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Catholic Voice
May 18, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
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Christ went about "breaking open the meaning of love" through his actions like healing the sick and through His mercy, Father Matthews said in his homily.

New rector source of pride in community

Less than an hour before his installation as rector of Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light, Very Rev. James V. Matthews was seen walking throughout the cathedral. But he couldn't walk three steps without being beckoned for a handshake, a hug, a kiss or all of the above.

The man of the hour appeared surprisingly calm as he shook outstretched hands, returned hugs and kisses, exchanged smiles while the excitement level in the building was rising. The St. Benedict Parish choir had warmed up and was ready to tear the roof off the structure, singing gospel songs, from the rich traditions of black religious music from several denominations..

It was in this atmosphere that the Father Matthews II, called Father Jay by everyone — received an honor few African American Catholic priests have received. He is the third rector since the cathedral opened in 2008.

Father Matthews who was born in Berkeley but spent most of his life in Oakland, celebrated his first Mass at St. Benedict, and has been its pastor since 1989.

Being named a rector is also a source of pride in the African American Catholic community, many of whom packed the cathedral. More than 150 members of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, alone attended. The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver are members of a fraternal organization established by and for black Catholic men who were denied membership in the then all-white Knights of Columbus a century ago. The Knights and Ladies, representing courts and councils throughout the country, attended in full regalia with the Ladies all dressed in white and the Knights wearing sashes on their uniforms and plumes in their hats.

During the May 9 liturgy, the new rector received blessings from Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, as well as the blessings and prayers of some 850 people who had gathered to witness the installation.

When he was ordained to the priesthood in 1974, Father Matthews, who has a warm and gregarious personality, became the first African American priest to be ordained in northern California. He also became the fourth priest in his family, he said during his homily.

"I am blessed to have my mother here with us," Father Matthews said, gesturing toward her pew in the cathedral. "She will be 91 next month," he said as the congregation gasped and then applauded. He noted that his Catholicism came from his mother and the maternal side of the family.

In addition to the women in his family, Father Matthews acknowledged the presence of two leaders, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and newly elected Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. The priest's ties to the congresswoman goes back a number of years as they worked together to address crime, blight and poverty in the area that included St. Benedict Parish. Father Matthews' connection to the mayor is that he presided at her wedding a few years ago.

He acknowledged those persons who he has walked with during his life, such as friends he met when he attended the seminary. In a reflection on the evening's readings Father Matthews talked about love and how Christ went about "breaking open the meaning of love" through his actions like healing the sick and through His mercy.

In his 40 years of priestly ministry, Father Matthews has served in several diocesan roles including as vicar for Black Catholics, a member of the diocesan Pastoral Council and as a chaplain for the Oakland police and fire departments.

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