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June 26, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
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Dominican friars who had served St. Mary Magdalen Parish over the years were guests of honor at a lunch that followed Mass on June 11.

'A church is a who and not a what'

Rev. Michael Dodds, OP, and Father Carl Schlichte, OP, before the start of Mass on June 11 at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley.

A dozen Dominicans in their distinctive white habits — among them former pastors, parochial vicars and priests in residence — at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley were honored June 11 for the 94 years the order has served there.

At the end of this week, the Dominicans will depart St. Mary Magdalen, which has known no other leadership.

On July 1, Rev. Nicholas Glisson will become the new pastor, and St. Mary Magdalen will begin life as a diocesan parish.

The departure of the Dominicans, announced in a letter dated Dec. 11, centered on the availability of friars to serve in parishes and the need for the Dominicans to protect their community life.

The Western Dominican Order would no longer staff two Newman Centers, at University of California campuses in Riverside and San Diego, and the Berkeley parish.

Berkeley parishioners had grown accustomed to not only the Dominican friars in parish work, but the continued presence of a revolving cast of Dominicans in residence, many engaged in work at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, just blocks from the North Berkeley church. Their preaching was a hallmark of the parish.

Rev. David O'Rourke, OP

Since the December announcement, parishioners worked through what has been described as a grieving process, which culminated in not only acceptance, but gratitude for the years of service.

This was evident in a farewell celebration, which began at the 11 a.m. Mass June 11, celebrated by the current pastor, Rev. Carl Schlichte, OP, with Emeritus Bishop John S. Cummins on the altar. Father Schlichte had been confirmed, and later ordained, by Bishop Cummins.

The preacher was Rev. David O'Rourke, OP, who served as pastor from 1975 to 1981. He is the parochial administrator of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Point Richmond.

In his homily, he told parishioners the upcoming Feast of Corpus Christi offers an opportunity to reflect on "how we go about living our lives as the Body of Christ."

He illustrated the role of the people in the life of the Church with personal remembrances of his own grandmother urging that a church be built closer to the people, so children would have a place to learn their faith.

He recalled his days as pastor as the "happiest of my life. Vatican II had taken root in this parish." He recalled the Christian Family Movement, parish music and involvement of parishioners.

"The Church is a who and not a what," he said. "It becomes personal in our relationships with one another."

At the end of Mass, Bishop Cummins thanked the Dominican Fathers, Sisters and community. He noted that the Dominicans had served at St. Rose of Lima in Crockett, St. Catherine of Siena in Martinez, St. Peter Martyr of Verona in Pittsburg and Most Holy Rosary in Antioch.

The Western Dominicans came to Berkeley in 1923, embracing service in a university city, as their predecessors in Europe had served in Paris and Bologna.

To serve the Berkeley parish, the bishop noted, they gave up St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Martinez.

Over the years, he said, the Dominican Fathers had cooperated in diocesan initiatives, for which he thanked them.

"I have to say it's a sense of loss," he said of their departure, but mindful of the Dominicans' mission, he recalled, they are travelers and must not settle down.

Father Schlichte has been granted a one-year sabbatical, during which he plans to travel around the world, stay in a Trappist monastery in New England, and study at Oxford and in Rome. Parochial vicar Rev. Cassian Lewinski, OP, will retire in Los Angeles.

Parishioners made a gift to the Dominican friars' retirement fund as a farewell and thank you for 94 years of service.

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