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placeholder January 8, 2018   •   VOL. 56, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Dominicans to leave Most Holy Rosary Parish

Dominican friars came to Antioch in 1864.
After 154 years of faithful service, they will leave at the end of June.

The Oakland-based Western Dominican Province announced Dec. 4 it had made the "painful decision" to withdraw from Most Holy Rosary Church, which serves a thriving parish, including an elementary school of 3,000 families.

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, has pledged his support "to make this as smooth a transition as possible."

Very Rev. Mark Padrez, OP

The Dominican province said in the letter it began discerning in 2014 the need to the build up its communities. It needed to balance being faithful to their common life and ensuring their ministries were well-staffed.

"We also saw the reality that we are an aging province and simply do not have enough friars to properly staff our ministries," the letter said,

The letter-writers are encouraged by 24 students and novices in formation, but noted that it takes six to eight years to prepare a student for ordination and pastoral ministry.

During his time as provincial, Very Rev. Mark Padrez, OP, said, there have been 21 funerals and "not even close to that many ordinations."

Most Holy Rosary is the only parish from which the Dominicans are withdrawing this year. It is their last parish in the Diocese of Oakland. Last year, the Dominicans withdrew from St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley, which they had served since 1923, and from ministries at the University of California's San Diego and Riverside campuses.

"We've been there for 143 years," said Father Padrez. "This was not an easy decision."

But it was a decision rooted in the Dominican charism, Father Padrez said.

"We need to be careful and remember who we are," he said. "We are called to community life, study and prayer."

That community life is thriving in some of the places the Western Dominicans serve: There are 11 members of the Dominican community, not including novices, at St. Dominic Parish in San Francisco; seven in Seattle and Los Angeles; and six at St. Dominic Parish in Benicia.

The Dominican community at St. Raymond Parish in Menlo Park is a hub house, with one serving the parish, others at the Catholic Community of Stanford, Vallombrosa retreat center, in chaplaincy to nuns, and at St. Patrick's Seminary.

There are three Dominicans serving in Antioch.

"Antioch has been a real blessing for us," Father Padrez said, describing the parishioners over the years as "Very supportive, very loving."

"What we were sent to do in Antioch, we fulfilled," he said, noting they had built two parish churches and an elementary school, and through their ministry, "brought them closer to the Lord."

"I hope they have been blessed as we have been blessed," he said.

Brenda Steffen would count herself among the blessed. She and her husband Wayne have been parishioners for the past 25 years. She said she will miss the preaching of the Dominican friars.

"If it weren't for some of those homilies, I wouldn't be where I am in my spiritual life," she said. The Steffens' learned of the Dominicans' departure in an email she and her husband received while they were on vacation.

The news felt "like a hit in the stomach," Wayne Steffen said.

"The only person who welcomes change is a wet baby," he said, adding that in the days that followed, additional information about the Dominicans' lack of personnel required to maintain all their ministries helped.

But he still has questions about why leave a 154-year-old parish.

He said he had heard from a 99-year-old fellow parishioner, who has been a lifetime member of the parish. She told him, he said, "I don't know anything different."

Robert and Lynn Velazquez have also spent a quarter-century in the parish, which has become family. "They're our children's godparents," Lynn Velazquez said. "We're godparents to many children."

They prepare couples for marriage, and have the pleasure of serving young people who were their children's classmates at Most Holy Rosary School.

The parishioners make up the parish, the couple said. "We're expecting that not to change," Robert Velazquez said.

"We had been a Dominican parish," he said. "People wore that on their chests as a proud fact. That will be missed. It was something that differentiated us at Holy Rosary," he said.

Holy Rosary, Lynn Velazquez said, "is the people sitting to the left, and right and in front of you."

"The biggest thing about our parish is our community," she said, "our family."

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