Rev. Jayson Landeza Is the Man for the Job

Rev. Landeza provides spiritual guidance to two organizations that need it the most: the Oakland Police Department and the Oakland A’s.


Rev. Jayson Landeza grew up in Berkeley, the son of Hawaiian parents.

Photo by Stephen Texeira

If there’s any organization in dire need of spiritual guidance, it’s the Oakland Police Department. And the Oakland A’s. And—some days, anyway—the entirety of the city of Oakland. Rev. Jayson Landeza is just the man for the job.

Landeza, pastor at St. Benedict Catholic Church at 82nd Avenue and Bancroft in Deep East, is an official law enforcement chaplain and spiritual witness for almost every facet of life in Oakland. He shows up to crime scenes to comfort the bereaved and offer solace to officers; visits homeless camps with food and support; conducts weddings and funerals for residents of all stripes; counsels those who’ve lost everything to fire as well as the fire fighters who helped them; and delivers Mass almost daily at his predominantly African-American parish.

“I don’t know what to say—I just love Oakland,” he said recently at the parish residence. “I love the grittiness of it, the beauty, the friendliness, the challenges. I love how those things are always intersecting and always changing. Every day I’m reminded how special it is to live here.”

Landeza, 54, grew up in Berkeley, the son of Hawaiian parents, and attributes his faith and social awareness to the grandfather of all East Bay activist priests, Rev. Bill O’Donnell of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Berkeley. That was Landeza’s home church as a kid, and O’Donnell’s compassion, tireless political work (he was arrested at least 250 times) and connection to regular people inspired Landeza not just to a life of public service, but of the cloth.

After graduating from UC Davis with a degree in political science, Landeza went to the seminary and joined the Diocese of Oakland in 1987. He chose to be a parish priest, like O’Donnell, so he could live among, and help, ordinary East Bay residents. He has worked at St. Columba in North Oakland, as well as churches in San Leandro and San Ramon. He loves the uniquely African-American, Southern-inspired vibe at St. Benedict and hopes to see it grow.

But the most challenging, and humbling, part of his job is his work with Oakland police. If there’s an especially gruesome crime scene, officers will call him to assist. In traumatic times, even the sight of a priest—with the trademark collar—can bring comfort to crime victims, their families, officers, dispatchers, and anyone else involved in scenes where God seems very distant indeed.

“Mostly, I just listen,” he said. “Just listening brings comfort to some. Others, I direct to resources—peer support groups, trauma services, a shrink. I just try to be there and offer comfort where I can.”

All that human pain can take a toll, even for the most committed social justice crusader. That’s where the Oakland A’s come in. Landeza offers Mass at Sunday home games in the press box for players and staff, and usually sticks around for the game. The sun, the crowd, the leisurely pace of the game—all bring him a sense of solace and a reminder of the essential goodness of the universe.

“Some years the A’s are hot; some years they’re not; but we’re all A’s fans until the end,” he said. “That’s what I tell them in the homily: No matter what, the A’s are fine. We love you. Hang in there. … And let’s go A’s!”

Published online on Sept. 19, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.