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Marist priests leave Santa Cruz

July 28, 2004

Marist priests leave Santa Cruz
Sentinel correspondent

SANTA CRUZ - Church bells rang the final time for Marist priests at Star of the Sea Church in Santa Cruz on Sunday, saying goodbye to the order that has run this church for the past decade.

"It’s very difficult and sad to leave after 10 years," Marist Provincial Rev. Dennis Steik said.

Star of the Sea will now operate under the direction of Bishop Sylvester Ryan and be funded in full by the Diocese of Monterey, a district that stretches from Pismo Beach to Davenport and includes more than 50 churches.

Parishioners at Star of the Sea on Sunday responded tearfully to the popular Marists’ farewell and welcomed diocesan priest the Rev. Alberto Cabrera.

Star of the Sea has stood out in the Santa Cruz Catholic community for its commitment to integrating the Latino and Anglo communities, offering free Spanish and English classes, bilingual masses and a program named COPA involving small group discussions about social and spiritual matters.

Maria Nunez often drives from her Salinas home to Santa Cruz so her family can attend Mass.

"I feel happy and comfortable here. Not so many Masses are bilingual, and here there are a lot," Nunez said. "We know the fathers here and like them a lot. They don’t get angry, and they are a little funny."

The Marist order is an organization of religious and lay people within the Catholic church, whose members are devoted to education and missionary work and the glorification of the Virgin Mary.

The number of Marist priests has declined in the past 30 years, and they struggle to find priests to tend to their parishes, schools and communities.

It is a story that plays out in many Catholic communities. While church records estimate the Catholic Church worldwide has grown 30 percent in the past 30 years, the population of priests has declined 10 percent.

"As we continue to try and staff parishes and communities with fewer priests, we are having to look at different ways to provide sacramental ministries," said Tod Tamberg, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

The Rev. Steik, a founding member of the Marist community at Star of the Sea, believes the church must look to new possibilities and possible restructuring of church order to recruit people to religious life and the priesthood.

"We need to be open to more of the questions of young people in the world today, discussing AIDS, the role of women in the church and gay and lesbian ministries," Steik said.

Despite the changes, many parishioners said the community of the church will stay the same.

"I’ve been at this church almost 30 years now. I’ve seen 22 priests come and go. I’m glad to see them come, tearful to say goodbye. But it’s still the same church," parishioner Ann Kreyche said.

Contact Laura Norton at

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