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CURRENT ISSUE:  December 13, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Invigorated Bishop's Appeal essential to ministry
Vast participation in Guadalupe Pilgrimage
Repair costs too much
for ethnic mission

The old St. Anne’s church served the Union City community until a new structure was built in 1973. The old church became the Holy Family ethnic mission.
josé luis aguirre photos

Stained glass windows that are coming apart are just one repair problem.

For some members of the Polish community, the European architecture of the church where they have worshipped in Union City for the last 18 years reminds them of the churches they left behind.

And after the Sunday Masses on the feast of the Holy Family on Dec. 26 at the church that has been the Holy Family Catholic Ethnic Mission, they will be saying goodbye again.

The mission, housed in a 1920s building that was once St. Anne’s Church in Union City, has served the Polish, Deaf and Indonesian communities and will close permanently on Dec. 30.

“There are major repair issues related to both the church building and the building currently being used by the school,” Father George Mockel, vicar general of the Diocese of Oakland, said. “Anticipated costs for repairs are substantial.”

Among the major issues are extensive dry rot and stained glass windows that are coming apart. The old parish hall behind the church requires at a minimum a new roof.

Code requirements would also entail bringing the buildings up to current standards for earthquake, fire and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would further increase costs.

”Unfortunately the diocese does not have the resources to undertake such major capital repairs at this time,” Father Mockel said.

At vibrant St. Anne’s Church in Union City, Father Geoffrey Baraan is leading the 4,500-family parish in welcoming the Polish and Indonesian communities. The Sunday Mass will be celebrated in Polish at 2 p.m. each week, while the Indonesian community will gather for Mass on the third Sunday of the month, rotating with churches in other parts of the Bay Area.

“Our community’s offer of the place is in line with the bishop’s understanding that they will continue to be part of the diocese,” Father Baaran said. “We welcome them. They will always be part of the diocese.”

Father Baraan said he understands it can be “very difficult when you move from one place to another.” The young people will receive sacramental preparation in their own parishes.

Members of the Polish community say the move is heart-wrenching. The Polish language and cultural school will continue, in rented facilities at St. Anne’s. But for Grazyna Koralewski, who directs the school of 26 students in five classes, it won’t be the same. The space will not be their own: They will have to carry their materials, including the Polish flag, in and out each week. The classes in Polish language, culture, folk dance and religion had been meeting from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every other Saturday in the Holy Family space.
Also at the bishop’s direction, students will no longer prepare for sacraments through the ethnic communities, but will receive religious instruction at their parish churches.

For the 120-family Polish community accustomed to gathering in Union City, the loss of community is at the forefront of their concerns. After moving into the space in 1993, they have cleaned, refinished floors and repainted the church. The community imported from Poland — at a cost of $12,000 — a statue of Christ that rises above the marble altar. Two side altars were added: To the left is a painting of the Black Madonna, and to the right is one of St. Joseph, patron of the deaf. His name is spelled out in sign language.

Sacred objects and other artifacts that belong to the church will be kept in storage for possible future use. Father Mockel said.

Three generations of people like Bernadette Wrona, who said, “We came after Solidarity in Poland,” have worshipped at the Holy Family Mission. It has been a place to keep their traditions alive for the next generations, with special decorations, songs and holiday celebrations — All Saints Day in Poland, Wrona said, is like Thanksgiving in America.

“It’s more than Mass,” she said. “Churches are the people.”

On Dec. 5, more than 50 people, ranging in age from preschoolers to senior citizens, gathered for Mass. The Scouts and their families were away at an event.

Deacon Witold Cichon, administrator of the Polish Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Oakland, which also includes Our Lady of Immigrants Chapel in Martinez, said he is faithfully going to carry out the bishop’s instructions to help the Union City community make the transition.

A July 30 letter from Bishop Salvatore Cordileone informed the community that the mission would close Dec. 30. The letter states “the buildings have reached such a state of disrepair that they have become far too unsafe to use” and “the serious financial needs of the Diocese do not make it possible for us to rectify the situation.”

”I wish to reassure you of my concern to meet your needs as Catholics,” the bishop continued, informing them that the pastor of St. Anne’s would work with the community to make the church available for its major religious festivities and celebrations.

Deacon Cichon said the majority of the 120 families live along the Interstate 880 corridor. Others come from farther afield. “Some people come because they found themselves comfortable in our church,” he said. “It reminds them of home.”

The church itself has a place in the hearts of many community members. “People treasure it,” he said, noting that some longtime St. Anne’s parishioners come by on occasion to visit. “This was their church,” he said.

“It served three communities well,” Deacon Cichon said.

Weekly Sunday Mass will also be offered in Polish in Martinez, San Jose and San Francisco. In Martinez, Sunday Mass is celebrated at 9:30 a.m.

For the deaf community at the Holy Family center, the loss of the church stings.

Mass in American Sign Language will be celebrated by Father Robert Herbst at the St. Joseph Center in Hayward. But it is not a church.

“The problem we’re facing right now is getting more deaf people involved in the church,” said Kata Strawn of Union City. “The recruitment of more deaf kids is hard with the church moving.”

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