Chapter 4 - Diocesan Development
The young diocese of Stockton had been taking shape with the increasing realization
that all the baptized are the Church and have an active calling within it. Ever more
effectively, the diocesan center and parish life reflected this awareness.
At the center
Diocesan offices and programs exist for two reasons. They serve as resources to the
parishes and, when appropriate, to individuals. They also handle the administrative tasks
necessary to any large organization. Meanwhile, on-going nourishment of faith and spirit
usually takes place in the parish. At both levels, what began in the past continues to evolve,
meeting new needs.
Priests provide most of the sacramental and pastoral service at the center of the
Church’s life. Some are chaplains at health, educational, and penal institutions. Developing
this body of ministers is a significant diocesan concern.
Operation Andrew asks the whole Catholic community to invite potential candidates
for priesthood to consider this vocation. Sister Wanda Billion, MSC, Director of Vocations,
draws on a Vocation Board of priests and lay persons to help with interviews and
recommendations. If accepted to prepare for priesthood, students may begin at any of several
seminaries appropriate to their previous education or age. They do their final theological
studies at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park.
Most candidates are in their twenties, but some older men make this “second-career”
choice. In this multi-cultural local Church, American-born priests need to be able to
understand enough of another language (primarily Spanish) to converse with people, and
foreign-born priests (e.g., Mexico, Colombia) need a command of English to serve in this
country, Sr. Wanda believes. “Those aspiring to priesthood must be people-oriented; we enter
into service to be for other people.” She also emphasizes, “We need people who are
psychologically healthy, able to be faithful.”
The life of a priest is demanding. Jesu Caritas is a priests’ group that affords mutual
support. Very loose in organization, it may involve small monthly gatherings for dinner. The
priests use the time to read and discuss scripture, to pray and to do a review of life, reflecting
on topics such as “Where have I seen God in my life in the past month? They discuss current
Confessors, spiritual advisors, confidantes such as seminary classmates: In different
forms, priests have access to resources for personal and professional matters.
Several religious congregations send men to minister in the diocese. Franciscan friars
of the Santa Barbara Province were responsible for pastoral ministry and education at St.
Mary’s, for decades. Numerous Vincentians, Jesuits, Carmelites, Salesians and Oblates of
Mary Immaculate have been pastors, and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales now serve in St.
Mary’s High School.
Diaconate = service
The permanent diaconate brought a new group of ministers into service in the young
diocese. After the Church restored this plan of the Apostles (Acts 6), Stockton began to
prepare candidates in 1978. By 1981, the first group was ready for ordination. Their special
focus would be preaching and sacramental ministry (Baptism and Marriage). The word
deacon comes from a Greek word meaning “servant,” and the diocese’s thirty-six deacons
serve in many areas: chaplaincy, Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults, ecumenical dialogue,
justice work, etc.
As unmarried men over 35, married men or widowers, often employed in secular jobs,
deacons share experiences with lay Catholics, Yet they are members of the clergy.
Parishioners frequently seek out deacons as spiritual bridges between lay life and religious
ministry, says Sister Emilie Schenone, OP, director of formation for the permanent diaconate.
Many wives of deacons are involved in ministry either with their husbands or in their
own areas of service.
School of Ministry
Training lay Catholics for parish ministries was Bishop Donald Montrose’s goal when
he asked Sister Diane Smith, CSJ, to develop the School of Ministry in 1991. As director, Sr.
Diane pursued accreditation by United States Catholic Conference Commission on
Certification and Accreditation. “I knew it would be demanding,” she says. “But I wanted a
professional program and a credible program. Now anyone who is a graduate of our School
of Ministry can relocate to another parish and be fully credentialed to participate as a
The Basic Core Course is the first stage of catechist-training and a pre-
requisite for the diaconate program. The Advanced Core Course offers two further
years of programs and provides the beginning of diaconate formation.
Courses include Adult Catechesis, Catechetical Coordinator, Elementary and
Junior High Catechesis, Detention Ministry, Liturgy, Marriage Preparation, Pre-
Baptismal Preparation, Marriage Tribunal Aide, Ministry to the Grieving, Ministry to
the Sick, Youth Ministry and Rite for Christian Initiation for Adults. Advanced
courses include training as a Master Catechist or Spiritual Director and the Scripture
Courses are taught in both English and Spanish.
The School’s primary purpose is to develop a living, conscious and active
faith. Its secondary goal is to provide training for specific ministries.
