A celebration, a pageant and a sad departure of our local priest

One of two new houses built on land donated in the name of the Apkarian sisters of Los Banos.
One of two new houses built on land donated in the name of the Apkarian sisters of Los Banos. Submitted

Los Banos will experience a mix of emotions this weekend – anticipation for a Saturday Habitat for Humanity dedication, joy for a Sunday Christmas choral pageant and sadness at the departure of a pastor.

Habitat for Humanity is anticipating the formal dedication Saturday of land now providing two homes for hardworking families, the Escobars and the Vierras. The Dec. 15 event takes place at 2 p.m. at 545 M St., around the corner from the Los Banos post office. The public is invited to the dedication, open house and refreshments.

Included will be the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the memory of two strong women who lived in Los Banos for many years. It reads, “Land donated in memory of Tomar Apkarian Mason and Rosamond Apkarian Duran.”

Retired Judge Tomar Mason, the daughter of Tomar and niece of Rosamond, dedicated the land.

“I’m very proud,” she said, “to have helped Habitat for Humanity for its laudable work in Los Banos.”

Judge Mason said that when she donated the land to help Habitat she thought a lot about another strong woman in her family. “My grandmother came halfway around the world in 1906 to marry a man she had never met, in a match approved by her parents. She wisely said, ‘You must change with the times.’”

The next day will be the St. Joseph’s Parish Christmas choral pageant. The joyous Sunday event begins in the church at 4 p.m. The Dec. 16 choral pageant is presented by Joan Spevak’s multi-generational choir and Sister Fernanda’s first communion class.

Amid the joy of the Christmas is the sadness the parish feels at the departure of Father Efrain Martinez, who has been unexpectedly reassigned to a parish in Hanford, effective immediately. Father Efrain, as he is known, has been a much needed blessing to St. Joseph’s since he came to the parish four years ago, replacing a priest who was removed for sexual misconduct.

The parish needed a lot of healing, and Father Efrain has provided it. A quiet, dedicated priest, he worked hard to meet the spiritual needs of the entire parish, both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking parishioners.

For the most part he has carried the burden of priestly responsibility alone, except for brief periods when an assistant was temporarily assigned to the parish. He has been fortunate to have the help of Deacon Leon Miller.

Serving several thousand parishioners, Father Efrain has performed almost all of the baptisms, weddings and funerals. On weekends, he often presided at five or more Masses, in English and Spanish.

Father Efrain has worked hard to unite the parish. While respecting the needs and devotions of his Portuguese, Italian and Hispanic parishioners and the many different parish organizations, he has stressed to his entire flock that they have much in common and should be closely connected.

Father Efrain also has helped keep the parish school alive and well. Our Lady of Fatima, like so many Catholic schools, has had a challenge keeping enrollment up. He provided encouragement to principal Kendyl Darnell and her staff and has spent many hours repairing and maintaining school buildings, as well as providing spiritual guidance.

Father Efrain has been respectful, thoughtful and kind in his interactions with his congregation – from infant to senior citizen.

As a friend recently told me, “It’s not easy being a Catholic these days,” with so many news reports detailing allegations of priestly misconduct. Father Efrain has reminded us that there are still many good priests who live a life of integrity and service and carry out the Christian gospel of love.

Father Efrain’s new assignment is not easy. He was assigned to a Hanford parish whose pastor was put on administrative leave among allegations of misconduct. He will need to heal another parish of very deep wounds. I hope he keeps his soul and body together. There have been many times during the past four years when he has looked exhausted.

Some parishioners, when they heard of the unexpected reassignment, gasped. Others wept. The parish doesn’t know yet who will be his ongoing replacement. Now they are grieving his departure. They have lost someone whom they loved and who loved them.

John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email john.spevak@gmail.com.