|February 9, 2015 • VOL. 53, NO. 3 • Oakland, CA|
'Grateful remembrance of the recent past'
Throughout the history of our church, there have always been people who have dedicated their lives in prayer and service by living in solitude or in intentional communities of like-minded individuals. A document from the Second Vatican Council, Perfectae Caritatis, describes the response to a call to live a life of intimate discipleship with Jesus:
For many people, religious priests, brothers and sisters, are the face of the church. This is particularly true in the Diocese of Oakland. The 2014 Directory of the Diocese of Oakland lists 34 communities of women religious. The Directory also mentions 20 communities of religious priests and brothers, also engaged in various ministries. It should also be noted that two groups of women religious, the Sisters of the Holy Family and the Dominican Sisters of Mission San José, have motherhouses in our diocese.
The group to which I belong, the De La Salle Christian Brothers, seeks to give a human and Christian education to young people, especially to the poor. We sponsor St. Mary's College in Moraga, St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley and De La Salle High School in Concord.
Many of the primary parochial schools, Catholic high schools and Catholic colleges and universities were brought to life by different religious communities in the diocese, and their work and charism often continues under lay leadership. Together, these educational institutions have made a difference in countless lives and brought the Good News to their students.
Given our shortage of priests, ordained religious have significantly contributed to parish life in the diocese at places like Our Lady of Grace Parish in Castro Valley (Augustinians), St. Paul Parish in Fremont (Conventual Franciscans), Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch (Dominicans), and St. Philip Neri-St. Albert the Great Parish in Alameda (Missionaries of Faith), to name but a few. Besides parish ministries, religious priests have worked to better society. Jesuit Father John Baumann founded the PICO National Network, which assists communities in developing faith-based organizations to identify issues and concerns for families and come together to make changes in their neighborhood communities.
Women religious have shown remarkable imagination, vision, and faith in God's Providence in establishing works that respond to pressing needs in society. Some sisters, many of "retirement age," work in ministries like, spiritual direction, assisting the homeless, wellness advocacy, assisting victims of human trafficking, and serving on college and university boards of trustees.
By way of example, here are two organizations in the Oakland Diocese sponsored by women religious.
The Sisters of Holy Names of Jesus and Mary founded an adult literacy program, Next Step Learning Center, to address the high dropout rate among high school students in Oakland, sponsoring programs in basic literacy, preparing for a GED exam, transitioning to college, and in finding a job.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet helped found the Bay Area Crisis Nursery, which is a short term residential care facility for young children of families in a time of personal crisis. They service families with parents who care but temporarily can't cope with overwhelming, stressful life emergencies. Their goal is to bridge the need for emergency childcare while providing a support network of resources and services to ensure both parents and children form a healthy family.
Despite the significant drop in vocations to religious life, religious brothers, priests and sisters continue to faithfully witness to the Gospel, and work daily to improve the lives of the people they serve. Many are the face of Christ and his church to those entrusted to their care. In doing the research for this article, I was impressed at the joy of the women and men I interviewed, and the passion for what they do.
(Brother Lawrence Haley, FSC is a De La Salle Christian Brother and on the faculty at De La Salle High School, Concord.)
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