The Rev. Raymond Breton was enjoying his retirement dinner, in the company of the members of the Bishop's Administrative Council, of which he had been a longtime member, and the priests who live in the Cathedral rectory.
"And, of course," he said, "the chancery people. I've been in the chancery a total of 16 years. They're good people. They do a lot of hard work. A lot of it is not recognized."
He was ordained in 1968 by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, where he served at a retreat house, a seminary college and at a parish in Plattsburgh, New York, "50 miles south of Montreal."
Then, after 10 years, as a young man might do, he "joined the Navy to see the world," taking on an assignment as a military chaplain. He started with the Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina — then to the Mediterranean, where his ship was deployed during the October War in 1973. He also served in Guam and San Diego.
From San Diego, he moved to the Diocese of Oakland, where in 1978 he became a parochial vicar of St. John the Baptist Church in El Cerrito.
"I've been fortunate that every parish I've served had a parochial school," he said of his pastoral service, which also included Holy Spirit in Fremont, St. Philip Neri in Alameda and St. Jarlath in Oakland.
He moved to the chancery in 1990, serving first as chancellor.
"That was the early '90s and we had some serious cases of sexual abuse of minors by some priests," he said. "Even then we would not permit the priest to return to ministry," he said. "Bishop Cummins was very much, I think, on top of that, and to reach out, if we could, to the victims." He recalled starting the review board.
His time as pastor of St. Jarlath Church followed. "I experienced a new part of ministry, which was the Latino ministry," he said. "I started the first Mass in Spanish on Sunday at 10 a.m. in the parish. We went through the whole process of discussing that. Not everybody was in complete agreement. We managed to do it, still going on, which I'm happy."
In 1998, after 30 years in the priesthood, he was eligible for a sabbatical. Make it two years, then-Father Breton told then-Bishop John Cummins, and he'd go to Rome and come back with a canon law degree.
"He graciously gave me permission," he said.
"I was older than most of the students," he recalled, "and I was older than most of my professors." His pastoral experience, which the younger set might have lacked, served him well, as did his liking for canon law.
He came back to Oakland, as promised, where he became a judge and was welcomed by the Rev. Don Hudson, judicial vicar. "He welcomed me and showed me the ropes," he said. Upon Father Hudson's retirement, Bishop Cummins asked him to become judicial vicar.
During Rev. Msgr. Breton's time as judicial vicar, more canonists were hired, and more priests were sent for training.
"The cases always deal with crucial events in people's lives and certainly the breakup of a marriage is a traumatic event," he said. "You can't deny that part of someone's life, even though it might have been a mistake, even though it might have been not what was expected. So that's another one time when you walk with then," he said.
"That's where my staff is excellent. Beside the priests who work on the cases, Jackie Compton, Carol Izo and Mary O'Sullivan spend hours on the phone listening, which is already a big thing. When they call here, this is the Church listening, not so much an individual, but the Church is listening."
Also upon Rev. Msgr. Breton's return from Rome, he also started helping out on weekends at St. Stephen Church in Walnut Creek. "They have been a very special community, very supportive," he said. "I've been there 12 years, longer than I've been in any parish."
In his retirement, he is going to Maui, to give the priest who serves the three Latino parishes on the island an opportunity to return home to Colombia, where he, the youngest of 14 children, can visit his parents.
The investiture ceremony for the monsignor will have to wait for his new clerical garb to arrive.
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