On the Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, the news was anything but joyful at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley.

The Dominican priests who have served the parish since its founding in 1923 are leaving, the pastor told the congregation.

The Berkeley parish, with 500 families and a vibrant elementary school, is one of three places in California from which the Dominicans will withdraw, the Oakland-based Western Dominican Province announced in a letter dated Dec. 11.

The Dominicans will also leave their ministry at Newman Centers at the University of California, Riverside, and the University of California, San Diego.

“Last week we met as the Provincial Council to begin the implementation of our province’s strategic plan. We made the painful decision that we must withdraw from St. Mary Magdalen’s Church and notified Bishop Barber that we will leave at the end of June in 2017,” a letter, dated Dec. 6, published in the parish bulletin said.

The Dominicans’ letter to parishioners said that they are an aging province, with just 41 priests available for 45 ministry assignments. The 24 students and novices in formation are years away from being ready for ordination and pastoral ministry.

Parishioners were, for the most part, stunned by the news. One recalled that her parents had bought their home, 57 years ago, to be in the Dominican parish.

Parishioner Laura Morland said the Dominicans’ departure “feels like a divorce.”

“But it’s worse than that: it’s like a divorce where the husband insists that the wife no longer use his name. I don’t know whether the Dominicans were aware of the pride that many of us feel in belonging to a Dominican parish… almost as if we were ‘4th Order Dominicans.’

“Now it’s like we’re being kicked out of the order, and the letter from the Provincial Council didn’t address these feelings at all. They didn’t write, ‘We’ll always consider you a part of the Dominican family.’ Maybe they couldn’t say that, or maybe they just wouldn’t. But being ‘divorced’ by the order really hurts.”

Full story at The Catholic Voice.