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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 23, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
 
Relic of Mexican martyr coming to East Bay in June
 
Prejean adds voice against Oakland violence
Holy Spirit heading for 125th birthday
 
The festival queen, her court and parishioners gather in front of Holy Spirit Church in 1963.
photo courtesy of holy spirit parish

Vermilda Sylva has been a member of Holy Spirit Church in Fremont all her life. “Ask me how old I am,” she said, with a bit of mischief in her voice, and answered her own question: “I’m 88 years old.”

The octogenarian has seen a lot of living in the parish. She has known every pastor except one — Father Domingo Governo, who served the community from its founding in 1886 to 1913. That’s 27 years. His successor, Father Alfred deSousa, was pastor even longer — 33 years, from 1913-1946.

Over the decades Sylva has seen the parish grow from a small country church whose members were largely ethnic Portuguese to the large multicultural, multilingual church that it is now. “Our church is wonderful,” she said. “I have seen this all evolve.”

In just a few more days, Sylva will also see the parish celebrate the 125th anniversary of its founding. A traditional Novena will be held nightly June 3–11. On June 12, Pentecost Sunday, Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone will preside at the 5 p.m. Mass of Thanksgiving.

The church, then known as Holy Ghost Church, was officially established in a town called Centerville on Pentecost Sunday in 1886. The establishment of the parish sparked a tradition that members of the parish continue to this day, the Holy Spirit Festival. This Portuguese-based custom was first celebrated in 1887, in thanksgiving for the parish’s first year and in honor of its namesake. The annual celebration also observes the milestone anniversary.

This year the two-day festival began May 21 with a party that included international food booths, live entertainment, casino and sports games. The following day a procession featuring the courts of honor, parish ministries, civic groups, vintage vehicles and local musicians marched down Fremont Boulevard to the church. There the group gathered for Mass, at which Father Mathew Vellankal, Holy Spirit pastor, crowned Catherine Bradshaw Holy Festival Queen.

The parish has a lot to celebrate, observed Father Vellankal, who has served the parish as an administrator (2006-2008) and now as pastor (since 2008). The community has an estimated 4,500 registered families and another 500 families who are not registered. It has what the pastor called a “good ethnic mixture.” About 50 percent of parishioners are Filipino, 40 percent are white and the remaining 10 percent are “other.”

The parish is involved in nurturing both its own members as well as the greater community by supporting some 60 ministries and organizations — including the parochial school, which has 300 students; faith formation programs for children, teens and adults; the Knights of Columbus; a cancer support group; and “excellent outreach” to the community through such groups as the St. Vincent de Paul Society as well as the Sandwich Squad, whose participants make sandwiches for the homeless.

The pastor’s praises were echoed in a poll conducted by a local newspaper, in which Holy Spirit was voted the best church in Fremont both last year and this year.

With an eye toward the future, Father Vellankal said the community will continue to nurture the faith of people, help young people to be good Catholics and citizens, and continue to grow and expand. “We are living in an era in which people are not keeping the faith,” he said. “We want to show the love of Christ to the world.”

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