| Welcome to this local church
Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins welcomed Bishop Barber at his ordination and installation.
JOSÉ LUIS AGUIRRE/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
The virtue of hospitality has echoed in the diocese for many years. Its model is Jesus himself who was both gracious guest and welcoming host.
St. Paul found it a proper quality in a bishop. In his letter to the Hebrews he urged his readers "to show hospitality for by that means some have entertained angels without knowing it."
The welcome for Bishop Michael Barber is into a very contemporary church, for the Diocese of Oakland began four months before the opening of the momentous, deliberative and influential Second Vatican Council.
Our first bishop was unambiguous about the directions that would come from that gathering.
The first was liturgical adaptation. He formed an office to instruct in the changes, the timing of implementation and indeed the limits. His singular illustration of his acceptance was the renovation of St. Francis de Sales Cathedral under the direction of the artist Robert Rambusch.
He then invited three talented priests who with the Holy Names Sisters in the school developed a vital parish focusing on liturgy, school and the elderly.
Occasionally puzzled by the intensity of cathedral activities the first bishop, Floyd Begin, was deeply complimented when a national gathering of liturgical officers in San Francisco came for its closing liturgy to St. Francis de Sales. A decade after the close of the Second Vatican Council the first priority among priests, religious and the parishes remained the liturgy.
The bishop also grasped intuitively the notion of shared responsibility arising from the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
He invited the creation of a financial committee, a school board, clergy personnel and a committee on family life to whom he gave the instruction for "married people to teach the rest of us how to live."
He set a deadline for the establishing of pastoral councils in every parish. He needed to set a second deadline which also proved insufficient to overcome the reluctance of some pastors.
Shared responsibility demanded a respectful style of authority grasped well by religious men and women in the church. But it had to be learned by the rest of us. By and large our laity approved the style. In time the complaint diminished that "He did not even consult."
Along with shared responsibility was the developing role of the laity in a clerical chancery world. The bishop hired a qualified engineer as overseer of diocesan building projects. He encouraged a lively St. Vincent de Paul Society under leadership of Michael Hester and Cyril Gilfether, Olga Morris and others to enlarge thrift shops, to open a dining room and support the concrete action of the society in the parishes. The reputation of the Diocese of Oakland became national.
The last identity for the bishop was ecumenism. He was far ahead of most in the church evidenced by his entertaining a Presbyterian minister friend from Cleveland at his installation as bishop in April 1962. Four months later, one month before the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October, without the expressed support of any of his priests, he invited 150 Protestant ministers and their spouses to dinner at the Claremont Hotel. In addressing them he told them that he loved them — a quote repeated in the diocese for the rest of the century.
He found the Holy Spirit in the development of the Graduate Theological Union, explaining that dialogue at such a high level was not the result of any human ingenuity. He reported the actions of the Second Vatican Council from the pulpit of Temple Sinai in Oakland.
Two realities above all characterize the culture of this welcoming diocese. One is education, a large industry in these two counties. The other is the ethnic diversity whose awareness has grown and whose index perhaps was the discovery of Sunday Masses in 17 languages.
With regard to the first, Professor Raymond Sontag, a giant of a man of the diocese and in the history department of the University, once remarked that the Diocese of Oakand was "a ramshackle place like Peoria" in his native Illinois except for the University of California at Berkeley.
Bishop Begin in his early years collaborated with the work of Father Joseph Quinn, the Paulist pastor of the Newman Center in Berkeley to complete a project of a new parish forced by university plans to relocate south of campus.
The apostolic delegate Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi attended, graciously accepting the gift of a cookie from one of the young people hovering over the scene in 1967. The bishop would duplicate the project years later at the recently established California State University in Hayward.
Education had been as long and deeply rooted in the church's activities in the East Bay as had the existence of the University of California. In 1868, through the genius of Michael King, the pastor of St. Mary's on Seventh Street, six Holy Name Sisters arrived from Canada to establish a house on the shore of Lake Merritt. They began their small school, later servicing from 20th and Webster Street, St. Mary's Parish, St. Francis de Sales, Our Lady of Lourdes with outreach as well to north Oakland and later to Holy Names Central High School.
