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placeholder September 5, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA

Parishioners and members of pastoral council. Helen Spahr (with orange juice), David Minister, Rachel Lewis, Lee Ferrona, Helen Vierra, Ray Kuca, Sandra Kuca and Linda Bardin. A Tongan quilt is in the background.
RAŚL AYRALA/THE CATHOLIC VOICE

Golden anniversary begins for St. Stephen

A year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of St. Stephen Parish in Walnut Creek began with a Mass and lunch on Aug. 14.

Nine priests assisted Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, in the Mass.

Parish Administrator Rev. Mark C. Amaral offered praise "for our music ministry and choirs for all of their lovely voices enhancing our prayer. The Tongan choir piece was beautiful." He also thanked all those who helped make the parishes' anniversary "magnificent."

Other clergy assisting Bishop Barber: Father Amaral and Revs. Denis Des Rosiers and Brian Timoney (both former pastors), Jerry Brown, Kapiolani Kakala, Herman H.M. Leong, Helmut Richter and Alexander Q. Castillo and Deacon William Bothe.

In his homily, Bishop Barber noted Olympic athlete Usain Bolt, runner from Jamaica, is a Catholic and he always makes the sign of the cross and looks to the sky before starting his races.

"These are challenging times to be a Christian."

Bishop Floyd L. Begin, the diocese's first bishop, established St. Stephen Parish on July 1, 1966, from parts of St. Mary Parish in Walnut Creek, Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill and St. Perpetua Parish in Lafayette.

The new parish community met temporarily in a converted supermarket at the Palos Verdes Shopping Center. Parishioners nicknamed their new worship space "Saint Thrifty's" because of its proximity to a Thrifty Drug Store.

Bishop Begin appointed Rev. Joseph F. Keaveny, principal of Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School, as St. Stephen's founding pastor. Father Keaveny offered the first Mass in the temporary church on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.

The first Mass in the new worship space was celebrated Sept. 11, 1971.

During the parish's first decade the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Salesian Fathers from Richmond provided assistance for the weekend Masses. By the 1980s priests from the Jesuit School of Theology, led by Rev. John Huesman, SJ, provided regular weekend help.

After the Mass, Father Amaral noted "The biggest challenge with us is just about growth and expansion, bringing in new families, trying to expand our ministries in the area here especially since we don't have a school. That raises challenges with parishes around us that do have a school and are trying to attract younger families into the parishes. "

"On an average weekend we have around 260 people that attend the parish," he said, adding "All the liturgies are in English but we have a Tongan community here as well."

St. Stephen's was built at a time when housing was expanding all over the East Bay and families were moving in, Bishop Barber said. And the reality has changed now that the real estate prices are so expensive. Young families can't afford to move here … but the remaining families have increased their contributions in order to keep the parish viable, so it's very admirable what they've done.

"It's great to be here, this is a particularly beautiful church designed by one of the most famous architects in the '60s. … It doesn't look like it's 50 years old at all. They've done a great job here so I'm glad to be part of it."

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