OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The Very Rev. Jay Matthews, the rector of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland and a fixture in Oakland’s Catholic community for three decades, died Saturday night of an apparent heart attack, the Diocese of Oakland announced.
Priests and diocese chancery staff members found Matthews unresponsive in the cathedral rectory at about 7 p.m. and called emergency services, which took him to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, according to the diocese.
Matthews, 70, was the first African-American ordained priest in Northern California, joining the priesthood in 1974, and served as pastor of St. Benedict Church in East Oakland for 26 years before taking over as rector of the cathedral, the centerpiece of the diocese, in 2015.
“Father Matthews’s” infectious love for his faith, his parishioners and his community was a source of joy and inspiration for me,” Oakland Bishop Michael Barber said in a statement.
Matthews was born in Berkeley and raised in Oakland, where his family moved in 1960.
The Rev. Jayson Landeza, who succeeded Matthews as pastor of St. Benedict, said in a post on Facebook that he “lovingly referred” to Matthews as “Mr. Oakland.”
Matthews also served as a chaplain for the Oakland police and fire departments. In 2014, the Oakland City Council proclaimed May 6 as “Father Jay Matthews Day.”
California governor Gavin Newsom mourned the loss of Matthews, saying that California stands with Oakland and Catholics across the state.
“Father Jay was a trailblazer and ambassador who built bridges between people of different faiths and communities. Quick to lend a helping hand, he embodied the California values of generosity and acceptance. Father Jay has made a lasting imprint and set an example for all of us to aspire to,” Newsom said in a statement on Sunday.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, paid tribute to Matthews’ years of service to the Oakland community.
“Father Jay lived a life of both faith and works — a life of love in service to others,” Lee said. “We will miss his great wisdom. His passing is a loss for our entire community.”
“Father Jay and I were personal friends and, like for so many, he was there for me in good times and bad times.”
Jorge Watson, a parishioner at St. Benedict’s, remembered Matthews fondly.
“He’s married so many people. He’s buried so many people. First communions, Baptisms. He was the man. There won’t be anybody else like him for a long time in this community,” said Watson.
“He made this our oasis of tranquility–of safety, or community and of love. He will truly be missed.”
Funeral services are pending.
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