Mary Help of Christians
Two Oakland churches became one parish on Jan. 1, as they merged to become St. Anthony-Mary Help of Christians parish.
Both parishes have deep roots. St. Anthony, at 1535 16th Ave., was founded in 1871. A mile away, at 2611 E. 9th Ave., Mary Help of Christians was founded in 1915.
The parish maintains both church sites. Mass is celebrated at each church, and religion education is offered at both sites.
The merger of the two parishes has been considered for several years, dating back to then-Bishop Allen Vigneron's time in the Diocese of Oakland, said Very Rev. George Mockel, vicar general of the diocese.
For several years, the pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish, a Franciscan parish about a mile away in the opposite direction from St. Anthony, took Mary Help of Christians under his wing, providing ministerial services.
But that was a personal commitment, not a Franciscan one, Father Mockel said. When the pastor's service at St. Elizabeth ended, Mary Help of Christians was in need of leadership from within the diocese.
Rev. Sergio Mora was assigned to the parish as parochial administrator. The Diocesan Planning Board began a detailed look at Mary Help of Christians.
The process, Father Mockel said, is guided by "Ten Essentials of Parish Life," a diocesan document that was developed in 1992.
The Second Diocesan Pastoral Convention in 1988 outlined 10 abiding values that the delegates felt were essential to parish life. They recommended that for a parish to be a vibrant community, each of these 10 essentials must be present in some degree.
The 10 essentials address spirituality, liturgy, faith formation, leadership, belonging/hospitality, small Christian communities, diverse cultures/gifts, stewardship, social ministry and evangelization.
This evaluation "gave us the opportunity to get census data, accurate Mass count, accurate sacramental records, statistical and financial information," Father Mockel said.
The study concluded the parish would he better off if it merged.
Mary Help of Christians
Parish Office: 1520 E. 15th St., Oakland
Pastor: Rev. Jesus Nieto-Ruiz
Parochial vicar: Rev. Peter Ngo Duc Dung
St. Anthony Church
1535 16th Ave., Oakland
Mary Help of Christians
2611 E. 9th St., Oakland
Masses, St. Anthony: Sunday 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. (Spanish), 11:30 a.m. (Vietnamese),
Saturday 5 p.m. (Spanish),
7:30 p.m. (Vietnamese), Weekdays 8 a.m.; First Friday 7:30 p.m. (Vietnamese)
Masses, Mary Help of Christians: Sunday 9:15 a.m., noon (Spanish)
Then-Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone asked Rev. Jesus Nieto-Ruiz, pastor of St. Anthony, to initiate the incremental process to merge two parishes over the next couple of years, Father Mockel said.
Pastoral services were merged first, and a common bulletin published.
During the process, the two parish councils met separately, Father Mockel said, but at the same place and time. At the end of the respective meetings, they met together. The financial councils did the same.
"The goal for us is that on the day the merger takes place, nobody notices anything different," said Father Mockel.
When Jan. 1 came, "It was an easy step," said Father Nieto-Ruiz.
That intention has been realized. "It was a very smooth transition overall," said Father Nieto-Ruiz. Earlier, he said, "There was so much tension: What is going to happen? The main question was, 'Are they going to shut us down?' mainly at Mary, Help of Christians."
But with Masses and religious education at both sites, those fears have calmed.
Merging the religious education programs might have presented problems for parents and meant "we would lose some people," said Father Nieto-Ruiz. Attendance has been the same, he said.
The parish and finance councils include representatives from both St. Anthony and Mary Help of Christians, as well as St. Anthony School. "We have been in touch with each other for a long time," the pastor said.
"We continue to find ways we can go stronger," he said.
The administrative work takes place at one site, "just one bank account, one set of documents to record sacraments," said Father Nieto-Ruiz.
The community spirit continues to grow. Father Nieto-Ruiz noted that youth who usually meet at St. Anthony were performing a dance — and half of the dancers were from Mary Help of Christians.
Mary Help of Christians will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2015. Father Nieto-Ruiz said plans call for a yearlong celebration of the jubilee, beginning this May. There will be an event each month. And a larger community to join in the celebration.
Where each parish had its own place, Father Nieto Ruiz said, "Now they have two homes."
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