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placeholder January 7, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
In transitions — parishes learn about themselves

Revs. Mark Wiesner, left, and Robert Mendonça confer before the installation Mass at St.Charles Borromeo.
CLARE KALANTAR/COURTESY PHOTO

On the first Sunday of Lent, the Rev. Mark Wiesner gave envelopes of cash — a reverse collection — to parishioners at St. Augustine Church in Oakland. Go forth, he told them, and increase that treasure — about $10,000, in amounts of $15 to $100 — and see how far you can get to building a dormitory at an orphanage in Kenya.

If Father Wiesner thought he was challenging his parishioners — it would take about $65,000 to build that dormitory — he had no idea what was waiting for him.

He got a call from the bishop.

It wasn't about the money.

Then-Bishop Salvatore Cordileone called Father Wiesner to ask him to become pastor of St. Charles Borromeo in Livermore, a parish more than twice the size of St. Augustine. Its parochial administrator had been reassigned.

To leave St. Augustine at that moment was unthinkable. But Father Wiesner did discern that after a ministry in the North Oakland parish that spanned seven years, he would tell the bishop yes.

But he did not tell the parish until after Easter. His announcement stunned the parishioners, who were well on their way to surpassing the goal for the orphanage dormitory. In doing so, they tapped into their strengths, and their community.

When his announcement came, some feared they were about to lose that community. In a parish that almost closed in doors, it seemed like a real threat. It is also a parish of intent, with people driving past many churches to worship there. For some, this is the last-chance Catholicism, if not church; and for others, the only church in which they feel welcome.

Meanwhile, at St. Charles Borromeo, the Rev. William Rosario, parochial vicar at St. Raymond, had been assigned as temporary parochial vicar to St. Charles Borromeo. People there were becoming accustomed to the attentiveness and preaching of Father Rosario, who comes to the diocese by the way of India and the Salesians.

The transition gave St. Augustine the opportunity for some discernment of its own. What did parishioners value? In addition to reports from the transition team of staff and parishioners, the people in the pews would get a chance to tell the Pastoral Leadership Placement Board about themselves, and their hopes.

The board's role is to listen to the needs of the parish, and consider who might be available to meet them. They offer the bishop three recommendations; he may choose one, or choose someone else.

After the 10:30 a.m. Mass June 10, about 200 parishioners to the gym, and met with Katie Murphy, board member and principal of Corpus Christi School in Piedmont; and the Rev. Neal Clemens, vicar for clergy.

In small groups, parishioners discussed their strengths and needs, and wrote them on big sheets of paper. Among them: liturgy, preaching, inclusion.

St. Augustine Church was filled — which takes some doing — on the feast day of its patron, Aug. 28.

Father Wiesner spoke of a pastor's obligations, including liturgy and leases.

"You poor people had to go through my learning how to be a pastor," he said.

The atmosphere at the celebration post-Mass was festive — there were, after all, balloons — but bittersweet. There was still no word on a pastor for St. Augustine. Pastoral associate Karen Miller lined up priests to celebrate weekend liturgies for the next few weeks.

St. Charles Borromeo parishioners got their first homily from their new pastor on Sept. 1-2.

Rev. Mark Amaral was appointed temporary parochial administrator of St. Augustine, effective Sept. 24.

For Father Amaral, the call "came out of the clear blue."

The parochial vicar of St. Joseph in Pinole — a parish with 4,000 families, a robust school and filled churches on Sundays, and 100 people at each of two daily Masses — was going to the much smaller parish.

"When I took the assignment, it could be a couple of months, four months, six months," said Father Amaral. "It's still a transition."

"They needed a pastoral presence," he said. "I think any parish would feel that way."

Miller agreed, adding, "He walked with us."

He also advocated for the appointment of a permanent pastor.

In his 8½-years as a priest, this was his first small parish. "For me, it's something I'll take with me for the rest of my ministry."

Effective Oct. 4 — the day Bishop Cordileone was installed as archbishop of San Francisco — the Most. Rev. Alex J. Brunett, archbishop emeritus of Seattle became apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Oakland.

On Nov. 4, the parishioners at St. Charles Borromeo, on the feast day of their patron, installed their new pastor. They filled every seat.

The Rev. Robert Mendonça, pastor of neighboring St. Michael Church and former pastor of St. Charles Borromeo, presided at the ceremony, at which staff members, and members of the parish and finance committees circled around their new pastor, offering their support.

From front row seats, a handful of St. Augustine parishioners watched.

At the end of the Mass, Father Wiesner thanked Father Rosario, who had served as a temporary administrator before his arrival at the Livermore church, enabling him to finish his work at St. Augustine.

And he was pleased, he said, that he had heard from Father Rosario, just a few nights before, that he had been named pastor of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine Church was dressed in the blues, purples and pinks on the first Sunday of Advent. Before the 10:30 a.m. Mass, the new pastor worked the aisle, extending his hand in greeting to parishioners.

"We have many, many new beginnings this morning," music director Jim Gilman said as he welcomed the congregation.

During the procession, Father Rosario stopped at the spacious middle aisle of the church to bless not only the church Advent wreath, suspended from the ceiling, but to bless the more modest wreaths families had made at a workshop earlier that morning.

At the end of Mass, Father Rosario told the congregation that he was not the only person attending St. Augustine for the first time. He asked Dominick Angel to come forward.

Dominick, all of 10 weeks old, came to the altar in the arms of his mother, Dina, accompanied by his father, Miguel, who had married in the church two years before.

 
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