Sunday Dinner with Father Keyes

He’s a priest who opens his church at 5:30 am and gives 110% to his parish, and his parishioners love him for it – most of them, that is. In ten years, he has made St Edward’s in Newark, California a ‘parish worth driving to’ for Catholics with 25+ different nationalities and languages. Here’s REGINA Magazine’s interview with the priest who catechizes all the time – even over Sunday Dinner in the rectory.

REGINA: Father Keyes, how long have you been at St. Edward’s?

My life over many years has been bound up with St. Edward Parish.  As a seminarian at St. Patrick Seminary I was assigned a year of field Education at St Edward (78-79).  Later I served as Director of Music there (84-88). I was ordained a Deacon at St. Edward in 1991.  I preached a Lenten Mission at St. Edward (2000) and was appointed Pastor in 2004. So, as Pastor, I am in my eleventh year.

What was the parish like when you arrived?

The facilities had been well maintained and there had been some additions and improvements to the property. A new addition to the Rectory was finished the prior year, and the sacristy was completely remodeled.  On the other hand, there were several severe problems that needed to be taken care of soon.  The parking lot was in poor condition and was a liability and every roof leaked the first year.  There were no records of when the facilities were last painted.

There were severe cash flow problems. In the previous year the parish had borrowed from the School to make payroll. None of the department heads were following a budget and the previous pastor had not paid the Diocesan assessment in five years.  There was $500,000 in unpaid bills. In the first two years two staff persons retired and were not replaced and I laid off five workers.  It took me a year to wrestle the budget to the ground.

Wow, what about the Masses?

There was a large choir and a good set of accompanists and cantors for the other masses.  Competent and they performed well but there was little attention to text.  Many of their favorite songs were from contemporary Christian sources, and each year at Christmas the choir did a concert using a libretto from the Assembly of God. 

At my installation as pastor there were two songs that were clearly not Catholic belief, and the Gloria sung was not the text from the Mass.

There was a liturgical dance group that performed at one mass each week.

There were four young people paid as sacristans. The Sacristy was brand new. All the old sacristy cases had been removed and discarded and replaced with kitchen cabinets. In the sacristy there was a new drawer system.  One drawer had two compartments, one for garbage and one for used purificators. Occasionally purificators were found in the garbage.

I witnessed a parish catechist tell a confirmation candidate that he could decide for himself who Jesus was for him.

What about the Church itself?

The Sanctuary was barren.  There were two large plastic trees in each corner.  The marble altar was filthy. Years and years of taping banners to the front had left a filthy residue of glue.  The polyester altar cloths were dingy and yellow.  In the previous year the natural wood in the sanctuary had been painted over.

There were no crucifixes in the church. Touchdown Jesus reigned from a large wooden cross. The Holy oils were kept in a closet with the matches and the charcoal.

Has the parish grown since that time? How many Masses do you offer on Sundays?

We have nine Masses on Saturday and Sunday. Including seven English Masses, one Spanish and one Portuguese.

In 2005 I fired the music director and hired a new one.  The entire choir left, many of them going to sing in the contemporary choir at the Presbyterian Church. There are several other Catholic Churches in the area with contemporary music, the closest one about two miles away. Many families migrated to the other parish.

However, many families disenfranchised by the previous administration returned.  Mass attendance remained mostly even, and the collection registered a slight increase.  By the third year I knew of four homeschooling families that moved into the parish.

And today?

We are a destination parish.  People drive from Hayward (11 miles), Union City, Fremont, Livermore and even San Jose to attend Mass here.  One couple drives more than a half hour, and even though the husband was Parish council president of their parish, they come at least once a month for their “Roman fix.”

Mass attendance has remained pretty steady. We have many parishioners allergic to Latin, but they have six other Masses to go to.

Do you find that offering frequent confessional times is key to the spiritual growth of the parish?

When we moved our Confession time from Saturday Afternoons to Monday Evenings, and added confessions every morning before the 9:00am Mass, the numbers of confessions we heard quadrupled. This also makes us a destination as many people come from other parishes.

What activities are there in the parish?

Where should I start? The place needed to become Catholic, or begin to look and act like Catholics.  The emphasis was in adult faith formation and education. 

