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placeholder June 26, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
Senior Living & Resources

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, presents a plaque to Reina Whitney honoring her service to the Catholic Daughters of the Americas.

Honoring the grande dame of the Catholic Daughters

Reina Whitney had never met the fifth bishop of Oakland.

Her sisters in the Catholic Daughters of the Americas were trying to change that. The women inspired by her 45 years of dedicated service to Catholic Daughters, Court of St. Raymond, based at St. Raymond Parish in Dublin — which Whitney founded — arranged for a personal introduction.

Related Story

When life throws you change, 'just join in'
They asked Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, to present Whitney with a plaque honoring her years of service. Seven of them joined her in the bishop's conference room in May for the presentation.

"I'm the one that writes to you once a year," Whitney said to the bishop. "We pray for the priests."

"Thank you," the bishop said.

Among their missions, which include support for seminarians, the Catholic Daughters pray for priests. They dedicate the month of March to praying for the priests of the Diocese of Oakland. As the founder of the court, Reina Whitney has her pick. She writes her letters to Bishop Barber and Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins.

The letter to the retired bishop is more personal, Whitney notes. She worked for him for a dozen years in the advertising department of The Catholic Voice when he was bishop of Oakland. Bishop Cummins retired in 2003.

"I've known all the bishops," she said. "I moved into St. Raymond's in 1960, before the Diocese of Oakland existed.

"We had our first bishop after I moved there. I've been there a long time."

Reina Whitney's membership in Catholic Daughters pre-dates her time at St. Raymond. She became a member as a child in San Diego — there were junior daughters then.

"When I moved up here, to Dublin, there was a court at St. Augustine in Pleasanton," she said. "I didn't want to belong to it because they were all old ladies and I was only 35 years old.

"I got to work and recruited 25 women and started the Court of St. Raymond."

Of the 25 charter members, Whitney said three remain, including Virginia Zaleski, age 106.

"It's been a great part of my life, a major part of my life," Whitney said of Catholic Daughters.

Today the Court of St. Raymond has 130 members, with 16 of them joining over the last two years.

For the fifth bishop, Whitney had a few requests: "I want you to push Catholic Daughters," she said. "Every parish should have a court, along with Knights of Columbus."

In addition to supporting local and international charitable organizations, the Catholic Daughters are steadfast in their support of priests. In addition to prayer, they provide financial support to seminarians.

The Dublin daughters were especially proud to tell the bishop that one of the seminarians they supported is Rev. Lawrence D'Anjou, who is their pastor.

Whitney's advice on longevity: Join the Catholic Daughters. Stay active.

"Stay close to people, around people, stay actively involved," Whitney said. "If you sit at home, you just dry up."

You won't find Whitney sitting at home on meeting nights of the Catholic Daughters. She has a place of honor, and is greeted by a steady stream of well-wishers.

"Catholic Daughters are like a lifeline to me," she said. "The support I get from these women, the help, not only prayerful help but physical help. I couldn't do it without them."

The honor and respect goes beyond the plaque.

"She's our queen," said Tess Chiampas of the Court of St. Raymond.

Virginia Zaleski, 106, and great-granddaughter Kalina Zaleski, 18.

When life throws you change, 'just join in'

Virginia Zaleski was facing a midlife move from her longtime home in Indiana.

After 50 years with the Federal Reserve Bank, her husband, she recalled, was told to "go lead a different life."

The Zaleskis found it in California, near — but not too near — their daughter.

"I was so worried I'd interfere with her life," she said.

While remaining close to her family — which now numbers five generations — she found friendship and renewed purpose with a new set of "daughters."

As the Zaleskis settled in at St. Raymond Parish in Dublin, she was invited to become a charter member of the Court of St. Raymond of The Catholic Daughters of the Americas.

"One of them approached me," she said. "It sounded like a good thing to meet people."

That good thing has lasted more than 40 years.

The lifelong Midwesterner said she joined because, "I needed friends."

She found friends by being a friend in her new community.

"They talked about building a senior center," she said. Her husband became active with that project.

"They needed someone to sew," she recalled. That was her calling.

Before her move, she made Barbie clothes, selling them and giving the proceeds to her local hospital.

Busy with their new friends, she said, "We hardly had time" to be in the way.

As one of the last remaining charter members, Virginia Zaleski said, "I'm not quite as active as I used to be" with Catholic Daughters.

But the sisterhood doesn't seem to mind.

They treasure the wisdom Virginia Zaleski and Reina Whitney, and other women of their generation, bring to them.

"They are a real comfort for me," said Sylvia San Miguel. "They are the stage ahead of me. They are holy women with so much experience."

Their grace in aging, and continued service, are an inspiration. "I'm not afraid," San Miguel said.

On a milestone birthday for Zaleski — almost seven years ago — Catholic Daughter Nita Volker asked Zaleski what has been her favorite invention in her lifetime.

Her reply: The iPad.

"The latest person in our family," — a 2-year-old great-granddaughter —"we see her in action at home."

With family "in all four corners of the United States," Zaleski said she used to travel more. One recalled a trip Zaleski made to Seattle to celebrate her son's 80th birthday, an accomplishment her sisters find breathtaking and hopeful.

Great-granddaughter Kalina Zaleski was visiting. The 18-year-old had just finished her first year at Cal Poly Pomona. The visit included time to hear lots of great stories.

Zaleski shared a favorite:

"We lived in Chicago," she said. "My father had a tavern on the South Side of Chicago."

"A fast-talking salesman" knew of a farmer in Michigan whose grown sons who would like to try city life.

The offer was made: Exchange the tavern for the farm.

"Off he went," Zaleski said of her father's visit to the farm, where he found "the cellar was full of potatoes," surmising "this must be real good land to grow this many potatoes."

So off to Michigan the family went.

"We had a good life on the farm," she recalled. "I drove a tractor for Dad before I drove a car."

Her mother's view differed. "My mother prayed every night so her daughters wouldn't marry a farmer," she said. "It's too hard a life."

These days, Zaleski shares her home with her daughter, navigating the changes in their lives.

Her advice to those in advanced age: "Just join in."

Virginia Zaleski looks forward to celebrating her 107th birthday this fall.

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