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placeholder Oakland parish celebrates centennial

550 women gather for first Bay Area Magnificat breakfast

Bishop recounts
his faith journey

Creativity, Christmas spirit at crèche festival

Half-century milestone nears for Franciscan retreat house

Seminary open house offers insights into religious life

Assessment survey helps people discern vocation

Think about vocations, and who has one

10 things Catholics can do to help promote vocations

FACE moves annual gala to Blackhawk Museum

St. Isidore raises $90K for charity

21 bishops could retire for age reasons in 2011

Miracle nears final recognition

• Father Ernest Brainard
• Father Declan Deane
• Father Peter Krieg, OFM

placeholder January 10, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA

Concelebrants for the observance of St. Leo the Great's 100th anniversary as a parish.
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Oakland parish
celebrates centennial

Bishop Emeritus John Cummins gives Communion at the Sunday Mass. The parish is named for St. Leo the Great, who served as pontiff from 440 until he died in 461. He is the pope who confronted Attila the Hun outside of Rome and convinced Attilla to turn back, saving the city from being destroyed.
josé luis aguirre photos

Not even a stormy weekend that buffeted the East Bay with rain and wind could dampen the spirits of hundreds of people who gathered at Oakland’s St. Leo the Great Parish during the New Year’s Day weekend to celebrate the parish’s 100th birthday.

The occasion spawned two days of prayer and festivities. Father Timothy K. Johnson, pastor, was the celebrant, with five concelebrants, at the 5 p.m. Mass on Jan. 1. The papal blessing for the centennial was shared with approximately 200 parishioners and friends in attendance at the Mass. A wine and cheese reception followed in the vestibule of the church.

The papal blessing was also read at the 11 a.m. Mass the following day that brought parishioners, former parishioners, former parish staff members and friends to the stately church at Ridgeway Avenue near Piedmont Avenue. Father Johnson, pastor, noted that the parish’s timeline says much about the growth of the community. On Jan. 1, 1911, the parish had 60 members, made up of mostly Catholics of Italian and Irish backgrounds, and today the parish has about 1,000 families that includes a “rich mix of multiethnic peoples” that embraces families with Asian, European, African American and African heritages.

In his remarks, Bishop Emeritus John Cummins, who presided at the Mass, congratulated the community on its centennial and praised the parish’s many attributes and ministries including its tradition of hospitality, a “strong” St. Vincent de Paul Society and its efforts to help build community and share knowledge through such activities as Theology on Tap, now known as Brews and Views.

Bishop Cummins recounted a remark that his cousin and a former pastor (1951 – 1976), the late Msgr. Nicholas Connolly, made about the parish. “Nick called this place the Holy Land. He spent his happiest years here.”

After the Mass, Father Johnson told The Voice he agreed with Msgr. Connolly’s “Holy Land” observation. “This is my 19th Christmas here and I too have found the people and the parish just to be absolutely delightful, a joy to minister with,” he said.
Father Johnson said that the biggest challenge he has faced as pastor has been the seismic retrofitting of all of the parish buildings, a project that left the parish with a debt. The community “is working diligently to lower it.”

The pastor and many parishioners agree that among the parish’s greatest strengths are its people.

Jeanne Hassenzahl, a longtime parishioner, cited the parish’s many unsung heroes. “Such as the couple who is committed to picking up a disabled man for 5 p.m. Mass every Saturday, while another couple picks up that man’s disabled wife for 8:30 a.m. Mass every Sunday. There are the people who quietly volunteer for prep and clean up for various events, and those who sit in the church on Saturday afternoons so we can have the doors open for the public, and on and on,” she said.

Other parishioners at the reception talked about the many gifts the people of St. Leo bring to the table by participating in such activities as the parish council, the finance council, Scripture studies, the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and in various outreach projects in the community.

“When you get to know the community you meet so many wonderful people,” added Sally Gore, a longtime parishioner. “This is where I am rooted.”

This is a “wonderful and loving community,” said Norah Hippolyte, the longtime pastoral associate. “It makes you feel good.”

St. Leo's choir participates in the celebration.
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