Each November we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our faith community, Saint Matthew Church. In November of 1985, Fr. Peter opened Saint Matthew Old Catholic Mission Church of Orange County, as it was called at that time, with the celebration of its first Mass in a mortuary in Tustin called Saddleback Chapel. The small group that formed this new parish continued to meet at this mortuary chapel for the next few months.
When Fr. Peter celebrated Mass during those early months, he did not have a musician to assist him (as of yet he had not met Mirella). So he would begin the liturgy by playing the guitar and leading the singing himself. Of the original six people who were a part of the early beginnings of Saint Matthew, only two remain in active participation in our church today: Fr. Victor Ray, who at that time had not yet been ordained but assisted Fr. Peter as a server at Mass, and Fr. Peter’s stepsister, Renay Burke.
In February of 1986, Kathryn Milton, now Kathryn Tuma, visited Saint Matthew for the first time and immediately joined the church. It wasn’t long after that that Fr. Peter asked her to be the church treasurer. He handed Kathryn a cigar box with the total cash assets that Saint Matthew had at that time. It wasn’t much but we managed to survive on a weekly donation total of less than $100.
For Easter of 1986, the fledgling mission of Saint Matthew relocated to Huntington Beach. Fr. Peter and the new community of not more than 30 people celebrated Mass each week in a wedding chapel in the Old World Village. Saint Matthew would continue to grow for the next four years while meeting in the Old World Village Church in Huntington Beach.
In the summer of 1986, through an organization of married Catholic priests called CORPUS, Fr. Peter met a former Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Jim Farris, and invited him to become a part of Saint Matthew Church. Fr. Jim celebrated his first Mass after leaving the Roman Catholic Church at Saint Matthew that very first year. Over the years, Fr. Jim has become an important part of the life and history of our faith community.
Eventually, Victor Ray was ordained a deacon at Saint Matthew and, after serving in that capacity for a year, was ordained a priest in July 1988 by the Obispo Maximo of the Philippine Independent Catholic Church, Bishop Pagtakhan, who was visiting Saint Matthew at that time. The community had now grown to about 80 members with three priests.
1989 was an important year for Saint Matthew Church for at that time we were joined by two additional former Roman Catholic priests: Fr. Ben Madriaga, along with his wife, Mary Lou, and Fr. Brian Delvaux. The church continued to grow. By the end of 1989, we had outgrown the Old World Village Church and knew that it was time to relocate. A parish council was formed, our first, and Fr. Peter’s father, Allen Hickman, became the first president of the newly formed parish council. Through his efforts and the efforts of the council, a new location was found in the city of Orange. Saint Matthew Church leased a new facility over on Orangewood Avenue near the Anaheim Stadium. It was there that Saint Matthew would continue its ministry for the next several years.
Several months after moving into the Orangewood facility, we were joined by yet another former Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Matt Ryder. Fr. Matt was the pastor of St. Callistus Roman Catholic Church in Garden Grove but left that position in order to marry the woman he loved. Shortly after Fr. Matt and Gay were married, Fr. Matt came to Saint Matthew and ministered with us for several years. Fr. Matt was responsible for the Marriage and Family Ministry, which handles the vast number of weddings that are requested of our priests.
In 1991 Dan Gincig was ordained a priest at Saint Mathew and after serving our parish for a year went to Aurora, Colorado, to establish the first mission from Saint Matthew Church. It is called Christ the King. Four years later, Fr. Gincig was ordained a bishop for that community in Colorado.
As 1992 came to a close, Fr. Brian Delvaux, after four years of dedicated ministry at Saint Matthew, decided to begin another faith community in Lakewood, California. Saint Matthew Church sponsored the establishment of this new faith community for the first six months of 1993. This fully independent, new church is still in existence in Lakewood and is called Good Shepherd American Catholic Church. Fr. Brian was later ordained a bishop within that community.
In 1993 Saint Matthew became actively involved in providing relief and medical care for the poorest of the poor in Guatemala. Saint Matthew Church became a co-founder of Xela-Aid, an ongoing humanitarian relief organization for the people of Guatemala. In the summer of 1993, Fr. Peter, along with Bob Rook, Pat McElroy, Caria Nagel, John and Ann Finneran, Mirella Morra, and Murphy Tammaro joined a team of 40 in going to Guatemala to serve the poor by setting up mobile medical units and building a home for a homeless family. Members of Saint Matthew continued to participate in various projects associated with Xela-Aid. Xela-Aid’s founder, Leslie Baer, was an active member of our church for many years. Mary Bruce and Lili Lunsman, members of our church, also participated in later Xela-Aid missions to Guatemala.
1993 was an important year in the life of our church for it marked the time when Mirella Morra joined Alfred Brown, Caria Nagel, and Tony Bomkamp in the music ministry. Later in 1995 our faith community celebrated the wedding of our pastor, Fr. Peter, to our minister of music, Mirella.
In January of 1995, Fr. Peter asked Pat McElroy to form a new parish council. The new council had 12 members: David and Pat McElroy, Don and Karen Grimmett, Denise Rupp, Tony Troianello, Larry Moan, Tom Colella, Mary Bruce, Carol Spencer, Sharon Venezia, and Bob Rook. One of the first items of business that the newly formed council addressed was the issue of Saint Matthew’s affiliation with a bishop. Calling for a general meeting of the entire congregation of Saint Matthew, the decision was made to present our pastor as a candidate for ordination to become the bishop of our church.
