|January 5, 2015 • VOL. 53, NO. 1 • Oakland, CA|
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish
has a festive 'welcome home'
On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Fremont parish that bears her name finally came home.
"Everyone" means the parish's 4,000 families, who attend seven Masses a weekend, three in Spanish and four in English. About 55 percent to 60 percent of the parishioners are Spanish-speakers, the pastor said.
It is a parish that values the education of its young people, with classes in both English and Spanish. Deacon Mike Cantlon, who oversees faith formation, has more than 600 students in classes. The confirmation class alone, usually about 100, numbers more than 200 this year.
The pastor who was assigned to the parish at the time of the merger has gone on to become bishop of Honolulu. But before he left, first to become vicar general of the Diocese of Oakland, Father Larry Silva guided parishioners in their first steps toward unification.
The original plan called for a new church to be built.
Both St. Leonard and Santa Paula had been built in the 1960s as "temporary" churches, destined to become parish halls or gymnasiums when the permanent churches were built. The cost estimate for building one new church, in 2002, was $6 million.
The new church was planned for the Santa Paula site, but a capital campaign showed the inability to raise enough funds to build it.
Father Prochaska's journey with the parish began long before his appointment as pastor on Jan. 1, 2004. He told the Catholic Voice in 2003 that while working as a chemical engineer in the 1980s, he was active in the RCIA program at St. Leonard Parish. Through this involvement with RCIA and other ministries, he discerned his vocation. He was ordained in 1993.
Working with the lay leadership, he guided the parishes through years of planning and fundraising. The decision was made to look at both of the existing churches, and expand one of them. The former Santa Paula site was chosen. Two miles away, at the former St. Leonard site, the vibrant Our Lady of Guadalupe School operates. The students will be thrilled when the former church at that site fulfills its original destiny and becomes a gym, hall and multipurpose room.
The cost of the renovation is about $5.2 million in 2014, helped greatly by a bequest to the parish of $1.8 million. Two capital campaigns later, the parish prepared for the long-awaited celebration on its Feast Day.
The renovation began more than four years ago, with all liturgies taking place at the former St. Leonard site. The renovation work began in September 2013.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, re-designed and re-imaged for worship literally turns around the former church, with the expansion providing a soaring new space for the altar.
The new sanctuary's new pews, dark-stained wood, stand ready to seat 700 people. Each of the previous churches seated about 500. Workers carefully installed stained glass windows that had graced the St. Leonard site; Santa Paula had no stained glass windows. The windows are installed on the inside; clear glass installed on the outside will protect the stained glass from the elements.
The organ, too, was transported to its new space at Our Lady of Guadalupe.
An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, identical to the one at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, will take her place to the right of the altar.
The altar, ambo and column for the tabernacle are the handiwork of parishioner Juan Madera.
In the parish bulletin, Father Prochaska said Madera, "humbly created a sanctuary that radiates the beauty of God. Juan not only laid the beautiful marble floor (with much help), but then designed and crafted the exquisite altar, ambo and tabernacle pedestal."
Madera — translated to English, his name means "wood" — said, as plans for the renovated church progressed, he understood the importance of building a new altar. "It was the most important thing we have," he said.
He worked at a carpentry shop in Mexico, where "I learned enough to make nice looking furniture," he said.
He felt called to do this work, but before volunteering, asked a friend, who told him, "That's a blessing. I don't think you're going to build that again."
So the craftsman decided, "I'll donate labor and design," he said.
The altar, dark walnut with a marble top, took two weeks to build from his own design. "I designed the altar as well as the ambo, and tabernacle column," he said, "all three pieces of furniture are coming out of the same hands."
The ambo will be a place he will come to know well, as Madera serves the parish as a lector. His children will serve as altar servers.
"It was a very nice experience," he said, downplaying the challenges he encountered along the way, including cutting his finger on the last piece of wood. And it took four men to carry and transport the heavy pieces to their new positions of honor.
"It touches your heart to do something," Madera said. "He is calling."
Madera, who is a student at the St. Francis de Sales School of Pastoral Ministry, is "one of the most committed parishioners," said Father Alex Castillo, who served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe after his ordination in 2011.
"If I could have three Juan Maderas, I will make that parish three times better," said Father Castillo is the bishop's episcopal master of ceremonies and secretary.
Madera trains lectors and altar servers at the parish, Father Castillo said. "When you need something, you will call him." Madera has, quietly, raised money for vestments for altar servers and for a field trip to the seminary for them. "He's very committed and generous," Father Castillo said.
Father Prochaska also acknowledged parishioner Dave Dissinger, "who has for decades taken the lead in both the design and capital campaigns for this church," and the late Tom and Louise Byrnes, for their generous bequest.
In the parish bulletin the Sunday before the dedication, Father Prochaska acknowledged the sadness some might feel after more than 50 years celebrating Mass at what had been known as St. Leonard. "Though always meant to be a temporary church, it has been your church for a long time, and is painful to leave," he wrote. "I ask that Christ's healing hand may be upon you, and you may experience His peace."
With that peace, too, comes the promise of joy.
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