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Catholic Voice
June 27, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
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Holy Names Sisters returned to Sacred Heart Parish for its 140th anniversary.

140 years of memories, at Oakland's Sacred Heart

Long before he became bishop of the Oakland diocese in 1977, Emeritus Bishop John S. Cummins had memorable encounters with the CYO athletes from Oakland's Sacred Heart Parish.

"We were from the neighboring St. Augustine Parish, small in comparison to the large community that was Sacred Heart," recalled the second bishop of Oakland (1977 to 2003). "Thoughts of Bushrod Park come back with admiration for the Nessi's, Crosetti's and the Tobin's, all large men and powerful athletes."

A compensation, he added, was that the Sacred Heart athletes were "very much gentlemen and considerate of us who were younger."

A "further terrible memory" recalled by the bishop was of a touch football game that was organized between Sacred Heart and St. Augustine when he was in the eighth grade. "The large Italian young man who did the kickoff not only put the ball over our heads but smacked it high against the wall of the church."

Bishop Cummins, now 88, made those remarks June 5 at the 140th anniversary Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Oakland. He outlined the parish's long history and acknowledged the contributions made by generations of clergy and parishioners to the local church and the community at large.

Through the ministry of Msgr. Robert Sampson (1917 to 1950) Bishop Cummins noted that Sacred Heart's second pastor made sure the parish and school were a welcoming place. "No one was refused entrance to the school because of economic conditions."

Msgr. Sampson welcomed the Morrill Family, who fled Mexico because of the 1920s revolution and had the Morrill children enrolled in the parish school despite their financial difficulties, Bishop Cummins said. A generation later Barbara Morrill's work with Sister Sebastian Adza led to the formation of Family Aid to Catholic Education, also known as FACE, a scholarship program that has been beneficial to low income families.

The bishop also cited the Sabatte family of the South Berkeley Creamery, now called Berkeley Farms, for helping support the parish in addition to sponsoring diocesan and school projects. He also recognized the contributions of three priests who served as associate pastors, Revs. Ed Varni, John Coghlan and John Dollard, who made the youth a focus of their ministries.

Others who left a legacy in the faith community included, Msgr. Edgar Boyle (administrator 1949-1951 and pastor from 1951-57) whose comments in the parish bulletin were a must-read, Bishop Cummins said. "The description of the rectory as a 'flop house' and the new house that could accommodate a religious community," he said.

He mentioned pastor Msgr. Michael O'Brien, remembered for his quick wit and his work with deaf Catholics in the diocese and whose funeral drew hundreds of friends and admirers to the parish church in 1983; Rev. Jerrold Kennedy, a former pastor whose mother grew up in the parish; and Rev. Ed Hayburn and his outreach to the Spanish speaking community.

Bishop Cummins also paid tribute to the ministry of the Holy Names Sisters, who staffed the school for more than 90 years, and he commended Sister Shirley Sexton, who died last year, for creating a program for the elderly that "would be a light" for the community.

The bishop also cited the contributions of the Scotlan family to life of both the parish and diocese. "George was a public figure in the city of Oakland but commandeered Catholic participation in the civil rights movement of the 1960s; his wife, Christine, who gave substance to the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women in the new Diocese of Oakland; and their daughter, Priscilla, a formidable figure as vice chair of our first Diocesan Pastoral Council with advice for me as bishop and whose death came all too young," he said.

Dying happens throughout the life of a community, said Rev. William Mason, OMI, Sacred Heart's current pastor. The community at Sacred Heart, he explained, has experienced death with the loss of two church buildings to disaster — the fire of 1897 and the earthquake of 1989. Parishioners came together on those two occasions to grieve and to rebuild.

There is a kind of rising. The parish's decision to celebrate its 140th anniversary, he said, was based on the belief that anniversaries are an opportunity and an obligation.

The fire of 1897 began in the church sacristy and enveloped the church, school and rectory, wiping out almost the entire parish plant. The 1989 quake took a sacred place, the heart of the community. But those deaths strengthened the parish rather than weakened it, Bishop Cummins said.

"Remarkably, in those days before parish councils, three leading men got together with a striking kind of immediacy and promised Rev. Lawrence Serda, Sacred Heart's first pastor (1876 to 1917), that they would rebuild," said the bishop. "Indeed, they did with the new church that we lost in the quake (in 1989). With local architect and even building materials that were quarried from the Oakland Hills to be the structural elements, they produced an artistic accomplishment that was indeed a great loss."

For nearly 10 years, the parish celebrated Sunday Mass in the school cafeteria, which was nicknamed the "churchateria." Those years were marked by parishioners having to set up the space for Mass and then breaking down the set up over and over again so that the cafeteria could be used by for other events. The experience of life in the cafeteria during those years reflected the "extraordinary flexibility and perseverance of the people of this parish," the bishop said.

Another death in the parish occurred with the construction of Highway 24 and Interstate 580 and the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, BART, in the 1960s and 1970s. That construction reduced the population of Sacred Heart Parish from 3,400 to 1,700. "Square blocks of residences were wiped out and the solidity of neighborhoods weakened."

"But here we are today," Bishop Cummins said as he looked at nearly 300 people made up of current parishioners, former students at the parish school and former parishioners, in the church.

The second year after his installation as bishop, Bishop Cummins was invited to the 117th anniversary of Saint Mary's College High School in Berkeley by its principal, Brother Michael Collins. "I was agreeable," he said, "but I did ask the significance of 117 over the more frequent celebration surrounding a 50th or 100th year," said the bishop. "His remark to me was 'unless we celebrate we forget who we are.'

"Sacred Heart has served its people well," he said, "and has been a blessing for the Diocese of Oakland. We remember with thanks."

'What makes Sacred Heart a special place?'
The Catholic Voice asked parishioners why they belong to Sacred Heart.

Olga Moore
"Sacred Heart is special because of the family ties that have been built over the years. (After the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed the church) some people left but those that stayed did so with the belief that 'church' was more than a building. … Years were spent raising money to build a new church — as a faith community we also grew stronger. We became family."

Kathy Rankins
"I love it here. So much so I brought Mary Scott into the Catholic Church. Mary and I were friends in high school. This parish is like being at home."

Mary Ann Francis
"I was born in this parish in 1943. I am still a member of Sacred Heart. We have been so fortunate to have had so many good priests over the years as well as the long ministry of the Holy Names Sisters."

Ben Navarro
"My family and I have been here for 28 years and the people are very nice and friendly. Many of us help the parish with prayer and fundraisers. … I have brought flowers to decorate the church for many years and the people have appreciated that and helped with their donations."

Tam Tran
"My wife and I were refugees from Vietnam and Sacred Heart was the first church we attended after settling down in the U.S. about 40 years ago. We raised our three kids here and now have a third generation that we hope will continue."

Rita Rose
"I have been a member at Sacred Heart since 1988. The people are friendly and they make me feel at home. You feel like you belong."

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