I began to teach the weekly adult Class.  We did not call it RCIA, because that referred to the rites. No, this class was for everyone, those becoming Catholic and those who had been Catholic all their life and needed more formation. 

In the past few years there has been an explosion of video resources for Faith formation for young people and adults.  We have had days of recollection using videos of Fr. Robert Barron, mini-retreats during Lent and Advent using short videos from Fr. Barron, and a twenty week long session using Symbolon from St. Augustine Institute, and the Chosen program from Ascension Press for faith formation of Junior high children in our school.  We have also used the Catholicism series from Fr. Barron in our Adult Faith Formation.


“We have had many speakers come in for week long events or one-day events, Tim Staples, Patrick Madrid, Patrick Coffin, and Fr. Mitch Pacwa. Fr. Carlos Martin brought his relics and gave a marvelous presentation.  For him the Church was packed and there were people praying over the relics until Midnight.  We had Mother Dolores Hart here for an evening. “



Rebuilding Catholic Culture at St. Edward

  1. The interior of the Church was painted (we got rid of the bright yellow racing stripe behind the altar) and we installed a new floor. The carpet was removed from the sanctuary and replaced with a wood laminate.  The entire Liturgy may now be sung without aid of microphones.
  2. Touchdown Jesus was replaced with a Crucifix, two plastic trees were moved to the parish hall and replaced with four statues, each statue having been repainted or refinished.
  3. A new Jacobean frontal and new linens were provided for the altar, and banners or anything in front of the altar was banned. A new Crèche display was donated by the parishioners, as was a new Infant of Prague.
  4. Altar servers were retrained, the Solemn Mass each Sunday is Altar boys only in Cassock and surplice. At other Masses the servers wear albs and include boys and girls.
  5. The music in the parish was slowly changed to what the church was asking. Most of the changes happened at the 10:00am solemn Mass, but eventually we began working on the other Masses as well. 
  6. Using melodies and mode from the Psalterium Monasticum, I composed and arranged melodies for all the Sunday psalms in the Lectionary. We use antiphons from the Simple English Propers, and other hymns.  The Choir now knows three Gregorian Masses and three Choral Masses by Palestrina and Hassler.
  7. In 2012 the Extraordinary Form began at the parish. A Low Mass is held every Thursday and various Holy Days have had a full Missa Cantata.
  8. In 2007 we had a parish mission based on the psalms. In 2008 we began with Morning prayer Monday through Friday.  Later we added Evening prayer.  Now we sing Morning and Evening Prayer in the Church seven days a week.


REGINA: Looking back, what have been your principle challenges?

FATHER KEYES: Principle challenge: error, and Sunday dinner.


Sunday Dinner is a sacred time, a time to relax with family and friends and enjoy a meal and some wine.  It provides some festivity to the Lord’s day and it reconnects us with one another on a personal level. As a Rectory with three priests, it provides us an opportunity to invite friends and guests.  As a Rectory Sunday dinner it provides a bit of respite and space in a VERY full day.

One of my biggest challenges is how to deal with error. Often by scratching the surface we pick up a distorted view of the nature of Jesus.  Someone said once that I can find heresy under every rock.  I don’t go looking for it, more often than not it slaps me across the face.  Pelagianism, Jansenism and Arianism seemed to be all over the place. One day the Nestorian Heresy presented itself. A parishioner accosted me after Mass and told me to stop talking about homosexuality since Catholics now accepted it.  People tell me that people leave the parish over the music, but I know families that left the parish over my preaching on abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception.

Sunday dinner became a challenge because here it was that people told me that Mary was only the Mother of the human nature of Christ, that woman should be ordained, that I am wrong on same sex marriage, that St. Paul is not an Apostle, that they hate the music at Mass, that no one understands Latin, and that if Vatican II did not tell us to turn the altars around, then why did everyone do it?

So, one of our catechists had on her Facebook page something very supportive a of a woman friend of hers that was about to be “ordained.”  She also has on her page support for same-sex marriage.  So I challenge her on this and she backtracks.  Then she writes my provincial complaining about me. Sheesh, after 10 years error still rears its ugly head, and it gets me in trouble.