Jesus’ call to be the young Church of today is the message that youth ministers
try to help young people hear. The Youth Ministry Office provides special training for
the adults who carry out this work in parishes. The Office also offers annual events
for Catholic youth, giving special attention to leadership, human sexuality, and other
A reconciling gesture
The diocesan tribunal is a church court operating on the basis of canon law.
Stockton’s tribunal began to serve a new pastoral function when, in the winter of
1977-78, Pope Paul VI lifted the penalty of automatic excommunication for Roman
Catholics who remarry after divorce. Father William Logar, a tribunal officer, called
the Pope’s action “a reconciling gesture.”
Traditionally, the Church has annulled marriages on three grounds: intention
of a partner to be unfaithful, to not have children, or to not continue the marriage for a
lifetime. The Church also considered psychological grounds: the inability to have
made a successful marriage due to a mental illness or immaturity.
“The Pope’s decision encourages remarried Catholics to seek investigation of
the validity of their previous marriage, if it is in question,” said Father Harmon
Skillin, diocesan canon lawyer. He emphasized that a valid marriage, once entered
into, is a permanent, indissoluble bond.
“Any person” he said, “can petition the Tribunal for a review. The end result
of the process may be a ruling that the initial marriage was not actually a real bond of
love and life freely undertaken, legally contracted and maturely made,” he added. “In
this event, the ‘new’ marriage can then be validated.”
The Tribunal considers cases relative to marriage, ordination, rights cases,
property issues. “We take all cases,” says Father John Foster, Judicial Vicar,
“regardless of ability to pay. Even those who do pay, only pay about 40 percent of
what it costs to process an annulment case, for example.”
Convocation sets goals
Spiritual renewal was the number one goal expressed by the diocesan
convocation that Bishop Roger Mahony convened in 1981. The event was the first of
its kind in the diocese. It resulted in a mission statement and ten major goals.
Madonna of Peace Renewal Center
To nurture spiritual renewal, the diocese established the Madonna of Peace
Renewal Center in the foothills of the Sierra, near the historic village of Copperopolis.
The isolated, peaceful setting is conducive to prayer, contemplation and
reflection. While both young and old in the diocese use its facilities, it has never been
Spiritual renewal has continued to be important in diocesan programming. In
1991 RENEW was launched in response to the call of Pope John Paul II for a
“spiritual renewal of the whole people of God.” This process of spiritual formation
helps parishioners develop a closer relationship with Jesus and open their lives to the
power of the Holy Spirit.
Dottie Burdue, then associate director for the program, listed its “three basic
themes: teaching and witnessing to the word of God, developing vibrant faith
communities and establishing connections between spirituality and justice in
parishioners’ hearts and minds.”
Bishop Donald Montrose was enthusiastic about RENEW as “a means of
promoting the unity of all parish groups through prayer and the study of scripture.”
The Catholic Lantern
Another recommendation of the 1981 convocation dealt with communications.
A Communications Commission, under Monsignor Richard Ryan’s leadership,
proposed the publication of a monthly newspaper, the Catholic Lantern. Yvonne
Goodman was its first editor, followed by Charles Goodman and then Patrick Joyce.
Before 1981, the San Francisco diocesan paper, the Monitor, was still serving
Stockton. The Lantern provided fuller coverage of local matters. The Lantern’s final
issue in its current format appeared in June 2001. It will be replaced by a magazine-
style diocesan yearbook and diocesan website, www.stocktondiocese.org.
First woman chancellor
“A break-through for Roman Catholic women” was how Bishop Mahony
described the appointment of Sister Lorraine Pagendarm, OP, as Chancellor of the
diocese in 1985.
“My experiences in personnel, teaching, spiritual direction and counseling
have all come to fruition…in this new position. It has been a very exciting time,” she
told the Catholic Lantern in October 1985.
The chancellor’s major role is to assist the bishop with the day-to-day agenda.
As chancellor Sr. Lorraine sat on the diocese’s administrative council and oversaw
diocesan projects. She was the third woman religious in the United States to be named
a chancellor, a post previously held only by priests. She continued to look forward:
“The future is going to show us things that might be impossible in our thoughts now.”
Small Farm Viability Project
Not all diocesan programs are internal. One extended literally into the fields.
Soon after arriving in Stockton, Bishop Montrose sought to understand the
diocese’s support of family-run farms. He toured an onion farm and spoke with the
workers. He visited the Small Farm Viability Project in French Camp, which provided
small-scale farmers with a marketing system and a demonstration farm to illustrate
alternative farming techniques. Its purpose was to help small farmers remain
competitive by switching to popular specialty and organic crops.
The bishop was very supportive and noted to reporters that the project was co-
sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Stockton and Catholic Charities.
