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placeholder Father John Maxwell remembered for bold commitment to social justice

Diocese renews focus on stewardship as way of life, not a fundraising tool

Mercy Sister speaks of ministry of listening, an art of spiritual direction

Mental health needs strain Haiti’s recovery

Vatican cautious
about growth of first synthetic cell

Pope urges joint efforts to help migrants, refugees

Catholic Campaign for Human Development local grant applications are due July 31

Catholic Communication Campaign collection will take place June 12-13 in Oakland Diocese

• Sister Mary Gregory Allen, PBVM
• Sister Madelene Rowden, OP

Special section

Tribute to the Class of 2010

Students at merged schools succeed as Freedom Writers

Perennial favorite transfers classroom to former student

Hayward teacher of 40 years retires, leaving legacy of respect, kindness

Nine earn Master’s degree in pastoral ministries from HNU

SJND students on sojourn to the Past, walk in footsteps of civil rights history

Collegians dispel myths that keep urban kids from college

New HNU president brings academic, business acumen

Catholic high school graduates more likely to attend college

International study broadens collegians’ perspectives

$100,000 grant for first-generation students at Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont

FACE continues to provide grants to help low-income students in Catholic schools

Fontbonne Forum examines digital impact

Website shows how to promote social justice in college

A sampling of student activities

placeholder June 7, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA
Father John Maxwell remembered
for bold commitment to social justice

Father John Maxwell, who died June 1 following a lengthy battle with leukemia, was warmly remembered as a humble priest who boldly lived out the commandment to love others.

Father John Maxwell

“He was a man who was full of love and everybody who knew him loved him,” said Mary Lou Stelly, who along with her husband, Deacon Eugene Stelly, Sr., worked with the priest during his days as pastor at St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish in Oakland (1968 – 1994).

She described the priest as “a people’s person” who was always helping people in need, from scraping together funds to help pay for graves for people who didn’t have money, to finding homes for people “who didn’t have a place,” she said. “He tried to take care of people, take care of their needs.”

“He was an instrument of much good and much peace,” added Dominican Sister Stella Marie Goodpasture, who spent several years as social justice coordinator at St. John the Baptist Parish in El Cerrito, where the priest had been pastor since 1994.

“His house was always open. He had hospitality. His table was open to whoever was there,” she said.

The priest was also “a good friend” to the people of Haiti, Sister Goodpasture said, noting that the priest supported the establishment of a “sister parish” relationship with a parish in Baraderes, Haiti. On several occasions, St. John’s hosted visits by Sisters from Haiti who came to the U.S. to learn English and raise funds to support various ministries in the impoverished nation.

At the time of his death, Father Maxwell was 79 years old and two weeks shy of reaching the 51st anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

Born in Floydada, Texas, he became interested in the priesthood at an early age. His family moved to California during his youth and he graduated from Salesian High School in Richmond in 1948.

He joined the Salesians of St. John Bosco and spent a year-long novitiate in Newton, N.J. He majored in philosophy at Don Bosco College there and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in June 1952. After college he taught at Salesian schools in Bellflower and in Watsonville.

After completing four years of theology at Salesian College in Aptos, he was ordained to the priesthood on June 13, 1959. Following his ordination he taught another year in Bellflower before being appointed vice principal at Salesian High School in Richmond. He became principal in 1964.

The priest later earned a master’s degree in English from Loyola University in Los Angeles (1966) and a master’s degree in counseling from the University of San Francisco (1977).

Father Maxwell left Salesian High School to become pastor of St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish in West Oakland in 1968. Despite the economic challenges facing the urban community, the priest encouraged and challenged parishioners to “take charge,” Stelly recalled. “He gave us the feeling we were capable of doing what was asked of us.”

During his 26-year tenure there, the parish started St. Andrew’s Manor, a five-story housing project for the elderly; a methadone and substance abuse center called Trouble House; a child care center, a job collective, and a soup kitchen that fed thousands.

At the same time, the parish developed a vibrant liturgy and worship program that inspired the priest to publish a book, “Worship in Action,” in 1981.

While at St. Andrew-St. Joseph, Father Maxwell decided to leave the Salesian Order and become a priest of the Oakland Diocese.

He was appointed pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in 1994. He continued to champion the interests of the needy and marginalized. He was actively involved with the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) and the Contra Costa Interfaith Community Organizations (CCISCO).

In a reflection written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his ordination last year, Father Maxwell said that he had no regrets. “I had a tremendously happy ministry. I have also made a lot of mistakes, but somehow the grace of God carried me through the storms.”

He identified two key elements in his priesthood. The first was being blessed to know and love “a lot of fantastic Christians and fellow-travelers on this journey. I learned how to be a priest in trying to serve them.”

The second was the many priests he befriended who shared their “struggles and successes in serving Jesus.” He and some of this priest friends formed a support group that included Father Jim Keeley and Father Bill O’Donnell (both deceased), Father Tom Lester (now retired) and Father Paul Vassar, pastor at St. Leander Parish in San Leandro. Too distraught to talk about his friend when contacted by The Voice, Father Vassar noted that these men had dedicated their lives to serving others.

Father Maxwell concluded his reflection by giving thanks to God “for the men and women who nourished me during these 50 years. It’s been a great journey and the best is yet to come.”

The Vigil is scheduled for June 7 at 7:30 p.m. at St. John Church in El Cerrito. The funeral Mass will take place June 8 at 10:30 a.m. in the parish church. Burial will follow at St. Joseph Cemetery in San Pablo.

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