General News

Rev. Fr. Thomas J. Paris Has Fallen Asleep in the Lord

OAKLAND, CA – Reverend Father Thomas J. Paris, Dean Emeritus of the Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland, passed away on August 8, following a long battle with cancer.

“Father Tom Paris embodied the heart and soul of the Ascension Greek Orthodox Community in Oakland for 50 years. His service to the local community and the Greek Orthodox Church in America was a shining example to all our fellow clergy,” said Rev. Father Thomas J. Zaferes, Proistamenos of Ascension Cathedral.

Fr. Paris, the son of James and Grace Paris, was born and raised in Chicago, IL on September 15, 1935. He served as president of his parish youth group and was the captain of the altar boys. Fr. Paris earned the rank of ‘life scout’ and served as an assistant scoutmaster. He received the Phi Beta Kappa and B’nai B’rith Youth of the Year Awards and was selected for the Chicago Tribune all-city football team.

Fr. Paris graduated from Chicago’s Amundsen High School in 1953. In 1959, he graduated from Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, MA, where he was class president and newspaper and yearbook editor. After graduation, he married Vaso Katinas of St. Louis, MI and traveled with her to Greece on a honeymoon that lasted two years. There he completed his Licentiate of Theology with honors at the Theological School of the University of Athens and the happy couple was blessed with the birth of their son, James.

Fr. Paris was ordained as a deacon in Athens in August of 1961 and as a priest in Chicago that December. He was assigned to the St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Savannah, Georgia where he served almost 10 years. Under his leadership they paid off the church mortgage and purchased five nearby homes for expansion. He was president of the Family Counseling Center and Travelers Aid Society and the Chatham Clergy Conference, the city’s first inter-racial clergy body – he played an important role in the peaceful integration of Savannah.

In August of 1971, Fr. Tom, Presbytera Vaso, and their five children arrived in Oakland, where he lived and served the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension for the next 50 years. Under his leadership the parish was elevated to Cathedral status in 1992 and hosted four Patriarchs as well as two heads of state. The parish was able to liquidate its mortgage and build a large multi-purpose Community Center. The last edition to the master plan for which fundraising is ongoing is the completed parking pavilion and the chapel which still needs to be completed. During his tenure endowment and scholarship funds were established, including one in his honor. The parish Summer Camp was founded in 1972 and continues to be a vibrant ministry, creating many bonds and lasting friendships. 

Fr. Paris organized the parish Spiritual Renewal Organization, authored six 24-week bible studies, and oversaw three bible study groups. He and the parish helped Ethiopian, Bulgarian, and Eritrean Orthodox parishes get organized by providing facilities, financial support for their clergy, and social services for their members. Fr. Paris helped organize the immensely popular Festival of Greece (which was later renamed the Oakland Greek Festival) along with the highly successful weekly Senior Center Program. He was a champion of the Ascension Cathedral Golf Tournament and took it to a new level, for which he is recognized annually by The Father Tom Paris ‘Halfway to Heaven’ Long Drive Contest. He was a charter member of the Interreligious Council of Oakland, which responded so effectively to help alleviate the suffering caused by the Loma Prieta Earthquake and the Oakland Hills Firestorm.

In service to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, Fr. Paris served as Retreat Master, was chairman of the Spiritual Renewal Committee, and the Northern California Youth Organization. He also co-founded and led the Senior Camp and helped form the Northern California Chapter of the International Orthodox Christian Charities. Fr. Paris helped raise $75,000 for Ethiopian famine relief and traveled to visit the Patriarch of Ethiopia to deliver the funds at his own expense. He served on the board of directors of the Trinity Homes for fifteen years and as president for eight years. He also served three years as president of the Brotherhood of St. Nicholas for the St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center and was chairman of the board and chaplain of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley.

On the national level, Fr. Paris served on the Board of Directors of Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He was a member of the Archdiocesan Council, chairing the Clergy and Clergy Family Committee, which inspired the establishment of a crisis hotline for clergy, their spouses and their children, providing professional support to prevent clergy burnout and family distress. He also was elected to the National Presbyters Council for eight years and served as its treasurer for four years. Following his retirement in 2009, he served the community of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Santa Cruz, California for several months until a permanent priest was appointed.

“Father Paris faithfully served our Oakland community for more than 50 years," said TNH contributor Theo Karantsalis, whose best childhood friends were Fr. Paris’ sons, who followed their father’s footsteps in the priesthood, Rev. Jimmy Paris, who serves in Clearwater, FL and Rev. Paul Paris, who serves in Portland, OR. “We grew up in each others' homes and went to Greek school, GOYA events, and served in the altar together under the guidance of Father Paris.”

Last month, Karantsalis penned a story about what it was like for Paris in 1971 when he arrived in Oakland, and how the Ascension cathedral parish sought to comfort him with uplifting videos. “When we last spoke by phone, I confessed and we prayed together,” Karantsalis said. “May his memory be eternal.”

Fr. Paris will be remembered for his gift of encouragement, his joyful laugh, and a loving nature. He loved his family and his flock and he was tireless in his efforts to serve others and to do what was pleasing to God. He was present in times of joy and times of sorrow, providing the love and support that was needed.

Fr. Paris is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 61 years, Presbytera Vaso Paris and four children, Fr. James T. Paris (Presbytera Eleni), Maria Delvizis (James), Fr. Paul T. Paris (Presbytera Stephanie) and Connie Paris. He was preceded in death by his son Thomas Nicholas Paris and his sisters, Marie Klink and Helen Christ (Chris).

Father Paris was the proud pappou of eight grandchildren, Grace Paris, Michael Delvizis, Nicholas Paris, Vasi Paris, Lucas Paris, Sophia Paris, Alexander Delvizis, and Thomas G. Paris. Additionally, he is survived by his sister Joanne Julian (David) and a host of cousins, nieces, and nephews. 

All services for Fr. Paris will be held at the Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 4700 Lincoln Avenue in the hills of Oakland, CA, and officiated by His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco: Viewing from 4 PM and Trisagion at 6 PM on Friday, August 13. Matins 7 AM, followed by the Divine Liturgy. Funeral service at 10 Am on Friday, August 14. Interment immediately following at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, CA.

Due to the recent resurgence in COVID cases, Alameda County and the Bay Area have reinstituted the mask mandate in public indoor settings for all people ages 2 and older.

Live streaming of all services will be available from the Ascension Cathedral website at ascensioncathedral.com and on Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/AscensionCathedral/

In lieu of flowers, the family is grateful for your support of the Chapel completion to the Fr. Thomas J. Paris Legacy Tribute in his memory. Donations may be offered online at ascensioncathedral.com/frtomparis or mailed to Ascension Cathedral, 4700 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, CA 94602. Checks should be made payable to “Ascension Cathedral,” please note the “Fr. Paris Tribute.”


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