The Catholic community reaches out in so many ways to the community at
large that Bishop Stephen Blaire organized the Office for Social Ministry in 2001. It
opened under the leadership of G. Richard Fowler, who had long experience with the
U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington, D.C. Several programs gathered under this
umbrella or related to it will be treated in later chapters of this book, such as the
Hispanic Apostolate, Migrant Ministry, Prison Ministry, Respect Life, Catholic
Charities, and Special Education. Others are the time-honored Propagation of the
Faith, Catholic Relief Services, and Campaign for Human Development.
The fragility of the human spirit
Just as grace builds up the Body of Christ, so human weakness and sinfulness
wound it. Several recent situations have wounded the whole diocese and taught sad
One involved Father William Ryan, then pastor of the Cathedral of the
Annunciation. The parish finance council suspected that Fr. Ryan was mismanaging
cathedral funds. In May 1997, he pled “no contest” to two felony counts of grand theft
and tax evasion. The court sentenced Fr. Ryan to five years’ probation and 2000 hours
of community service. He was ordered to pay restitution of $80,438. Bishop Montrose
suspended him from priestly duties.
The community’s healing has been a long process.
In May 1998, the diocese was dealt another blow when a Stanislaus County
jury held church leaders responsible for slanderous statements directed at Father
Patrick Flood. He was awarded punitive damages. After his dismissal from the
diocese, Fr. Flood founded his own church in Turlock.
In June 1998, Father Oliver O’Grady appeared in a crowded Stockton
courtroom. He was serving a fourteen-year sentence for child molestation. His victims
were now suing the diocese.
In July 1998 James and John Howard won a $29.25 million judgment against
the diocese, later reduced to $11.25 million. The diocese eventually reached a
settlement agreement for $7.2 million. Fr. O’Grady, who had sought lay status at his
own request, was released from prison in 2000 and returned to his native Ireland,
where he is to receive ongoing professional attention.
But the wounds remain, in those who were directly victimized and in the
community. Father Bill Kraft succeeded O’Grady as pastor of St. Andrews in San
Andreas. He recounted,
The truth will set us free. That was our theme. The parish had been through a
cycle of betrayal, dishonesty, and deception. Our responsibility was to pray for
truth and justice. We prayed together each week. We were open and honest
with one another. I always gave truthful answers.... We used scripture. For
example, “What is in the dark is going to come into the light.” We would talk
for hours; listen to music, pray. Over time, they didn’t need this anymore.
I refused to blame the diocese. They did what they could with what
they knew. The church was absolutely packed right after the news broke. I did
not let the cameras in. That Sunday the gospel said something about a storm. I
said “Now we are in the middle of a storm. We need to ride it out.” The people
said OK. It was a period of grace for me.
Grace has been at work in the diocesan community too, which has shared so
much suffering. Hurt, saddened and angered by the same realities, “We’ve come out
more compassionate to Church leaders,” says Sister Emilie Schenone, OP.
“The diocese’s troubles,” says Father Robert Silva, former cathedral pastor,
“show the fragility of the human spirit, and that no one is free from error. On the other
hand, it has strengthened us to come together.”
The community’s strength was tested again in February 2002, with the
announcement that Father Oskar Pelaez and a former youth worker, Mr. Jose Luis
Perez, had been involved in the past in sexual behavior with minors. Bishop Blaire
immediately removed the priest from his assignment, met with the victims and their
families, assisted them in obtaining professional support, and cooperated with law-
enforcement authorities. These actions and open communication with the Catholic
community and with the media put into practice the American bishops’ emphasis on
pastoral concern for victims, along with the protection of “our most precious youth”
(letter to the Catholic people in the Diocese of Stockton, February 24, 2002).
In the parishes
Parishes are continually responding to cultural and social changes. One
visible development has been increased lay involvement in parish ministry, staff, and
leadership. Demographic growth has meant larger and larger parishes and the need
for administrative services provided by lay professionals. Spiritual movements
nourishing faith and leadership have enriched parish life.
Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults
Convert instruction had typically been given individually or in small groups
before the Rite for Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) developed in the liturgical
renewal following the Second Vatican Council. RCIA gave the process a communal
context. Catechumens (seeking Baptism) and converts (already baptized) progress
through stages of instruction and incorporation involving sponsors and the whole
parish. The journey culminates with Baptism or reception into the Church at the
Easter Vigil liturgy.
The new method was accepted gradually, testifies Father Patrick Walker. “I
had to go slowly.” He adds that “RCIA can change the way we live as church.” Both
candidates and sponsors will be better prepared for today’s Church.
