Fr. John Bakas with his devoted Presbytera Maria surrounded by their beautiful children, their families, and his siblings. (Photo: Allen Altchech Photography)
LOS ANGELES – More than 500 guests weathered a torrential downpour to gather for a Tribute Gala at Saint Sophia Cathedral Huffington Center on January 14 to honor the beloved Very Reverend Father John S. Bakas and to celebrate his 27 years of service, devotion and dedication. Fr. Bakas retired on January 22 and is the longest serving dean of the historic Cathedral founded in 1952.
Chaired by Tina Callas and Diane Sakellaris Lapa, and themed Honoring our Spiritual Legacy and Endowing Our Future, the festivities included a cocktail reception, dinner, slide show and musical presentations, tributes from parish leaders, reflections from donors and family members and a commemorative album. A benediction from Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco was delivered, remotely.
A music lover known for his exceptional voice and an avid motorcyclist, it was apropos to start the program with a serenade of ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Michelle Patzakis, lyric soprano, and her daughter, actor, singer and artist, Arianna Prappas and an invocation by fellow biker, Monsignor Francis Hicks.
Tributes followed from Constantine Boukidis, president of the Saint Sophia Foundation, Anna Yallourakis, president of the Saint Sophia Parish Council, and Dina Demetrius, president of the Saint Sophia Philoptochos Society. Heartfelt reflections on Fr. Bakas’ life and legacy were then shared by Christopher Yokas, cathedral organist, Michael Huffington, friend and donor, daughter Kassandra Bakas Kirages and grandson Lucas Kirages.
“Twenty-eight years ago, I attended the Diocesan Clergy Laity Assembly with a mission to find our next priest. Luckily, he sat in front of me at lunch! From that conversation I knew he would be a very good fit,” said Constantine Boukidis, president of the Saint Sophia Foundation. “Father Bakas has enriched all our lives immeasurably and transformed our Saint Sophia community for the better. We are forever grateful for his vision, compassion and leadership.”
In his honoree response, Fr. Bakas acknowledged “we are all stars” and encouraged everyone to share their many talents to further nurture and enhance the Saint Sophia community. He offered special thanks to donors including Michael Huffington, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Jim Gianopulos and John Rallis who were in attendance, and Maria Maniatakos and of blessed memory, Ted Maniatakos, for their transformational gifts that have expanded the Saint Sophia campus with the Huffington Center. He thanked his wife Presbytera Maria for her unwavering support, his sister Christine and brother Nicholas, children Andrea, Kassandra (Daniel) who served as the event’s advisor, Katia, and Alexi (Jordan) and grandchildren Lucas and Juliet Kirages, Anastasia and John Jr. Boudouvas, Noelle and Noah Bakas.
Concluding the evening, Fr. Bakas reflected on his upbringing. “I am the son of poor immigrants. My father was a dish washer and my mother a waitress. But despite that, God and this country have blessed us with tremendous opportunities and unimaginable good fortune,” and in gratitude, he sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic accompanied by Ms. Prappas and Catherine Psarakis, Assistant Choir Director.
The gala’s committee members included: Vicky Ambatielos, Karen Bosten, Jeanne Boukidis Tina Callas, Tonifaye Palomares Chassman, Judie Christopoulos, Mary-Kay Demetriou, Dina Demetrius, Timi Freshman, Jeanine Hanna, Alexia Haidos Itzigsohn, Olga Jordan, Vannie Karavas, Kassandra Bakas Kirages, Kathleen Kyriacou, Diane Sakellaris Lapa, Jodi Litchfield, Loula Moschonas, Melanie O’ Regan, Cynthia Spears and Anna Yallourakis.
Tribute Gala proceeds will benefit the Saint Sophia community and its ministries, youth activities and programs, local community outreach and expansion, and academic and service-based scholarships.
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