|September 8, 2014 • VOL. 52, NO. 15 • Oakland, CA|
At 50, Concord's St. Agnes Parish
looks back — and ahead
A parish that came to life in a Concord walnut orchard in the first years of the Diocese of Oakland has been celebrating its 50th anniversary with an ambitious calendar filled with liturgies, service and social events that appear to have left no ethnic cuisine unsampled.
It served as a place for daily Mass, baptisms, confessions and small weddings.
"Father Hayburn had processions in the orchard," Rigor added. "He's kind of a legend here."
The pastor's commitment to youth began early. "He began teaching CCD almost immediately in a little farmhouse that stood on the property," Rigor said.
Not long after the parish was founded, St. Agnes School opened, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Sister Ann Bernard was the first principal; Jill Lucia serves as principal today. The school is fully enrolled, with 330 students. About half are parish families; many are from neighboring St. Bonaventure, which has no school.
When Father Paul Schmidt succeeded the founding pastor in 1978, the need for a larger church had become apparent. New housing developments brought new families to the parish. An ambitious project to build a church that would serve the growing community included a capital campaign and the design of a building that would use the latest technology — a computer and Kodak slide projectors — to illuminate the walls of the parish.
"The Kodak Cathedral," said Father Johnson Abraham, the current parochial administrator.
Artist Geza St. Galy was commissioned to design tiles depicting the saints — Concord's name had been Todos Santos — with a breathtaking depiction of the Last Judgment behind the altar. Sister Rita Francis made seven new stained glass windows. Ground was broken for the church on Dec. 12, 1981; it was dedicated by Bishop John Cummins on Sept. 18, 1983.
During the time of the next pastor, Father George Mockel, the parish replaced the old farmhouse that served as a ministry center with a new building, which was dedicated in 2003. A new chapel was built for daily Mass and for 24-hour Eucharistic Devotion; it is one of three parishes in the diocese that offer perpetual adoration.
The parish's embrace of its mission extends well beyond the former walnut orchard. Among the service projects is the St. Agnes Mexico Youth Work Camp, the annual trip at Easter to build houses in Tijuana. Both Rigor and Mike McDermott, who have been working on the jubilee committee, have chaperoned on this life-changing trip for teens in the parish.
"My middle son went the year before I did," said Rigor. "When I found out what he was doing, I signed up."
The mission, to build homes for families in Tijuana's La Morita neighborhood, has continued for 19 years. Violence in Mexico might have deterred some people from going, especially in the last 10 years, but the area where they build has not been in danger, McDermott said.
"We have enough kids, enough lumber and enough tools," Rigor said. "They actually build three houses."
The students earn their way — and the cost of materials — by fundraising at their parish, and at neighboring parishes.
"The Christian community that forms the week we go down there is wonderful," McDermott said.
It's not just a once-in-a-lifetime journey, either, Father Abraham said. "They love going back," he said.
Closer to home, the parish's vibrant St. Vincent de Paul conference helps meet the needs of families in the area. They are getting help, too, from the youth of the parish. A chapter of Vinnie's Little Helpers, mentored by youth group coordinator Linda D'Souza, formed last year. Its leaders were seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Agnes School.
The jubilee celebration has included a parish prayer, and special liturgies throughout the year. Dinners have celebrated the parish families' Mexican, Filipino, Italian, Irish, Asian, German and international roots.
And although the last events on the calendar are rapidly approaching, it's not over.
"Jubilee doesn't end with our celebration," said Father Abraham. "We are having a roundtable meeting to look forward the future."
That future might include growth for the parish, McDermott said, with thousands of new homes proposed for land that had once been the Concord Naval Weapons Station.
In the meantime, Father Abraham said, "We want to rejuvenate our stewardship."
That could come in the form of a reverse collection, which Father Mockel had introduced to the parish in 1998. Parishioners take an envelope from the collection basket and turn what's inside into something more. The parish decided to take the seed money from that collection and pass it on to other parishes, which have used that money and passed it on to others.
What goes around, comes around.
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