The entire community, along with the priests of Saint Matthew, elected Fr. Peter to become our bishop. Later, Fr. Peter was presented to the bishops of the Ecumenical Communion of Catholic and Apostolic Churches (ECCAC) as a candidate for ordination as our bishop. The bishops of the ECCAC approved of Fr. Peter’s candidacy and the desire of Saint Matthew Church to become a self-governing church. In May of 1996, Fr. Peter was ordained by the bishops of the ECCAC to become the bishop of Saint Matthew Church.
Early in 1996, a former Lutheran pastor, Fr. Scott Jenkins, and his wife, Kris, joined our church. Bishop Peter ordained Scott a deacon on Pentecost Sunday of 1996. Deacon Scott served at Saint Matthew until August of 1997, when he moved to Colorado to work with Christ the King American Catholic Church. Deacon Scott was ordained a priest shortly thereafter. He became the founding pastor of a new independent Catholic faith community in Colorado called Church of the Holy Family.
1997 marked yet another historic event in the life of our faith community. Patricia McElroy was ordained a deacon in May of that year-the first woman ever to be ordained in our church. Deacon Pat had served for many years in the Roman Catholic Church as a parish administrator at St. Barbara’s in Santa Ana, California. She came to Saint Matthew in late 1992 and realizing that she could never fulfill her vocation in the Roman Catholic Church decided to accept the call of our church to serve as a deacon.
Another new mission of our church was established in September of 1997 in Santa Monica, California, TVANSKA, a Lithuanian community founded by Fr. Edmundus Atkociunas with the help of his wife, Gerimanta. Through the TVANSKA community, we were introduced to Zilvinas Jakstas, who came with his wife, Rasa, from Lithuania. After being ordained a deacon, he served at Saint Matthew for a year before going to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he founded RAMOVE, a new faith community. Bishop Peter later visited RAMOVE and ordained Zilvinas to be their priest.
In February 1998, Sara Beaman, the wife of the late Fr. Peter Beaman, became the second woman to be ordained a deacon in our church. Deacon Sara was active in the healing ministry of our church as well as participating in the liturgical life of our community.
Also in 1998, Fr. Ben Madriaga had begun a ministry among the Hispanics, which became the Hispanic Ministry of our church. In addition to the 150 Anglo families that make up our community, there are another 75 Hispanic families. In 1997 Fr. Fernando Olivers, another former Roman Catholic priest, joined with us and became the pastor of the Hispanic Ministry. Shortly thereafter, we celebrated his marriage to Nancy Rivera, who now assists him in his work. Since that time Fr. Fernando has also founded yet another mission parish in Huntington Beach called Santa Maria de Guadalupe, which has grown to include over 100 people.
In April of 1997, the parish council of Saint Matthew decided it was time to find a new facility for our growing church. We had outgrown the facility on Orangewood and our lease was not up for renewal as it was coming to an end. It was apparent that we had to find a new location. Bishop Peter appointed a relocation committee of three, Remo Ottone, George Jordan, and Pam Bachand to find a new location and to determine whether or not we were ready to purchase our own property. Through their persistent hard work, the Relocation Team found our current facility and recommended that we purchase rather than lease. We initiated a capital campaign in September of 1997. A capital campaign fundraising team was assembled. This team included Sam and Allison Sansone, Susan Tully, Tony Troianello, Bob Rook, and Mario Calvo. Their efforts were successful, and we were able to raise the funds necessary to make the purchase. We moved into our new church by the end of 1997 and celebrated the dedication of our new church in January 1998.
Fr. Mark Jaufmann, pastor of yet another new mission in Glendale, California, Saints Andrew and Paul, has been affiliated with Saint Matthew since January of 1998. Fr. Mark Jaufmann is currently the chaplain of Glendale Memorial Hospital in addition to being the founding director of a new religious order called The Missionaries of Hope. Later, Saints Andrew and Paul was renamed Spirit of Peace Ecumenical Catholic Church.
Fr. Malcolm Smith a former Roman Catholic missionary in Africa, and his wife, Melinda, joined Saint Matthew Church early in 1998. Fr. Malcolm and Melinda continues in active ministry in Escondido, California.
In 1999, a relationship developed between Saint Matthew Church and Rev. Ned Reidy, a former Roman Catholic priest, and his newly-formed faith community, Pathfinder Community of the Risen Christ of Palm Desert, California. In June of 2000, Bishop Peter ordained Kathy McCarthy, a member of Pathfinder, a priest. This marks the first time that Bishop Peter ordained a woman to the ministerial priesthood.
In 2001, representatives of Spiritus Christi Church, Rochester, New York, came and visited Saint Matthew Church. Bishop Peter was invited to preside at the ordination of Mary Ramerman to the ministerial priesthood. She is currently the pastoral administrator of Spiritus Christi. Since then, Bishop Peter also ordained Denise Donato as a priest for that community. A friendship between Saint Matthew and Spiritus Christi remains a vital part of our two faith communities.
On Pentecost, May 18, 2002, Saint Matthew celebrated the ordination of our first female priest, Rev. Giovanna Piazza.
Because of the increasing number of requests from other newly-formed small faith communities to be affiliated with Saint Matthew, Bishop Peter began the process of formally establishing a national ecclesial organization. The Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC) was formed by representatives of 11 founding faith communities on September 19, 2003, at a convocation hosted by Saint Matthew Church. A constitution for the ECC was ratified as the governing document of our national church body.
Over the years, many wonderful people have joined with us in the endeavor of establishing an alternative Catholic faith community in Orange. Through the hard work and generosity of so many, we had been able to realize this vision of a renewed Catholic faith community.
In the last 24 years, we have gone through many changes. We have accomplished much and yet there is so much more to be done-so much further to go in order to fulfill our dream and our vision of being a vital and growing Catholic faith community in the 21st century!