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placeholder January 9, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, celebrated Mass Dec. 18 at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley, assisted by pastor Rev. Carl Schlichte, OP, left, and Deacon David Paternoster, SJ. The long-scheduled Mass, in honor of the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican order, came a week after the Western Dominican Province announced it would leave the parish after 93 years of service there.
MICHELE JURICH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE

Dominican friars to leave St. Mary Magdalen Parish

On the Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, the news was anything but joyful at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley.

The Dominican priests who have served the parish since its founding in 1923 are leaving, the pastor told the congregation.

The Berkeley parish, with 500 families and a vibrant elementary school, is one of three places in California from which the Dominicans will withdraw, the Oakland-based Western Dominican Province announced in a letter dated Dec. 11.

The Dominicans will also leave their ministry at Newman Centers at the University of California, Riverside, and the University of California, San Diego.

"Last week we met as the Provincial Council to begin the implementation of our province's strategic plan. We made the painful decision that we must withdraw from St. Mary Magdalen's Church and notified Bishop Barber that we will leave at the end of June in 2017," a letter, dated Dec. 6, published in the parish bulletin said.

Father Carl Schlichte, OP, likened the six-month period between the announcement and the departure to Advent, which he called "a season of hope."

"I hope we can reflect on all the good over the last 93 years," he told parishioners. He sees it, he said, as a time to reflect on the generations of people whose lives have been touched by Jesus, "through this community and in this place."

"We will take those ties into the next life," Father Schlichte said. "They will not be broken."

He encouraged parishioners "to look forward in hope" to the parish's next 93 years.

"I will do all I can to help you celebrate and plan," he said.

The Dominicans' letter to parishioners said that they are an aging province, with just 41 priests available for 45 ministry assignments. The 24 students and novices in formation are years away from being ready for ordination and pastoral ministry.

At the conclusion of Mass, celebrant Rev. Cassian Lewinsky, the parochial vicar, read a letter to the parishioners from Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ. In his letter, the bishop thanked the Dominicans for their service.

"I look forward to working with Father Schlichte and others to make this transition as smooth as possible, with our ultimate goal of keeping St. Mary Magdalen the vibrant community of faith it is today," Bishop Barber wrote.

The bishop had the opportunity to thank the Dominicans in person the following Sunday, as he came to the parish to celebrate the 11 a.m. Mass Dec. 18 to honor the 800th anniversary of the founding of the order.

Parishioners were, for the most part, stunned by the news. One recalled that her parents had bought their home, 57 years ago, to be in the Dominican parish.

"I'm devastated," said Velma Richmond, a retired English professor at Holy Names University who has been a parishioner for almost 50 years. "My sense had been the parish had been fairly flourishing."

Richmond, who is a fellow at the nearby Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, said she saw the proximity of the parish and school as "one of the great advantages." The rectory has provided a residence not only for the parish priests, but for the priests who serve on the faculty of the Dominican school. The priests' presence in the parish, and occasional preaching, enriched parish life, she said.

"St. Mary Magdalen has been wonderfully joyful for me," Richmond said.

Parishioner Laura Morland said the Dominicans' departure "feels like a divorce."

"But it's worse than that: it's like a divorce where the husband insists that the wife no longer use his name. I don't know whether the Dominicans were aware of the pride that many of us feel in belonging to a Dominican parish... almost as if we were '4th Order Dominicans.'

"Now it's like we're being kicked out of the order, and the letter from the Provincial Council didn't address these feelings at all. They didn't write, 'We'll always consider you a part of the Dominican family.' Maybe they couldn't say that, or maybe they just wouldn't. But being 'divorced' by the order really hurts."

 
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