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Bishop Stephen Blaire, mother provincial from England guests at Christmas luncheon
Sister Veronica Hagen, left, Mother Provincial of the Daughters of the Cross religious order, of which Sister Ann Venita, right, is a member, waves as she is introduced to the other guests during Wednesdays annual Christmas luncheon. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The seniors’ Christmas luncheon at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church is always a festive occasion.

But the event on Wednesday was extra special. Eight members of the packed sit-down meal who are celebrating their birthdays in December were honored. Among the birthday celebrants was Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton, who was one of the guests of honor. While each one held a cupcake topped by a single candle, the audience led by the Jubilee Singers Band serenaded them with the “Happy Birthday” song.

Another guest of honor for the day was Sister Veronica Hagen, Mother Provincial of the Daughters of the Cross from England. Sister Ann Venita of St. Anthony’s Ministry of Caring which hosts this luncheon event every year – one of several held at various special dates during the year such as Easter and Thanksgiving – belongs to the Daughters of the Cross.

“I’ve been here before, but this is my first Christmas” in Manteca, Sister Hagen explained.

Among the scores of guests who were treated to the sit-down hot meal prepared by St. Anthony School Cafeteria staff Sue Parnham were seniors from Prestige Independent Senior Living, St. Jude Care Center (formerly Palm Haven), and Merrill Gardens in Manteca.

Sister Ann’s perennially popular senior luncheon events are open to all seniors in the area, whether or not they are parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua. The home-style hot meals are free, with volunteers that sometimes include students of St. Anthony School, serving the meals and drinks to the guests who are seated on covered long tables complete with centerpieces hand-made by Sister Ann and her volunteer crew. Two of the volunteer students on Wednesday were seventh graders Siona Vellurattil and Yvette Javier.

For the last few years, entertainment has been provided by the Jubilee Singers, a band made up of musicians who are retired, and other singing groups. Once in a while, young performers from St. Anthony’s School or other groups in the community come to entertain the guests.

Two of the three priests at St. Anthony’s – Father Camilo Garcia and Father Patrick Walker, church pastor – also attended the luncheon. Father Walker led the prayer before the meal. Father Dante Dammay was unable to attend.

Guests who attend the senior luncheon always go home with a memento, and Wednesday’s Christmas event was no exception. Among the treats they took home were holiday candies brought by Santa and his two elves from the Raley’s Store in Manteca.