In a letter read to parishioners at weekend Mass on December 6, the leadership of the Dominican community acknowledged it could no longer provide the staffing levels that the Riverside parish requires.
“The Dominicans have no desire to leave you,” the letter reads. “We must humbly admit we are no longer in the position to offer you the consistent pastoral ministry that you need and desire in the future.”
The order will exit the parish at the end of June, according to the letter.
The Dominican Friars first came to St. Andrew’s in 1971, when it served the University of California, Riverside and Riverside City College as a Newman Center, only. In 1988 Bishop Phillip Straling designated it as a personal parish, allowing those not affiliated with the colleges to belong, also. The Dominican Friars led the fundraising campaign to build the current church at St. Andrew’s, which opened the following year.
Dominican priests who have served as pastor of the parish are Father Nathan Castle (1993-96, 2016-present), Father Michael Amabisco (2014-16), Father Raymond Finerty (2010-14), Father George Matanic (2005-10), Father David Gelb (1997-2005), Father David Farrugia (1996-97) and Father Jude Eli (1988-93).
In addition to their longtime presence at St. Andrew’s, the Dominican Friars were also key players in the early days of the diocesan seminarian program, recalls Monsignor Gerard Lopez, S.T.L., Vicar General of the Diocese.
“They were very instrumental in helping us start Serra House [of Formation],” said Msgr. Lopez, himself a seminarian when the program started in 1986. Fr. Eli and Father Mike Sweeney taught at the seminary and helped connect seminarians to the philosophy and religious studies programs at UC Riverside.
“They were good preachers and good role models for us,” Msgr. Lopez added. “We’re grateful for their work.”
The possibility of leaving the Diocese surfaced when the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus held its 2014 Assembly. They looked at the diminishing number of active priests in the order and came to the realization that they could no longer fulfill staffing needs in all of the parishes where they ministered. According to the Dec. 6 letter, the Order has only 41 available priests for 45 ministry assignments throughout the Western United States.
The priest leadership of the parish that will begin July 1 has not yet been announced by the Diocese.