RIPON — Father Alexandre Pacheco was the pastor at St. Jude Catholic Church in Ceres when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Today, 10 years later, “the cancer has disappeared,” he said.
“I believe in miracles,” smiled the former assistant vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Manteca.
But while he was pastor of the church in Linden, he faced another health challenge. He had to undergo a total knee replacement. He could hardly walk. Mobility was possible only with the aid of a cane. That’s when he decided he has come to “the end of my journey,” as he put it.
“So I told (Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton) to prepare myself and spend time with my family and friends at the end of my journey. I had been giving my life (to the service of the Lord) since 1952 when I joined the seminary.”
Two years ago, the bishop approved his retirement.
But miracles never cease for the native of Goa. In November, he came out of retirement at the request of Bishop Blaire and asked him to become interim administrator at St. Patrick Church after Father Peter Carota, who had been the church pastor for 10 years, left for a year-long sabbatical.
“I feel so good, that’s why Bishop Blaire asked me to take care of this parish,” said the 72-year-old Father Pacheco who is now able to move about without a cane.
Administrator with priestly duties
Father Pacheco’s job as interim parish administrator includes taking care of the spiritual needs of the faithful. That means offering the Mass on Sundays and during the week, presiding over at baptisms, and hearing confessions. Unlike other churches in the diocese that have more than one priest plus one or more deacons, like St. Anthony of Padua in Manteca, St. Patrick has had only one priest performing the dual role of administrator and pastor of the parish which serves not only Ripon but neighboring Escalon and Farmington as well.
“Nothing has changed here at St. Patrick. Everything’s the same,” said Father Pacheco about the schedule of services that the church offers. “The only change is the Latin Mass on weekdays. The Sunday Latin Mass at 6:30 in the morning continues depending on the availability of priest.”
Father Carota started the Tridentine Latin Mass at St. Patrick five years ago and offered the services not only on Sundays but a few other times during the week as well. In those five years, the pre-Vatican II form of the Mass at this parish has attracted a regular and faithful following of 70 to 100 people, from families with young children to retirees, to the early Sunday service. Even with the departure of Father Carota, whose sabbatical mission is to try and found a religious order devoted to the daily offering of the Latin Mass, the attendance at the Sunday Latin Mass has remained the same - if not more so. Filling in as presider in the Sundays after Father Carota left was Father Mark Wagner who was recently named pastor of St. Joseph’s Church on Oakdale Road in Modesto. He was also the pastor at St. Patrick until he was assigned to a new post in Turlock and was then succeeded by Father Carota.
Weekday Masses in English are offered Tuesday to Friday at noon; there is no Mass on Monday. Baptisms on Saturday are held at 9:30 a.m., and the anticipated Sunday service is held at 5 p.m. Sunday Masses in English are held at 8 and 10 a.m.
One of the first tasks Father Pacheco had to do at St. Patrick did not endear him to many parishioners. He had the Blessed Sacrament removed from the chapel, the new building that was the first to be built on the 22-acre spread whose $1 million purchase was shepherded by Father Carota. The fund-raising for a new church at the site continues with about $1.4 million already in the bank. The property, located behind the existing church along Carrolton Road, was purchased in anticipation of Caltrans’ widening of East Highway 120. That project will put the highway too close to the church, creating safety and parking issues.
Father Pacheco said he had the Blessed Sacrament removed, and the chapel temporarily closed, for security reasons.
Other changes forthcoming
Jan. to March at St. Patrick
Other temporary changes are expected to take place after the New Year at St. Patrick from January to March. That’s when Father Pacheco will be flying to his native Goa for a two-month time off that he had scheduled prior to being appointed by the bishop to the interim position at St. Patrick. In Goa, he plans to “have a celebration with family and friends,” many of whom he has not seen in years.
Father Pacheco was born in Goa, a country in the Indian continent and a former territory of Portugal; hence, the priest’s Portuguese surname. Among the prominent names associated with Goa is that of St. Francis Xavier who came to preach the gospel here in 1545.
“I was born before Vatican II and I went to the seminary during Vatican II; we already started the documents of the liturgy which were implemented in 1963,” said Father Pacheco who was one of eight brothers and the second to the youngest. Another brother entered the seminary but left in the middle of his priesthood studies and was not ordained. His father died in 1958 “when I was small, and my mother never remarried.”
The Vatican II changes took place while he was doing his philosophy and theology studies in the seminary. The historic transition of the Mass - from the Tridentine Latin Mass to the Liturgy that we know now - all happened while he was studying for the priesthood, he pointed out.
Four years after his ordination in 1968, he went to Africa where he served as a missionary priest for 17 years. In 1989, he left Africa and came to the United States. His first assignment was at the Sacred Heart Church in Turlock where he started on June 18, 1990. In 1997, he came to St. Anthony of Padua in Manteca where he was assistant vicar until 2001 when he received a new appointment to become pastor of St. Jude Parish in Ceres. From there, he went to Linden where he was pastor for six years until his retirement in 2010.
During his two-month absence from January to March, Father Pacheco said there will be other priests who will be tapped to say Mass on weekends. But he also does not rule out the possibility that the bishop, by that time, could have a permanent pastor in mind to “immediately” take the helm at St. Patrick.
However, such an appointment does not appear to be forthcoming soon. According to Sister Terry Davis, Director of Communications for the diocese, the bishop is “working on a replacement,” however, no decision has yet been settled and is not expected to happen for quite some time.
Still, Father Pacheco strongly believes in the guiding hand of the divine providence.
“God has a plan, I think, because, look, Father (Carota) asked me to come over here (to St. Patrick) for a vacation in September,” during which time he performed some church duties. That, he believes was divine providence giving him that opportunity to serve in the parish “so that I came to know the people (parishioners) and they came to know me,” Father Pacheco said.
“God has a plan; He is in control of our life,” he said.