St. Columba Memorial of the Crosses: A Message of Hope

On New Year’s Eve, I attended the annual Memorial of the Crosses at St. Columba Church in Oakland. Every year since 2004, it is a ceremony to recognize and remember the people murdered in Oakland that year. In 2014, there were 85 homicides, down from 92 in 2013. For each person killed, a white cross with their name on it is planted in the front lawn of the church.

Memorial of the Crosses at St. Columba Church in Oakland

Memorial of the Crosses at St. Columba Church in Oakland

We all gathered in front of the crosses – community members, families of the deceased, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, Chief of Police Sean Whent, and religious leaders. As Rich Laufenberg, a volunteer minister at St. Columba, called out each name of the deceased, their cross was pulled and given to their family member or someone in attendance. When the final name was called, we walked into the church singing “As the Saints go Marching In” and placed the crosses at the altar.

This was my first time attending the Memorial and it was sobering. Each cross represented an unfulfilled destiny that deprived a family of the joy of watching their loved one grow, mature, and experience the wonders of life. As a parent, I cannot imagine the loss of my son or daughter. Some of my warmest memories of my children are reading to them at bedtime, cheering them on at their soccer games, or proudly watching them graduate from high school and college. And now, I get the privilege of watching them mature into fine young human beings. Those families in Oakland will not have that joy or privilege. They will never see the future their loved one would have had.

Three families shared the experience of their loss, and Oakland’s Mayor and Chief of Police also spoke. Father Aidan McAleenan of St. Columba and Father Jayson Landeza of St. Joan of Arc Church in San Ramon and the former Oakland Police Department chaplain, both spoke brief but powerful words. Catholic Charities was mentioned repeatedly, about how we were there every step of the way helping families with their grief. Sister Marian Castelluccio and Michelle Watts, two of our incredible mental health clinical providers, were angels to the grieving families.

Hope was the theme of the memorial. We hold out hope that those lives won’t be lost in vain and keep faith that we can all do our part to end the violence. While it is a word we hear often around the New Year, it is encouraging when we actually see hope become the reality that changes people’s lives. Such is the case with Sister Marian and Michelle. As Sister articulated so beautifully, “We allow their pain to touch our heart and we hold their hope for them until they are ready to hold it for themselves.”

Grief counseling takes a very special type of person, such as Sister Marian and Michelle, to hold people’s hopes every day until they are ready to hold it for themselves. Fortunately, our Mental Health Department has more angels like them – Rosana, Ixayanne, Leo, Mallie, Jordan, Cat, Laura, Aswad, Gimone, and Donna form our crisis response network. They are the instruments of hope that heal people’s broken hearts.

With kindest regards until next time,


P.S. I once again encourage you to learn more about how crisis response team are “Healing Trauma” and transforming lives by providing trauma counseling, grief counseling and sustained support to those who suffer. Our Transforming Lives Tours are on the second and third Thursday of every month at our main office located on 433 Jefferson Street, Oakland. Please contact Debra Gunn at 510-768-3142 or