Cursillo came from Spain by way of Texas, introduced in California by
Deacon Julian Sepulveda. Father Ralph Duggan of St. Gertrude Parish brought this
“short course” in the faith to Stockton in February 1961, shortly before the diocese
came into being. Father Alan McCoy of St. Mary of the Assumption put it into
Cultural and religious changes were affecting spiritual life in the Sixties. The
time was ripe for deeper understanding and renewed commitment. Hispanic Catholics
were the first to embrace Cursillo. About 1000 had participated by 1962. Stockton
was the first Cursillo center in California.
Clergy and laity alike began taking this three-day program, which captured the
imagination of scores of Catholics. All they wanted was “a reminder of, a refresher
course in, their faith,” wrote Stockton Record columnist Jack McFarland.
Fr. McCoy directed the first-ever English-speaking Cursillo in March 1962.
Thirty-five women, including eleven Dominican and Maryknoll sisters, six women
from San Francisco and three from Sacramento, participated.
In August 1964 the Cursillo Team from Stockton, consisting of Bob Powers,
Ed and Madeleine Reitner, Joe and Callie Artesi and Joe and Rosalie Cecchini,
conducted the Cursillo in Ireland. Cursillo from Stockton also brought the practice to
Japan, the Philippines, Washington State and Oregon.
Cursillo’s purpose and fruit is to help adult Catholic leaders deepen their faith
so as to live charity in daily life, in the domestic church of the home and in the parish.
In small-group reunions such as Ultreya, Cursillistos help each other grow toward
eternal life. Father Armando Vergara, the diocesan Cursillo’s spiritual director,
emphasizes that it is “not an organization, but a movement.” Cursillo asks participants
to commit themselves to the Church through their parishes, he says.
One avenue of spirituality has been the charismatic movement, traceable to the
Church’s experience on the first Pentecost. In the 1970s and 1980s, charismatic prayer
began to spread among Catholics. Two F.I.R.E. Rallies (Faith, Intercession,
Repentance, Evangelization) sparked interest in the diocese.
“It is a way of life,” says the Reverend Mr. Bill Brennan, “a style of
spirituality which allows a person to experience the release of the power of the Holy
Spirit in his or her life. It is a power that changes hearts and minds, perspectives, and
even lives, sometimes in very dramatic ways.” Deacon Brennan is the bishop’s liaison
with the movement, which sponsors Life in the Spirit and Growth in the Spirit
seminars, conferences and speakers. Seven Northern California groups hold an annual
Participants are often inspired to minister in their parishes. The diocese counts
seventeen identifiable charismatic prayer groups. Presentation Parish is the nucleus
out of which all groups in the city of Stockton have grown.
[Designer: please save space for 75 more words here: Hispanic Charismatic
movement – Father Jose Ruiz.]
Beginning as an experiment, the Saturday evening Mass took into account the
changing patterns of people’s lives. The idea was not really new. In accord with ancient
tradition, Sunday begins at sundown the previous evening, observed liturgically at 4 p.m.
Said Father Harmon Skillin, “The response has been quite good. It seems to fill a need.”
A weeping statue of the Madonna?
No diocesan history is complete without stories of unusual phenomena which
can attract the curious and the devout. Consider the case of the “Weeping Madonna.”
The little chapel of Mater Ecclesiae in the peaceful northwest corner of San
Joaquin County had been built as a mission of St. Anne’s in Lodi in 1967 to serve
cannery and field workers. Things were not so peaceful after March 1981, when
rumors spread of a “weeping statue of the Madonna.” Thousands of the faithful and
the curious came to this small agricultural community hoping for a miracle. For nearly
a year a special diocesan commission investigated claims that the statue wept and
The result reported by Bishop Roger Mahony was that there was “no report of
any significant message from the icon. That absence makes it harder to accept as a
Devotées at Mater Ecclesiae wept at the news. Many shouted in protest.
Manuel Pitta, a Thornton resident since 1949, had reported incidents of tears and
movement by the statue. He was outraged at the findings. “God will take care of him,”
cried one woman, referring to the bishop.
But the commission stood by its decision. Everything professed to be
miraculous could be explained by natural causes. No one actually saw the statue move
by itself or shed tears, which proved to be “oily and sticky.”
Years later, Father Thomas Hayes, then pastor of St. Anne’s, said the incident
had “led to division.” He was speaking of people eager to believe in or imagine
something miraculous. “They built a separate chapel down the road.”
Four decades of diocesan development at the center and in the parishes…four
decades of inspiration and suffering…the growth spurts and growing pains of a
community finding its way to corporate maturity.