Our Parishioners

The St. Augustine Parish recognizes that the Body of Christ is reflected in our people. WE are the Body of Christ. Hear from some of our parishioners below!

To learn more about registering as a parishioner, please contact the Parish Office at (510) 653-8631 or staugustinefrontdesk@gmail.com for more information.


Current Pastoral Council

Courtenay Redis
Fred Lonsdale
Pat Nolan
Sondra Arnsdorf
Tony Ferreira
Wanda Ziemba

Please contact any of our Pastoral Council members to share your thoughts or ask questions about St. Augustine Parish!

Born to Non-Belief: A Journey to Faith by Janice Kirsch, November 2017 

I never dreamed that I would be speaking about faith.  And yet I always wished to do just that. My life stems from two generations of non-believers.  My grandparents were kind and caring people.  After emigrating from eastern Europe, they spent the years of the Great Depression sharing all that they could with their neighbors, loving their families, cherishing the treasures contained in books, fluent in many languages, but unable to ever afford a formal education.
My mother was a gifted watercolorist; to help support our family she worked on a factory assembly line.  My father was a brilliant student of history who, alas, was too shy to teach before a class and so ended up in a low-level government job.  We were a working class family.  My parents’ hopes for me were two: that I might obtain an education and that I would do my part to heal a broken world.
Both generations before me bore witness to such brokenness.  As Jews, my grandparents were subject to lethal pogroms and finally to the reality of the Nazi holocaust.  My father fought in World War II to defeat fascism, but that nightmare led him to speak out for civil rights and against the scapegoating of any people.  I internalized these values.  One other thing: he considered himself an atheist.  And, of course, so did I.
Many people, including Father Augustine, have asked me a difficult question.  How can the intricacies of the universe, the natural world, and the human mind exist without a Creator, Aristotle’s Prime Mover?  Please allow me to explain what I thought.
The universe clearly exists and changes so, yes, something caused it.  But asking the cause of the universe did not necessarily lead me to the concept of an all-knowing Creator.  I did not believe that cosmology, the workings of physics and chemistry necessarily implied a plan or design.  Yes, the world is magnificent and wonderful to us humans, but logic did not lead my dad and me to ascribe these forces to an omniscient person.
And so I entered the world, a debate-loving little girl who was skilled in the apologetics of agnosticism.  At least, in argument I could feel that I was right.  But alone at night, I trembled at the thought of my parents’ and my own eventual and total demise.  For me, death was the ultimate dirty trick and I longed to save everyone from its cruel inevitability.
When I was nine years old, I was admitted to a Catholic hospital for several days to work-up of a health problem and undergo surgery.  Once admitted, I was actually enchanted.  I loved this old building whose purpose was to save lives.  The doctors and nurses (many of the latter were nuns) must have thought me an odd kid.  No matter how many blood tests, intravenous lines and (for a child) peculiar procedures that I underwent, I was cheerful and felt, for the first time in my life, almost fearless.   A crucifix hung inside the door of my hospital room.  Having previously followed some of my Catholic friends to church, I knew a bit about Him whose image helped allay my fear.  I was pained that I loved Him but could not believe.  In retrospect, this hospital felt like a church, an active monument to life and caring.  Its name was Mercy.

Part 2:
In a novel called The Blood of the Lamb, the protagonist is a man who “could not forgive God for not existing”. And so it was for me, alternating sadness with anger. In the first year at my public high school, we all were given a standardized test to determine what profession best suited us. The results came back and other students had received recommendations such as “lawyer”, “engineer”, “journalist”, et cetera. When I saw the words “spiritual leadership” on my report, I went wild! Running to the administrators’ office, cursing all the way, I ranted about how wrong the test results were and frothed on about the need for separation of church and state. My kind counselor shrugged her shoulders. She bought me a cherry Coke to calm me down.

Then what would my vocation be?

I know that I entered medicine, in part, to do battle against death. And I am also certain that I chose cancer medicine because of my father’s teachings about caring for the outcast. And for those who do not remember, in the 1970’s, when I began my training, cancer patients were very nearly pariahs. The word “cancer” was whispered and not considered appropriate for polite conversation. These patients, when in hospitals, were often in lonely rooms in the farthest, dark corridors. Many were not visited by friends. Medical staff often were fearful of them and their illness. These patients were to become my source of inspiration and part of my family.

In my first year in medical school, I organized a class on cancer medicine featuring weekly, evening lectures by luminaries in related aspects of basic science, current and future treatments, psychology and, on one very special night, cancer patients themselves talked about their experiences.

