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Martinez Church Gets Ready To Celebrate Its 140th Anniversary

St. Catherine's Catholic Church is hosting a gala dinner celebration on April 27.

The bell at St. Catherine's of Siena Catholic Church will be ringing loudly on April 27.

And for good reason.

The landmark Martinez church will be celebrating its 140th anniversary.

The gala event will begin at 4:30 p.m. next Saturday with a liturgy. It'll be followed at 6 p.m. with a fellowship hour and then at 7 p.m. by a sit-down dinner.

Mark Poyadue, the president of the church's pastoral council, joked the celebration is in "preparation for the 150th anniversary."

He and other church leaders say the event really centers on paying homage to those who have built the parish over the decades.

"It's to recognize those who have gone ahead of us," said Father Leo Asuncion.

Today, the church still sits on an acre of land at the corner of Ferry and Mellus streets. It has more than 1,100 members and is the second oldest Catholic parish in the Oakland diocese.

The church also has a kindergarten through eighth grade school with 175 students on the property.

The church's beginnings go back almost 150 years. That's when the first Catholic Mass in Martinez was said at a local store. It was offered by the Dominician Fathers from Benicia.

Two early attempts to build a church failed. The facility was finally erected on the third try. In 1873, Father James Henry Aerden became St. Catherine's first resident pastor.

In that first year, new facilities were added and a two-story rectory was constructed. In 1890, the church expanded again to accomodate its growth in members.

In 1923, the oversight of the parish was transferred from the Dominican Fathers to the Diocesan Clergy.

The current church was built in 1940. The school was opened in 1949.

Church leaders say part of the reason for the parish's success is that people live in Martinez all their lives and get attached to institutions like St. Catherine's.

"In Martinez, families don't leave, they stay," said Poyadue. "There's a generational connection."

Asuncion added there is a strong Catholic tradition in Martinez, partly because of Italian and other immigrants.

Deacon Albert Dizon also noted the church is involved in a lot of community activities from providing food to the needy to organizing athletic opportunities for young people.

"We're a focal point for the community," Dizon said.

For the future, the biggest plans are to build a gymnasium on what is now a parking lot near the church.

And, of course, there's the 150th anniversary celebration.

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