Stockton: Father Dean McFalls

Stockton, CA

Saint Mary’s Church

Father Dean McFalls

Word Count: 549

In 2009, Forbes listed Stockton, CA as one of the top 10 most miserable cities in America, considering factors like commute time, income tax rates, unemployment and violent crime.  Things are still miserable at the end of 2010.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Stockton’s unemployment rate is a demoralizing 16.6%, easily one of the highest in the country.

Everyone is good at identifying a problem, but the trickier science is offering a solution.  Some say government should step up, some say government should step back.  Others do their best to help their own community in what small ways they can, which is the approach of the people at St. Mary’s Church in Stockton.

St. Mary’s is located in downtown Stockton, sitting directly on the threshold between the business district and the low-income housing projects.

The church has been around for over 100 years, and has seen several generations of Stocktonians make their way through the good and bad times.  According to Father Dean McFalls, the current prior at St. Mary’s, the church “has been part of the unfolding saga of Stockton.”

Father Dean has led the St. Mary’s parish for two years, and has witnessed a steady surge of people coming to the church for financial help.   “In the time that I’ve been here at St. Mary’s, the amount of people coming in to ask for money has probably doubled or tripled.”

When asked to describe the atmosphere in Stockton, Father Dean didn’t have to search long for words, “Stockton is beyond depression right now.”

People come into the church to ask for money for utility bills, for gasoline, even for bus fare.  As long as people have legitimate needs, the church tries to help as many of them as possible.

Father Dean has a heart for the Stockton community.  He is training to become a chaplain for the police department (a high crime rate is one of the assets that won Stockton its miserable rating) and writes articles for local papers.   He does his best to help the people who have nowhere else to go.  “A lot of parishioners are undocumented, and many have lost thousands of dollars paying legal fees, which are often unsuccessful.”

Father Dean divides his church’s response to the current economic crisis into different “levels”.  The first level is to take emergency collections at services, and special collections after major events like quinceañera or weddings.  Second, the church has had to cut staff and lower fees for weddings and funerals.  The church also partners with other organizations to help the community, and offers some scholarships to students.

But times are tough for the church too.  They can put out the coffers as often as they please, but they have no power over how much money comes back in them.  When Father Dean was speaking to Neon Tommy, he was sitting in an architect’s office trying to draw up a feasible plan for the church building’s repairs.  “We can’t afford to fix our own roof,” he said chuckling.

While Father Dean is honest about the gloom in Stockton, he also speaks to the resilience of the community.  “Stockton really is a beautiful city. People who are being affected have already gone through similar struggles before; they are going on with their lives.”

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