One of these speakers was a 23-year old woman with very aggressive breast cancer which had necessitated the surgical removal of both her breasts. She was as eloquent as she was exquisitely beautiful. We young medical students asked her how she managed to radiate equanimity and even joy, through her ordeals. I can hear her answer today as clearly as I did forty years ago. She was quiet for a moment and then said, “Through all of this, I believe that, deep within me, there is this tiny bright spark, like a little grain of sand, that is absolutely perfect”. With these words, a door opened in my heart, a portal to a place beyond my mind.

Part 3:
Later that year, we students began to visit patients in the clinical setting.  Talking to patients has always been more of a joy than actual work.  I believe that is true because one can become immersed in their concerns, without judgment, without thought of oneself.  And what of that “tiny perfect spark”?  It was right there before me, in their eyes.  When looking deeply, I suddenly saw a person who was not ill and who never would perish, as we, ironically, planned our fight to conquer illness.  What is it that I was seeing (and still see) in their eyes.  I could find no other words than “the divine”.  But then the angry child would silently scream, “I’m an atheist!”  But it was too late.  I could no longer believe the non-believer.

On December 23, 2015, my husband had a grand mal epileptic seizure from which he could not regain full consciousness.  If I had been at my usual workplace, he would have died that day.  At the hospital on Christmas Eve, I waited near the CT scanner, a test that would confirm the diagnosis of a large brain tumor.  I crouched on the floor and did something I did not know how to do.  I prayed.  I asked for help from Him whose image on the cross has called to me since childhood.

I begged that I might be able at least to talk to my husband one last time.  The hospital sounds then became distant and I was aware of another presence.  I saw, in a way that did not feel like usual seeing, a young man with loving eyes and comforting power crouching nearby.  A sense of peace embraced me.  No words were spoken, no specific promises were offered, save one, that He would not abandon me.

So far, the scans show no return of tumor.  And yes, there is pain and, sometimes, fear.  But through this, we have found a new peace.  My parents and grandparents were rarely at peace.  But they valued justice and compassion.  They thought that they were atheists, but I no longer believe that.  My feeling is that they were too hurt to recognize that “bright, perfect spark” within them.  But their values stuck with me. Then for reasons that I will never know, I was graced by faith.

And so I have been placed on a long path that has, at long last, led me here.



Jay W. J. Mitchell, Parishioner, November 30, 2014

Jay Mitchell

As we enter this new period of pastoral leadership transition, I was given this opportunity to share with you what I cherish about being a member of our parish; so that as a faith community we can remind ourselves that we have an outstanding foundation to build upon with confidence.

 I love that way before I was officially a member of the parish I felt welcomed, and my naive questions about Catholicism were eagerly answered. I love that our community is one of multi-faceted diversity: economic, ethnic/racial, age, religious/denomination, education, sexual preference, spirituality. I love that this parish (individually and communally) is  committed to fully and actively celebrating liturgy as a conscious expression of love, life, thanksgiving, and the New Evangelization; as opposed to rote, deadly dull, obligation.  I love that there are so many smart lay people committed to being the liturgical, charitable, catechetical backbone of our efforts to love Christ and make him more widely known.  I love the sacramental beauty and balance of the design, art and architecture, plus furnishings of our church building. I love the people in their interpersonal warmth, hospitality, and committed friendships.

While we have a number of great characteristics existent in this parish, we have a number of places where we can improve.  We are not a perfect parish and there are opportunities for numerical, stewardship, and spiritual growth.  Because of our smallish numbers, a greater percentage of our community need to offer their time, talent and treasure in our liturgy/devotions, staff, mission, charity, hospitality ministries, and material support of the parish.

I continue to be a member of this worship community, despite it not being within walking distance to our apartment.  I pass several Catholic parishes on my way to St. Augustine that could be an “okay” place to practice my Catholic faith. I am not alone in commuting some or great distance to stay at this parish.   I do so (and suspect the same of my fellow commuters) because I choose not to be mediocre in my faith practice, but to be an inspired Catholic as a member of this extraordinary parish.

 Pax Christi


 Anne Perkins, Parishioner, 2015anne perkins

In the four months I have been attending St. Augustine’s Church, I have felt so strongly the experience of Falling Upwards Into God’s Community. I went to Sunday Mass four days after we moved from St. Louis to the Bay Area, and was so warmly welcomed by Fr. William and several other church members—right away I felt the loving inclusiveness of the church, and rejoiced in the age and racial diversity I saw (one of my favorite parts of Sunday liturgy is blessing the young children who gather so eagerly at the altar).

