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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 26, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
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Reverse collection captures imagination
at St. Augustine
St. Augustine parishioner Juliana Weinerth, right, received
$25 in the reverse collection. She enlisted her friend,
Sheridan Grenda, left, a parishioner of St. Theresa.
Their lemonade and treats stand brought in $184.

Here comes the collection basket. But instead of being expected to add your envelope, or reach into your own pocket, you are asked to take an envelope.

That's what happened the first Sunday of Lent at St. Augustine Church, when the Rev. Mark Wiesner had full collection baskets passed throughout the Oakland church. But in helping themselves, so to speak, the parishioners set out on a Lenten journey whose success could make a difference for generations.

One could say the pastor took a leap of faith when he stuffed $12,100 into 400 envelopes — some holding $15, some $100, with various amounts in between. But that faith has been met, so far, with a flurry of activity from parishioners of all ages anxious to use their time and talents to multiply the treasure in the envelopes.

Projects so far include a theatrical performance in May; an artisans fair; a yard sale hosted by RCIA; the opportunity to sponsor a bike rider; and a lemonade stand.

When Juliana Weinerth, 10, received $25 in the reverse collection, she joined with a friend Sheridan Grenda, a parishioner at of St. Theresa Church in Oakland, to open lemonade and treats stand. She told Father Wiesner about her success — $184 —after Mass.

That spirit could go a long way toward reaching the goal of turning that $12,100 into $65,000 to build a dormitory at the Tonga Mission Orphanage in Kenya, which Father Wiesner visited last year.

"The energy in the parish in the past week has been palpable," Father Wiesner said, one week after the announcement. Reaction was quick. The first event was a yard sale the following Saturday. Online donations surpassed $500.

The mission to build the dormitory began with the Rev. Gilbert Otieno, a Passionist priest from Kenya, who was the Mission Cooperative speaker at St. Augustine last July 12. After going out to dinner, Father Wiesner made a comment: "It would be great to visit Kenya."

Kenya project
• Checks can be made to "St. Augustine Kenya Project" and mailed to St. Augustine Church, 400 Alcatraz Ave., Oakland 94609.

• The parish website, www.staugustineoakland.com, provides a donate button and additional information.

• The Living Arts Playback Theatre Ensemble will perform in support of the Kenya Project at 7:30 p.m. May 18 at the church. Reserve tickets ($15 each) at will call, mail a check to Carol Maes, 6240 Manoa St., Oakland 94618.
"You should come," Father Otieno replied.

The next day, Father Otieno emerged from the guest room of the rectory with an itinerary for Father Wiesner.

Father Wiesner bought a ticket to Nairobi, and for 18 days, from late August into early September, he spent 15 days visiting Passionist missions and schools and three days on safari. The Sunday before Labor Day found the Oakland priest at the Tonga Parish Mission, near Lake Victoria.

He and his hosts passed two dormitories that house 32 children who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Father Wiesner saw a slab of concrete and asked his hosts: What's that?

It was, he learned, the foundation for a much-needed third dormitory, which would house an additional 50 children.
He asked how much it would cost to complete.

"Standing there, on that field, under the African sky, I thought, 'we can do this,'" he said.
There were other missions and schools to visit during his time there, but as he was leaving for the airport, he asked his host: Of all the things they had seen in the last 2½ weeks, what was the greatest need?

His answer: the dormitory at Tonga.

Father Wiesner returned to his parish knowing what he had to do. "I just didn't know how to do this," he said. He had received the architect's drawings and a $65,000 bid for the construction.

"We're not a large parish," he said. "We have less than 400 families."

"People have been asked to increase their giving, and the Bishop's Appeal was also on the horizon." he said. "How do I find the resources to help these children who have lost their parents, mostly to HIV/AIDS?"

While listening to KLOVE radio in his car, he heard news of a Baptist church in Texas that had given members money, which they returned five fold.

It seemed like a fine idea to Father Wiesner. "I'm going to give money to the people and let them multiply it," he said.

He talked with others in the diocese who had done reverse collections, including the Revs. Dan Danielson and Robert McCann.

Father Wiesner needed $12,000 to fill 400 envelopes. Two generous families had given him $10,000 in unrestricted funds; $2,000 came from savings. "I fully anticipate it will come back to us," he said.

Within 24 hours of his Sunday homily, the parish email and phones lighted up.

Margaret Calonge, a third-year law student, whose envelope contained $20, joined forces with others in her RCIA class to put on a yard sale.

In three hours, they raised $864.

Jay Mitchell, a graduate of the St. Francis de Sales School of Pastoral Ministry who volunteers at the parish, bought a bike computer with the $20 in his envelope. He is seeking pledges for using only his bike for the seven weeks, and for participating in two bicycling events near Monterey, including a 100-mile ride.

Parishioner Carol Maes has arranged for a performance by the Living Arts Playback Theatre Ensemble at 7:30 p.m. May 18 at the church. Tickets are $15.

Parishioners who are turning the content of their envelopes into the raw materials for their crafts are planning an artisans fair at the church.

The parishioners have been invited to bring back the fruits of their labors on Pentecost, May 27, to fund the dormitory Father Wiesner sees a legacy project. "It will be there long after we are gone," he said.

As for Father Wiesner's own legacy, it often ends with a question mark, as biblical scholar Gina Hens-Piazza, who spoke at his church recently asked him: Are you the guy who handed out the money?

Father Mark Wiesner visited the Tonga Mission Orphanage in Kenya last September and returned with a mission for parishioners at St. Augustine Church in Oakland.

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