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placeholder Parish celebrates 100 years of beauty, diversity

Deacon Mendoza to become diocese’s youngest priest

New parochial administrator brings bicultural experience to Concord parish

Ministry and religious community go hand in hand

Sister Prejean poems to be featured by Oakland East Bay Symphony

‘Sober’ report on religious orders
includes profile of newest members

Catholic Charities launches medical assistant program

Boy Scouts celebrate 100 years

During visit to Malta, Pope meets abuse victims, expresses shame, sorrow

Vatican offers online summary of clerical sex abuse procedures

Setting the record straight on media coverage

San Jose Diocese goes solar at Catholic schools, cemetery

Iceland worries about long-term impact of volcano

Eco-friendly burials at Catholic cemetery

Religious leaders urged veto of Arizona immigration bill

China’s Catholic Charities aids earthquake survivors

Bishops take action against nuns over health care reform

• Sister Virginia Fabilli, SSS
• Retired Bishop McFarland, a native of Martinez

placeholder April 26 , 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA

In September 1954, Mass is said for the last time in the original St. Jarlath Church (dedicated May 11, 1911) at the corner of Fruitvale Avenue and Montana Street.
all historic Photos from St. Jarlath’s Diamond Jubilee publication, 1910-1985

St. Jarlath Church today.
josé luis aguirre photo
Parish celebrates 100 years of beauty, diversity
(See timeline below.)

For some parishioners, the beauty of St. Jarlath Parish in Oakland starts with the unique charms of the church’s architecture.

“It is a beautiful place; it has a gothic ambience to it,” said Jorge Torres, a parishioner for over two decades. That beauty literally touched his soul. “Twenty-five years ago when I walked into the church I felt the presence of Christ and never left.”

Sheila Gibson also has a great love for the church, which she describes as “glorious” and “traditional.” But she gives another reason for why she and her husband have been members for over 40 years. “We came for the architecture, but stayed for the community.”

This community, which began 100 years ago with Irish and German immigrants, now includes many members of Filipino and Latino descent. “We have a sense of being part of the universal Church in our own little neighborhood,” Gibson said, noting the parish’s tradition of honoring cultural diversity through such celebrations as St. Patrick’s Day and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A parishioner walks across the plaza of St. Jarlath Church at the corner of Fruitvale Avenue and Pleasant Street. The church was dedicated on Sept. 12, 1954.
josé luis aguirre photo

The parish’s observance of its centenary began Jan. 10 with Bishop Emeritus John Cummins presiding at a special Mass that brought together present and former parishioners as well as priests who have served at the parish over the years.

At part of the celebration, Rabbi Shelley Waldenberg, senior lecturer at Holy Names University in Oakland, blew the shofar, a wind instrument played to announce, among other things, a Jubilee year.

The festivities will continue with a second anniversary Mass on May 2 at 11 a.m. with Oakland’s current prelate, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, presiding at the bilingual (English and Spanish) liturgy.

When St. Jarlath was established as a parish on March 10, 1910, it became the third parish in East Oakland. It joined St. Anthony, which began in 1871, and St. Elizabeth which was created in 1892. Elsewhere in Oakland, four parishes had been established in the downtown and western sections of the city.

A growing population

The new parish was founded to meet the needs of the area’s growing population, many of whom moved from San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. Joining the migration were a good number of people who had come to the U.S. from Ireland, as did the first pastor, Father George McHugh. It is thought that the parish’s name came from Father McHugh who attended St. Jarlath College in County Galway, Ireland.

During his 41-year pastorate Father McHugh oversaw and coordinated the building of the first church on Fruitvale Avenue near Montana Street and the parochial school, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, which opened in 1930.

ABOVE: Faculty of another era.
RIGHT: Principal Ellen Spencer and students at St. Jarlath School
josé luis aguirre photo
The Carondelet Sisters left a deep impact in the life of the parish, observed Bishop Emeritus Cummins. “Name after name of the Sisters will arise in any discussion of the history of the parish. They are credited with the development of much leadership,” he said.

The retired bishop also cited the contributions of the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of the Holy Family who taught catechism in the parish for many years.

In response to the parish’s continued growth, Father McHugh also oversaw a mission church which later became St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish in 1916.

Father Henry Plunkett, who joined the parish as administrator in 1951, started the process that resulted in the building of the parish’s present church at Pleasant Street and Fruitvale Avenue. The landmark church is in plain view of all who take the Fruitvale exit off the 580 freeway.

The building of the church was supervised by Father Thomas Cahill who served as administrator from 1952-55 and as pastor from 1955-62.

Marie Parrinella, a member at St. Jarlath for the past 50 years, remembers Father Denis Kelly who served as pastor from 1962-70. “He was a quiet priest, a holy priest,” she said. “His sermons were good. He always had something to say that was relevant. I think he really enjoyed working in the parish. He would walk around and greet everyone.” He died in 1975.

