|May 21, 2012 • VOL. 50, NO. 9 • Oakland, CA|
Saul Bromberger/Sandra Hoover PHOTO
At Cooper Chapel, building community, Catholic identity
Cooper Chapel's roots in Oakland's Fruitvale District go back more than 100 years. Since late 2007, the mortuary has been part of the Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of the Diocese of Oakland. For the last three years, it has been the goal of Eduardo De Loa, location manager, to serve families at their time of need, and to establish the Catholic identity of Cooper Chapel within the community.
"That event really epitomizes how we are a light of the Catholic Church here in Oakland in these hard times," he said.
De Loa works to make himself and the chapel known to the community "not only to serve them at time of need," but to put a "face to the location" as they try to connect with the neighbors.
At city and community events, working with groups such as the Unity Council, De Loa said he strives "to bring that sense of hope."
He has embraced his duties as an emcee at community events. "I like to be in front of people," De Loa said. "Children of God bring joy, even those who deal with hurt and pain."
Hope can sometimes seem to be in short supply in the Fruitvale District. Two of the families Cooper Chapel served last year lost young children to gun violence. One was 3 years old; the other 5.
The ability to assist families under tragic circumstances is a responsibility Cooper Chapel takes seriously.
"I thank the staff always," De Loa said.
Refurbished after the sale by longtime proprietor John McCormick, Cooper Chapel was blessed during an open house. De Loa invited Rev. Oscar Mendez Guzman, OFM, of St. Elizabeth Church, Rev. Francisco Figueroa of St. Jarlath Church and Rev. Jesus Nieto-Ruiz of St. Anthony Church to bless the chapel.
De Loa has been at Cooper Chapel for the past three years. One might say that he learned his job from the ground up. During De Loa's days as a seminarian in the early 1980s, he spent his summers working at St. Joseph Cemetery in San Pablo. He grew up in a big family in Richmond.
Although he spent several years discerning a vocation to priesthood, he would eventually find his vocation in the rites of Christian burial. Caring for the dead lost to violence presents particular challenges.
"We turn no one away," De Loa said, "no matter how difficult the case. We give them what we can do in a safe way."
Thanks to the support of the diocese, he said, families with financial need can be served. "We offer dignity in difficult times," he said.
Cooper Chapel has handled cases referred by Catholic Charities ("They do a wonderful job," he said) and by victims assistance groups who aid families of those lost to violence to receive funds from the state to help cover the cost of funeral services.
Security is present at every service, and a strong connection with the Oakland Police Department helps safeguard those in attendance.
"Funerals are difficult to carry out," he said. But he and his staff see to it that the deceased are cared for "with empathy and sacredness of the body."
Being visible in the community can serve to break barriers and promote respect during services, De Loa said. If community members are familiar with him, they are likely to listen to him when they are attending services.
"I have earned their respect," he said. "They know me already."
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