Valdivia, a former pastor.
JOSE AGUIRRE PHOTO

A highlight of the bilingual (English/Spanish) liturgy was the strong voices of the parish’s English, Spanish and Tongan choirs. But what sent Linda Adams, a longtime parishioner, “over the moon,” was the song of thanksgiving. “When I heard Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ the heavens opened up,” she said.

Adams, a leader of the English-Speaking Council, was also pleased to see former pastors, Father Stephan Kappler (1999-2003) and Father Tony Valdivia (2003-2007) as well as Father Donald Osuna, who grew up in the parish and was ordained to the priesthood in the parish church in 1963.

A number of former parishioners also attended, including one couple from the 1950s, Adams said. “It was wonderful!”

The liturgy also drew John Gonzales, one of the parish’s senior members at age 90, who was pleased by the turnout. “It was a full house,” he said. Gonzales and his wife, Mary, have been parishioners for 62 years. When they joined the parish Father John Silva (1940-68) was pastor and the parish community was “not as big as it is now.”

Members of the parish choir sing during the anniversary Mass..
JOSE AGUIRRE PHOTO

He described Father Silva as “a gentleman” who presided over an extensive building program after World War II and oversaw the construction of the school and the current church, which was dedicated in 1963. Despite lean economic times, people were very supportive of these projects and other parish programs, he added. “We had festivals and different things like dinners, crab feeds and so on.”

Over the years Gonzales has seen many families move away and many new faces arrive. He continues to go to Mass at St. Louis Bertrand every week. “I never thought about leaving the parish,” he said. “It’s like home.”

St. Louis Bertrand has been the spiritual home of generations of Catholics since 1908, when the parish was created to help accommodate many families who settled in Oakland in the wake of the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco. Father James Kiely, a native of Ireland, was appointed as founding pastor. The parish built its first church and rectory in 1909.

Parish chronology
1908: San Francisco Archbishop Patrick Riordan establishes St. Louis Bertrand Parish in an unincorporated area known as Elmhurst, which was later annexed to the city of Oakland. Father James Kiely is appointed pastor.
1909: Construction is completed on the parish’s new church and rectory.
1915: Father Robert Sampson is named pastor. He is succeeded by a series of administrators and pastors from 1917 to 1931.
1931: Father Miguel De La Cruz, a native of Portugal, is appointed pastor to provide pastoral care for the large number of Portuguese Catholics in the community.
1940: Msgr. John Silva, who spearheaded the construction of the current church, is named pastor.
1947: San Francisco Archbishop John Mitty blesses the new elementary school in October.
1963: Bishop Floyd L. Begin ordains Father E. Donald Osuna to the priesthood at the parish church. The March 30 liturgy is broadcast locally on Channel 2.
1968: Father Ralph Brennan is named pastor. He stepped down as pastor and left the priesthood in November 1973, citing disagreements with Church policies.
1973: Father Edgar Haasl is named pastor.
1983: The parish marks its 75th anniversary with a special liturgy and celebration.
1989: The Adrian Dominican Sisters leave St. Louis Bertrand Parish and School after 42 years of service.
1999: The parish school closes in June after 52 years of service to the community. It reopens as a charter school in the fall. Father Stephan Kappler is named pastor.
2002: The parish joins the diocesan African American Pastoral Center in sponsoring an AIDS memorial in February; and hosts a diocesan Mass for victims of violent crime and their families in July.
2003: Father Antonio Valdivia is named pastor.
2007: Father Jesus Hernandez is named parochial administrator.
2008: Bishop Allen Vigneron joins parishioners on Oct. 5 for the 100th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the parish.
 
The parish community was predominately European before World War II. Many people, including a good number of African Americans, moved to the East Bay from the south during and after the war years. The parish underwent another population shift over the last 25 years as increasing numbers of people from Mexico and Central America moved into the area. The parish has also become home to Pacific Islanders.

Those shifts in population have produced a number of challenges over the years. “When the parish changed — went from largely Caucasian to African American, there was some grumbling. The same thing happened with the growth of Spanish speaking and Tongan groups,” said Mabel Costa, a member of the parish for 72 years and chair of the pastoral council.

The differences between the cultures were aggravated by the language barrier between English and Spanish speakers. “The groups had different agendas,” added Deacon Earl JOHson. “When we tried to join the agenda, there was some resistance.”

The parish, under the leadership of Father Kappler, began to address those issues and, in the words of Mabel Costa, “We worked at being community.”

Part of that work included a retreat in 2002 aimed at opening a dialog among the cultural groups. Individuals like Costa, a longtime choir director, also continued to promote interaction between the cultural groups. Costa focused on music. “In music I tried to get different groups to unite and sing together. I worked on it for a long time,” she said. “I love working with groups that are different — not all Caucasian. I encourage people to take joy in singing together.”

Members of the different parish groups also began working together on activities such as parish fundraisers. “Some things take time,” Deacon JOHson said. “And as you learn more about each other, you are better able to work together.”

Working on the 100th anniversary celebration was a good example of success. “The various ethnic communities came together and I was overwhelmed,” Deacon JOHson said. The differences between the groups “all seemed to melt away. The people got caught up with the spirit of the occasion.”

In the midst of these internal challenges, St. Louis Bertrand Parish built a reputation as an advocate for justice and peace in the community. Under the pastorate of the late Father Edgar Haasl (1973-99), the parish explored the post-Vatican II call to ecumenism. The priest built a close relationship with the Rev. J. Alfred Smith at nearby Allen Temple Baptist Church and their communities became “like sister parishes,” said Gloria Jones, who served as record keeper at the parish for 10 years before moving to Sacramento last year.

The parish has also been active in Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), hosted citizenship drives and campaigned for the rights of immigrants, and raised funds for needy families through such parish groups as the Piece and Patience Quilting Corner, whose six members craft and sell their creations.

As the parish looks ahead to the next 100 years, many expressed their love and support for the still evolving community. “St. Louis Bertrand has been A+ for me,” said Mabel Costa.


Current members and former parishioners of St. Louis Bertrand Parish participate in the festive liturgy celebrated by Bishop Vigneron with several former pastors concelebrating.
JOSE AGUIRRE PHOTO
 
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