‘They will come around’

Parrinella also has warm memories of Father Mark Nolting, who died in 1994 after only three years as pastor. The priest asked her to be a Eucharistic minister when women were first allowed to serve at the altar. At first, some parishioners would not receive Communion from a woman, she said, but Father Nolting encouraged her to “stick in there, they will come around,” she recalled.

Msgr. John Connolly
john wright photo

Margaret McNew has many memories of the late Msgr. John Connolly, who was pastor from 1970-91 while serving as vicar general of the Oakland Diocese. “He managed both jobs very well,” said McNew, who served as his parish secretary.

Despite his busy schedule, Msgr. Connolly took the time to write one-page essays in the parish bulletin, including stories of his travels to Rome and Ireland. “They were literary art pieces,” said McNew.

Today, Father Francisco Figueroa-Esquer, the parish’s parochial administrator since 2006, has undertaken a number of renovation projects, including a new roof and seismic retrofitting of the venerable church building.

“He always seems to get things done,” said Arvid Edson, a parishioner for the last 10 years. “Most of the work was done by volunteers,” Edson said, noting the priest’s leadership in getting members of the Hispanic community actively involved.

The work of parishioners has long been the foundation of parish life at St. Jarlath, said Bishop Emeritus Cummins. Many people from the parish have made contributions in their local community and, in the case of Margaret Mealey, on the national and international level. One of the most acclaimed Catholic leaders of her time, Mealey served as executive director of the National Council of Catholic Women for more than 25 years and served on various commissions advising five U.S. presidents.

Parishioners are continuing to work for justice by coming together every Tuesday for an all-day Adoration and Rosary in Mary’s Chapel to pray against the culture of death. The silent gatherings, which begin at 8 a.m., bring peace to all participants and help bring people closer to God, said Edson, an Adoration regular. “There is great spirituality going on here,” he said. “The Holy Spirit is drawing us in. We all feel that.”

St. Jarlath Parish timeline

Parishioners at church entrance, 1921.
from St. Jarlath’s Diamond Jubilee publication, 1910-1985

1910: St. Jarlath Parish is founded on March 10. Father Patrick McHugh is named pastor, a position he will hold for 44 years.

1911: San Francisco Archbishop Patrick Riordan blesses and dedicates the first church on Fruitvale Avenue and Montana Street on May 7.

1930: St. Jarlath School, administered by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, opens on Aug. 11. The school began with six grades (1 – 6). Mother Chrysostom Gavin is the school’s first principal and superior.

1937: Average Sunday Mass attendance: 1,138.

1945: New troops of Girl Scouts, Cubs and Brownies are organized. Average Sunday Mass attendance: 1,342.

1951: Father McHugh steps down as pastor and is succeeded by Father Henry Plunkett. He begins working with local architects, Ryan and Lee, to plan the construction of a new church and rectory on property at Fruitvale and Pleasant. He is transferred to a new assignment in 1952. Father Thomas Scahill becomes administrator and completed the work of planning and building the new church and rectory.

1954: The new church, which cost over $600,000, is blessed on Sept. 12 by San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop Hugh Donohoe. Father Scahill is appointed pastor on Dec. 19.

1955: Pastor Emeritus Patrick McHugh dies on Oct. 18.

1960: Average Sunday Mass attendance: 2,945

1962: Father Scahill, who had been in poor health, dies on May 6. Father Denis A. Kelly is appointed pastor. Sunday Mass attendance: 2960

1963: Father Daniel Danielson is ordained to the priesthood at St. Jarlath, his home parish, on March 2.

1970: Msgr. John Connolly, who helped to lay the foundation of the newly created Oakland Diocese as head of the Canon Law department and financial secretary and later as vicar general, is named pastor, succeeding Father Kelly. Sunday Mass attendance: 1,737.

1991: Msgr. Connolly dies on July 11 following a massive heart attack. Father Mark E.J. Nolting is named pastor, effective Dec. 1.

1994: Father Nolting dies on Jan. 25 at the age of 42. Father Raymond Breton is named pastor, effective July 1.

2000: A series of parochial administrators are appointed during this decade: Father Salvador Macias (1998-2004), Father Jan Rudzewicz (2004-2005) and Father Stanislaw Zak (2005-2006). Father Francisco Figueroa-Esquer has served as parochial administrator since 2006.

2010: Kick-off of St. Jarlath’s 100-year celebration with Mass on Jan. 10 with Bishop Emeritus John Cummins presiding. Second anniversary Mass will take place on May 2 with Bishop Salvatore Cordileone presiding.

St. Jarlath School welcomes the students of neighboring St. Bernard School, which has been temporarily suspended. 

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