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Remembering Rev. José Arong, OMI

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placeholder December 15, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Remembering Rev. Josť Arong, OMI

Father José Arong, OMI

Minutes after I heard about the death of Father José Arong I went to Facebook and left this message. "RIP Father José Arong omi."

Still shocked by the news I couldn't write any more as tears came to my eyes. I had to leave Facebook. Soon other people who knew the priest were able to put into words their shock and sadness. Barbara Banez wrote: "He was more than our priest, he was family." Quoc Bao Raphael Tran wrote "just a shock" and "rest his gentle soul now." And Carol Selak, a Sister of the Holy Names: "yes, what a great loss — José will be deeply missed."

Father José or Father Joe, which many of us called him — once served as pastor at my parish, Sacred Heart in Oakland. Before he arrived pastors and administrators before him were literally coming and going. After the death of the longtime and revered pastor Msgr. Michael O'Brien in 1983, five pastors or administrators had been assigned to and left the North Oakland parish by 1991, the year Father José arrived. Parishioners were waiting patiently for a pastor who would stick around for a while.

And stick around he did, from 1991 to 1998. As a bonus his religious community came too. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate assumed pastoral responsibility of the parish from the Diocese of Oakland that year. Father José brought stability and the charism of the Oblates to the parish.

Born on April 4, 1937, Father José was a native of Cebu, Philippines. He took his first vows in 1959, his perpetual vows in 1962 and was ordained a priest on April 4, 1966. He had a doctoral degree in International Development Education and a master's degree in anthropology, both from Stanford University. Additionally, he graduated with a master's degree in philosophy from the San José Seminary.

Father Arong's early ministry was as a missionary and educator in the Philippines. As time went on, much of the priest's ministry was focused in education. He had been a president of Notre Dame University, Cotabato City in the Philippines.

During his years at Sacred Heart, Mass was being held in the parish school cafeteria because the church had been damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The venerable 90-plus year old church, rendered and declared unusable, was demolished in 1993. Father José was deeply involved in the effort to raise enough money to build a new church.

By the time the new church was dedicated in 1999, Father José had been called to work within his religious community. He served as Pacific Area superior, Provincial liaison for the Office of Mission Enrichment and Oblate Associates and vocation director.

He returned to Sacred Heart, this time serving as associate pastor, when Oblate Father Karl Davis was appointed pastor in 2009.

Widely known in the local Filipino Catholic community, Father José had also been serving as a spiritual adviser to the Filipino Catholic Cursillo community in Oakland and San Francisco at the time of his death.

"José was very generous with his time," said Father Don Arel, a local superior of the Oblates community. Noting that Father José was always available to help other Oblate members by offering to assist at Mass if needed and he also gave his time to an Oblate who needed to talk to someone or by just being present. Even though he was at retirement age, he continued ministering to others "He was a good brother," Father Arel said.

Father José also left a legacy in young adult Catholics in the area like Chory Banez, who took to Facebook to pay tribute shortly after hearing about the priest's death on Dec. 6. "He was very instrumental in my involvement in many parish activities as well as giving me confidence to be a leader and move on to be quite involved at my parish now," Banez wrote.

"He was an inspiration and just an all around wonderful person and will be deeply missed."

The funeral Mass will be held Dec. 17 at Sacred Heart Church in Oakland. He will rest with other Oblates who are buried in San Fernando.

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