They established a novitiate and received the charter for the college. From that first site the sisters moved through California and extended their ministries as well to Japan, Lesotho in South Africa and a later outreach in Peru.
The Christian Brothers arrived in San Francisco in 1868 to staff Saint Mary's College. It was not long before they moved to Fifth and Madison streets in Oakland to establish first a novitiate, and then a school. In those early days they were responsible for boys' education in the five parishes within reach of Lake Merritt, thereby providing the promise of a rich harvest for the East Bay Catholic leadership. In their sesquicentennial year the Diocese of Oakland represents a major investment of the Brothers of the San Francisco district.
Dominicans, both priests and sisters, with the encouragement of their colleague, Joseph Alemany, the first archbishop of San Francisco, established themselves in the then ambition-directed town of Benicia. They created the parishes along the Carquinez Straits with such Dominican names as St. Rose of Lima, St. Catherine of Siena, Most Holy Rosary. In 1934, they moved their house of studies to the estate on Chabot Road here in Oakland, thereby readying themselves to become the first Catholic entrant into the Graduate Theological Union.
Not to be forgotten are the Salesians who arrived first in San Francisco in 1897 but within a generation built their seminary in Richmond. The Redemptorist Fathers set up their mission house surprisingly in Livermore. They followed with the establishment of a seminary on Golf Links Road in East Oakland, a site that continues in ministry to this day. Mission San Jose Dominican Sisters, German born, took over the building established at the mission that was a second attempt by Archbishop Alemany to build a seminary for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The sisters established their own college and have served the educational enterprise of this diocese and other opportunities of service as well.
With regard to diversity Bishop Begin was conditioned by the Midwest experience of national parishes. He was cautious.
Within the first several months however there was providentially a gathering of the Spanish Cursillistas at St. Elizabeth's in Oakland. The standing room congregation and their rousing vitality converted the bishop in one morning.
The experience led to the establishment of a Spanish-speaking vicariate under the direction of Msgr. Antonio Valdivia. Lest anyone feel left out Msgr. Daniel Cardelli was tapped to serve the Italian vicariate and the Italian Catholic Federation, whose founders were very much part of the Diocese of Oakland. Father Matthias Lu was placed in the Chinese vicariate though he was Mandarin speaking in a world here that spoke Cantonese.
The post-Vatican II Canon Law would limit the word "vicariate." It was that time that Sister Felicia Sarati, CSJ, providentially came upon the scene and moved to 15 flexible and adaptable "centers." Nine of these were Asian.
Father Don MacKinnon, CSSR, and Sister Michaela O'Connor learned the language of the Khmuú people from Laos.
At a Chatauqua gathering the visiting bishop of Tonga gave his thanks for the welcome that his people had received. Especially however he noted that they had been given the opportunity to make their contribution to the life and health of the diocese. It was a gratifying commentary.
Incidentally, initiatives and some surprises marked our history. Our bishop early on did not resist the establishment of the diaconate. More than half a century earlier the Archbishop of San Francisco, Patrick W. Riordan, took the burse given him on his 25th episcopal ordination to build the Neo-Gothic Newman Center on the northeast corner of the university in Berkeley when there were only 267 Catholic students attending.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet established along with their other educational ministries the first school of the deaf west of the Mississippi at 40th and Telegraph in Oakland, an important institution serving the California School for the Deaf located in the diocese.
The sisters of the Holy Family, so well known in the catechetical ministry, opened St. Vincent's Day Home a century before society at large sensed the need for this service to working families.
Mercy Sisters from St. Anthony's as early as 1893 bought land as a home for the elderly in the Fruitvale district. The sensitivity of religious would stir a much later generation to establish a Respect Life office, a house of hospitality for homeless women in the city, a neighborhood center at St. Mary's and legal service for those without resources.
Catholic Charities adapted well from 1934 to the later 20th century with service to immigrants, the elderly, SPRED for the developmentally disabled and to newly arrived people from Asia and Africa.
Now it is our time. With our new bishop, Michael Barber, we share the hope that accompanies new beginnings. Our heritage of consultation, responsibility, surprises and initiatives provides rich and instructive resources for the demands that are to come.
(John S. Cummins is bishop emeritus of the Oakland diocese.)
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