Ten days later I began attending daily Mass or Communion Service–I delight in my sturdy 15-minute walk each way and love the intimacy of this small early-morning gathering. Encouraged by Pat Nolan, I joined the choir in mid-September, along with my beautiful grand-daughter Emma, and we have both been so welcomed by our fellow choir-members.

Recently I started coming to Susan’s Taize Prayer on Friday mornings before Mass (I love its gentle chanting and long periods of silence). For the past few weeks I have attended Linda’s Small Faith-Sharing Group which meets in the rectory every Thursday afternoon (all of us women enjoy the breadth and depth of our conversations). Now I am very much looking forward to joining Fr. Freddie’s Bible-study group on Sundays, grateful for yet another opportunity to be involved in this parish (I plan to bring my Greek New Testament with me).

Just today my fellow choir member Susie asked Emma and me to help plant daffodils in front of the rectory before choir practice this coming Wednesday!

What a glorious variety of experiences I have already had at St. Augustine’s: daily liturgy, small-group faith-sharing, singing, praying, blessing young children, and soon, planting flowers and studying Scripture! And all these new experiences have been within the context of caring, with Emma’s wonderful help, for my dear spouse Mary who has been struggling bravely with various medical problems. Thank God for how supported I have felt by the loving spirit of this community—a spirit of welcome and celebration giving me light, embracing my soul, helping me to feel so at home here at St. Augustine’s.


Peter Hayes, Pastoral Council, Sunday November 24, 2014Peter Hayes 2014

St. Augustine Church has been here on Alcatraz Avenue a long time. And the St. Augustine community has benefited from the leadership of many wise women and men in that time. Many of those guides have been priests on one side of the altar and many have been, and are, the women and men of the community on the other side of the altar. And behind it all is the loving hand of God.

One of my favorite scripture passages is from the first letter of John. “See what love the Father has for us that we may be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” I feel that this reading is very appropriate for the St. Augustine community. We are, first and foremost, the children of God. Deeply loved by God – as individuals and as a community.

Two years ago, when Fr. William arrived, I don’t think any of us knew quite what to expect, but in these two years William has been a loving pastoral leader who has boldly proclaimed the love of God in a way that has touched our lives and energized our community. We have been so fortunate. And now the community of St. John Vianney is so fortunate as William brings his message of “Yes” to Walnut Creek. I am now excited to meet Fr. Augustine Joseph, our new pastoral administrator. This is the next part in the story of our community, the story of God’s love for our community.

This is a strong community, called to build the Kingdom of God, right here in this neighborhood, in this part of Oakland and in this part of Berkeley. I think this community has the gift of hospitality and welcome. And as we welcome Fr. Augustine Joseph, we do so knowing that we are always in the loving presence of God.

I ask for your continued prayers, for Fr. William, for Fr. Augustine Joseph, and for our community.


Andrea Coleman, Chair, Pastoral Council, October 12, 2014

Yes, there is a Pastoral Council of St. Augustine’s! On its behalf, I hope to be speaking with you in November, as the Chair of the Council, so you can put a face to a name. However, I want to take this opportunity to tell you what we are, who we are and how we function in support of the greater mission of our parish and all those who are part of the St. Augustine family.

We are 10 individuals, including Fr. William, who exist to serve our parish in three ways: first, we must be a witness to our faith in our role, and seek to find and make disciples – that is a role each and every one of us has! Second, we are to be your “voice” – to know who you are, what is important to you as a member of our community, and to seek and hear your suggestions and ideas. Our third role is to help Fr. William plan for the present and the future in more tangible terms – what ministries do we need? What facilities do we need? What is our vision that is unique to our community, and that speaks to our hearts in this place and in this time?

Let me introduce, and thank, our Pastoral Council members. Each and every one of them cares deeply about St. Augustine’s and brings gifts to all of us.

We are: Fr. William, Andrea Coleman, Ron Cadigal, Steve Miller, Pete Hayes, Tiffany Blackburn, Linda Prara-Jenkins, Alex Gerrick, and Lori Ottolini-Geno. Jen Owens is the member of the St. Augustine team who will serve with us as a representative of the staff.

Please stay tuned – in early November we’ll make a brief report on some of our activities, dreams, and plans for St.
Augustine – and you will find most of us at the various masses trying to get to know you! If any of you wish to speak
with me, my phone number is 563 508-7070 – I am happy to speak with you.