Major Joys

Sunday Dinner is a better experience these days.  Some stay away and others are no longer invited.  (Prov 17:1)Better a dry crust with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.  I love to cook and Sunday is the day to experiment.  We always start with Antipasto and sometimes we have two or more other courses.  We have been as simple as a hearty bean soup, and as extravagant as Saltimbocca Romano or Filet Mignon. This Sunday will be Greek Lemon soup, Italian Lemon Chicken and a French Lemon Torte.

The other major Joy is the center of my life. Daily prayer of the Church and Daily Mass.  Singing the psalms each day brings such a measure of peace in a busy day.  On a recent Monday, the Feast of the Presentation, I sang the entire Mass.  Members of the Schola sang the readings, and the small schola sang the chants, some Palestrina and Viadana.  And after Mass the one adjective that people used to describe it was “beautiful.”

REGINA: Father Keyes, what advice would you offer to priests and parishioners who are just starting out on the road you have come so far on?

FR KEYES: I think I learned from Mother Theresa that God did not call me to be successful, but to be faithful.  Everyone tells me I should have changed things more slowly.  Still ten years later and still not having made all the changes I intend, I think I should have made changes faster.

I am here to serve the Lord, and so are the people. People complain that we do not have a mission statement.  I tell them that we do not have a mission. The Mission has us.

You will listen closely to the people, you will address their fears, you will explain history and tradition and faith and doctrine, and they will accuse you of not listening.

Our task is to worship God, pass on the faith to other generations, and serve the needs of the poor.  Give your attention to that and do not spend time on the complainers. 

Know what you need to do, know why you need to do it, have a ready explanation of what you are doing and do it.


CATHOLIC SCHOOL CHILDREN participate in the burning of the palms and preparation of the Ashes for Ash Wednesday.  They also participate in the burning of the old Holy Oils and the preparation of the stocks for the Chrism Mass.

“DO THIS IN MEMORY” is a process for the second year of First Communion preparation. It includes several meetings with the parents, and eight or nine preparation Masses for the children. It puts in the hands of the parents what they need to be the principal faith formation for their children. The “Grapevine” provides activities the parents can do at home with their children, Mass responses they can practice, and the Gospel for the next Mass so the parents can prepare their children.

MISSIONS: Patrick Madrid preached a parish Mission here, and then came back and held an Apologetics seminar In June of 2013.  He did a one Evening of recollection in 2014;  He is returning for another Apologetics workshop in 2015.

In 2013, Fr. Carlos Martin brought his Treasures of the Church display of relics of the saints. The Church was packed, about 700 in a space that seats 400.  People were praying over the relics way past midnight.

BULLETIN: A selection from the Fathers of the Church every weekend. Occasionally longer explanations by the pastor about the changes, why we use Latin, why we include the Extraordinary Form, etc. When the new Roman Missal was introduced, the bulletin included all the old prayers next to the new prayers with explanations about the New Roman Missal.

INFORMATION: During the Health Care debate in the Congress, articles and brochures about artificial contraception were provided.  I was asked by the Bishop to speak at a Religious Freedom Rally at the Federal Building in San Francisco. Our Parish took a couple of busses to the rally. My talk was published in the parish bulletin and in the CPPS community newsletter.  My views were contradicted by parishioners by letter, and the CPPS Newsletter published opposing articles.

BOOKS: Occasionally we find a good Catholic book, buy it in bulk and sell it for cost to the parishioners.  Daughters of St. Paul bring their book display every autumn to provide access to good Catholic books, Videos and other material to help the parishioners to grow in faith.

FILMS: We sponsor several films of a religious or Catholic nature in our Hall.  We have used films from Ignatius Press and other sources.  We showed Mary of Nazareth four times, twice at the local Theatre.

PILGRIMAGES: We took three buses to the West Coast Walk for Life in January 2015. We have rented buses for Pilgrimage days to California Missions. We sponsored a tour to Italy in 2012, with 16 parishioners to various sites associated with the life of St. Gaspar del Bufalo.  While there we attended a liturgy at St. Peters, one parishioner was quick to point out that we sing the same music at St. Edward.

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