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Church turns to wine, olive oil, coffee, honey
Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioner Victor M. Verduzco points to a cutout of a tree inside the church. For each donation made to the church building fund, donors will have their names etched on a metal leaf. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

LATHROP – Coffee from Colombia. Extra virgin olive oil from Sciabica. Wine from a winery in Tracy. And honey from the local area.

They are all for the taking to anyone who makes a contribution to the building fund of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on Cambridge Drive in Lathrop.

The fresh-ground coffee, honey, and olive oil are each available for $10 apiece, but buyers could tack on a few extra dollars to donate to the cause if they so desire. The red wine from the Ramon Rios Winery in Tracy is not for sale but a bottle is given as a token of appreciation to anyone who makes a donation of $10 or more.

The wine and the extra-virgin olive oil were donated to the church.

This is just the latest in the parish’s ongoing effort to raise close to $2 million to build a church next to the multi-purpose building that parishioners are currently using for Sunday masses. That figure is just an estimate at this time.

So far, about $200,000 has been raised through a wide variety of fund-raising events that include the annual crab feed held at the MRPS Hall in Manteca.

The story of how olive oil was included in this latest fund-raiser goes back several months ago when Father Francisco Naranjo, the pastor of the youngest parish in the Diocese of Stockton and a native of Colombia, came up with the idea. His parishioners have told him about the extra virgin olive oil from Sciabica (pronounced Sha-bee-ka) & Sons in Modesto and how good it is.

After listening to the testaments of some of his parishioners, “I agreed to buy big quantities” of the olive oil, the pastor recalled.

He made the initial phone call and talked to someone at the Modesto company. But Naranjo said he didn’t get any follow-up call after that.

At a retreat for priests in the diocese, it occurred to Naranjo that “maybe one of the priests” knew someone at Sciabica & Sons that he could talk to about his business proposal. After talking to some of the priests, one finally told the pastor, “I know Dan Sciabica. He’s a very good friend of mine.”

“Next, Mr. Sciabica called me and said, ‘I’ll give you 20 boxes,’” the pastor happily recalled.

Each box came with 12 bottles inside, for a total of 240 bottles.

According to the official web site of Sciabica & Sons, the Sciabica family has been pressing olive oil in California since 1936 using the same techniques that Nicola Sciabica learned in Sicily as a young man. The family-owned business was one of the destinations included in the Manteca Ag Tour held a few years ago. The Sciabica tasting room at 2150 Yosemite Avenue in Modesto is also open for visitors to sample the family-owned company’s many varieties of award-wining extra virgin olive oil made and grown in Modesto.

The Sciabica olive oil, Colombian coffee, honey and wine are available at the church office during regular business hours – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. They are also available after every Mass on the weekend.

Inside the church is another fund-raising venue. On the wall between the altar and a life-size picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a one-dimensional metal reproduction of a tree. For each donation made, a metal leaf with the donor’s name etched on it will be placed on the tree.

“We’re hoping to fill up the tree with leaves,” said Fr. Naranjo who served at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca several years ago.

He added, “Hopefully, we’ll be able to build the church for less than $2 million.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe started out as a mission church

Long before there was a Catholic church in Lathrop, the faithful who lived here attended Masses and other programs either at St. Anthony’s in Manteca or St. George’s Church in Stockton. In 1991, St. George Parish sponsored a mission church in Lathrop to serve the growing Catholic population in the newly incorporated city.

Tapped to shepherd this mission church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lathrop was Sister Gladys Guenther, SHF, who served as administrator from 1994 to 2003.  During the early years, meetings and other gatherings were held in a house not far from the church where Sister Gladys also lived. She started church programs such as religious education, scripture studies and preparations for the sacraments such as baptism and confirmation with the help of the late Deacon Art Sanchez. She also started an after-school tutorial program for students through Give Every Child a Chance, which continues to this day.

In addition to her pastoral work, Guenther oversaw the construction of the multi-purpose building which is currently being used as a church for worship services.

Prior to the completion of the building, Masses were held at the Union Hall on West Louise Avenue with different priests from the diocese presiding.

In 2002, Bishop Stephen Blaire dedicated Our Lady of Guadalupe as a parish in a ceremony attended by hundreds of parishioners. The naming of the mission church and parish in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe who is Patroness of the Americas was in recognition of the Spanish-speaking community as the largest segment of the population in Lathrop.

After Sister Gladys left Lathrop in 2003 to serve her religious community, the Sisters of the Holy Family in Fremont where the nuns’ motherhouse is located, Father Dean McFalls was appointed by the diocese to become the new parish’s first pastor.

Father Naranjo took over the reins of the parish four years ago. Father Dean, or Padre Daniel as his former parishioners fondly called him, is now the pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Stockton.

Our Lady of Guadalupe currently has a membership of more than 1,500 families.

The church is located on Cambridge Drive just a block north of West Louise Avenue.