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St. Patricks pastor Carota departs after 10 years
Father Peter Carota, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Ripon, gets ready for the Tridentine Latin funeral Mass to begin. The Latin funeral rite, held this summer, was the first for the church and the pastor. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

RIPON — After a decade of shepherding the faithful at St. Patrick’s Parish in Ripon, Father Peter Carota is moving on to the next chapter of his spiritual service to the Lord.

That next chapter is a yearlong sabbatical. His last official day as pastor of the parish is Tuesday, Nov. 13.

Parishioners are holding an official send-off, a “Farewell Gathering Potluck,” for their pastor on Sunday, Nov. 11, at 5 p.m. in the Parish Hall.

Father Carota’s departure is being called a sabbatical, which is a term used when, according to church cannon law, a priest wants to make a change in his ministry such as transferring to another diocese, start a religious order, or join another religious order.

In his case, Father Carota is planning to pursue a dream that he has nurtured for a long time.

“I want to start a Catholic Church television station that has the Latin Mass every day. That’s my dream,” he said.

Like the early pioneers who came west in search of their dream – “we don’t know where we’re going but we’re on our way,” was their common refrain – Father Carota is on his way to fulfill his dream although, he admits, “I don’t know how that’s going to happen.”

But that’s exactly what he intends to do during his year-long sabbatical, to learn how he can put that into effect. He will be traveling to visit monasteries that offer the Latin Mass as the focal point of their spiritual life. Among the monasteries he plans to visit is the Clear Creek Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and another monastery in Wyoming.

He also plans to attend the “big international conference and celebration of Summorum Pontificum” (Of the Supreme Pontiffs) being held from Oct. 26 to Nov. 5 in Rome where the highlight will be the Traditional Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

No new pastor has been named to replace Father Carota

Sister Terry Davis, the Diocese of Stockton’s Director of Communications, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that no one has been selected to be the next pastor of the parish. While St. Patrick’s Church is located in Ripon on the corner of East Highway 120 and Carrolton Road, the parish serves three communities – Escalon, Farmington, and Ripon. The parish does not have an associate pastor like St. Anthony of Padua in Manteca and other Catholic churches in the diocese.

“I really don’t believe a decision has been made about that yet,” Sister Davis said of Father Carota’s successor.

“I think that he’ll be replaced as pastor,” she said, which means Father Carota will not be returning to St. Patrick’s as pastor after his sabbatical.

Until a replacement pastor is decided and assigned to the Ripon church, Sister Davis said “there will be other priests to fill in” to offer the Masses on weekends. St. Patrick’s has six Masses schedules on Saturday and Sunday – two anticipated Masses on Saturday (5 p.m. in English and 7 p.m. in Spanish), and four on Sunday (6:30 a.m. Latin Mass, 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. in English, and 11:30 a.m. in Spanish. For now, daily Masses are offered at 8 a.m. from Monday to Thursday.

For the last five years, though, the Latin Mass has been a central part of his spiritual ministry at St. Patrick’s, devoting his heart and soul to it. The church is one of just a few parishes in the diocese which regularly offers the Mass in Latin.

Pope Benedict XVI gave his blessing for churches around the world to offer the Latin Mass “if they could find a priest that knew how to do it,” Father Carota explained.

Two years ago, he wanted to start an order of priests who would “go around and tell everybody all the beauty and all the sacredness of the Tridentine Mass which I just discovered five years ago,” he said. “So that’s why I asked for a sabbatical year to do this.”

Although the Latin Mass at St. Patrick’s starts at 6:30 a.m., the service has had a good following with each Sunday service averaging 70 members of the faithful, ranging from families with children as young as babies, to retirees. Considering the time when the mass is held, the “70 people is a very stable group of people,” Father Carota said.

“I hope and pray that there will be a holy priest here that will continue preaching the gospel, and that will continue having the Latin Mass here, and that someday there will be a beautiful church back there,” he said, referring to the 22 acres that the church purchased a few years ago and where a chapel has been built. A new rectory is also now part of that property.

“Hopefully, that will continue on after I’m gone,” he said of the Latin Mass being offered for the faithful parishioners.

15 years as priest, 10 years as pastor of St. Patrick’s

Ordained on May 24, 1997, Father Carota has served as assistant pastor, first at St. George’s in Stockton, followed by St. June in Ceres, and Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto. St. Patrick’s in Ripon was his first assignment as pastor. He took over his pastoral post on Oct. 3, 2002 succeeding Father Mark Wagner who was recently named pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Modesto after Father Joseph Illo left this summer for a new ministry as chaplain of a Catholic college in Southern California.

Those 10 years at St. Patrick’s for Father Carota has been a busy and fulfilling one. During that 10-year period, he has:

• turned the parish’s $240,000 in the bank to around $1,400,000 today.

• he remodeled the Parish Hall and replaced all the roofs, which were his first projects as pastor.

• since Caltrans was going to widen Highway 120 which is pretty close to the church building, he led the parish to prepare for that by purchasing 22 acres behind St. John Cemetery along Carrolton Road for $1 million, which was paid in cash.

• the parish obtained a use permit from San Joaquin County “with great difficulty” to build a  new chapel, a new church, a multipurpose room, and a school on the property.

• a new chapel was built on the 22-acre property for $600,000.

In a personal letter he wrote to his parishioners recently, Father Carota stated: “Here at St. Patrick’s, we do not charge for anything. Catechism is on a donation basis. We have a suggested donation for weddings and (quinceaneras). No one is expected to have to pay for anything here. And look how God has blessed us over these 10 years, thanks to God and to all of you who have made it possible and have supported me.”

He added, “I have grown in these ten years. Hopefully you have too. Five years ago, the Pope encouraged saying of the Latin Mass again. Since saying it these last five years, I have truly understood my priesthood in a totally deeper way as being sacrificial. Above all, I love the reverence and sacredness of this mass. Jesus is God and truly present in Holy Communion. Therefore we should kneel and receive Him with all reverence that God deserves. This mass is only concerned with adoring God…. Please pray for me, and thank you for all you have done for me. Thank you to all who have taken seriously your spiritual growth as Catholics. With your help, the parish has a great future with the 22 acres.”

That advice comes from a late-vocation priest who, before he entered the seminary, was a successful real estate broker in Aptos, California. But he gave up all that to start a soup kitchen in Santa Cruz called St Patrick’s Catholic Kitchen which is still serving the poor today after nearly three decades. From that work with the poor, who often mistook him for a priest, was born a vocation to become a priest which was actually a childhood dream, starting when he “played” priest offering the sacrifice of the mass.

The church’s 22-acre property is currently leased to a local farmer who planted an almond orchard. The $10,000 annual lease pays the land’s property tax every year.