Saint Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church was established in Hayward, California in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1976.
The Establishment of the Parish
In July 1970, H.G. Bishop Antonius and H.G. Bishop Samuel visited the San Francisco Bay Area and met with the members of several Coptic families. By the end of 1970 and throughout 1971, the late Fr. Bishoy Kamel started a liturgical service in the area on the first Saturday of every month. Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty continued the Saturday services in 1972 and 1973. The area was blessed between 1973-1975 to receive the services of Fr. Arsanius Aziz, Fr. Rofail Sobhy Mikhail, Fr. Antonius Henein, Fr. Ibrahim Aziz Gindi, and Fr. Felimon Mahrous Mikhail.
Up until 1976, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated at Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in San Francisco with the permission of then pastor, Fr. Gregory Ofeish.
In November 1976, about 20 Coptic families, led by Fr. Felimon Mikhail and then Fr. Aghathon El-Baramousy (the late H.G. Bishop Yacobos), purchased the current property at 2500 Hansen Road in Hayward.
From November 1976 to May 1977, Fr. Aghathon was the first priest to serve the church. The congregation grew to more than 50 families. The church was re-oriented to face east, an altar and sanctuary were build, and a room was built for Sunday school.
The First Visit of H.H. Pope Shenouda III
In May 1977, Saint Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church welcomed H.H. Pope Shenouda III during his first pastoral visit to the United States. His Holiness was accompanied by the late H.G. Bishop Samuel, bishop of general and social services, as well as the late H.G. Bishop Youannis of Gharbia. At the end of this visit, His Holiness asked Fr. Aghathon to return to Cairo for the Feast of Pentecost, where he was enthroned as the bishop of Zagzig and given the name Bishop Yacobos.
The Pastoral Service in the 1970’s and 1980’s
These events were followed by the service of the late Fr. Antonious Henein, who prayed on the Divine Liturgy every Saturday until October 1977. Fr. Wissa El-Suryani was sent to serve until he was ordained Bishop Isaak in May 1978. During this time, the congregation exceeded 100 families as more Copts moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.
In December 1978, Fr. Ishaia Mikhail Bibawi came to serve at Saint Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church. In 1980, the church sanctuary and baptistry were renovated, and three Sunday School classrooms were constructed. The congregation grew to more than 170 families.
In June 1983, Fr. Ishaia returned to Egypt. Between June 1983 and April 1984, Fr. Bishoy Ghobrial of Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, came to conduct the Divine Liturgy every Saturday.
Afterward, Fr. Mikhail Mikhail Meleka arrived and began a construction project to build a rectory (pastoral residence) on the church’s property. He also began building the Iconstasis in the church itself.
As Fr. Mikhail prepared for his return to Egypt, Fr. Moussa El-Suryani was appointed to serve in the Bay Area in July 1985. By this time, the congregation of Saint Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church grew to more than 250 families. During this time, the church began a major construction and expansion project, building a fellowship hall and renovating the church building. Several Sunday School classrooms were also built at this time and the parking lot was expanded.
September 1989 welcomed the arrival of Fr. Matthias F. Wahba.
The Second Visit of H.H. Pope Shenouda III
On October 24, 1989, H.H. Pope Shenouda III began a four-day stay with the congregation of Saint Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church. Among the highlights of this stay was a lecture delivered by His Holiness and the University of California, Berkley on “The Coptic Church: Past and Present.” This was attended by a large number of people from the San Francisco Bay Area. His Holiness also met Christian, Islamic, and Jewish leaders at the Egyptian Consulate in San Francisco. On the same day, His Holiness delivered a lecture on how to raise children in a Christian manner, at a reception held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. On Saturday, October 27, His Holiness conducted a Question & Answer session with the congregation. On the next day, His Holiness celebrated the Divine Liturgy, consecrated the altar of the church, and ordained chanters and readers.
His Holiness was accompanied by H.G. Bishop Ruweiss, H.G. Bishop Tadros, H.G. Bishop Moussa, and H.G. Bishop Paula, as well as many priests from Southern California.
Parish Activities from the 1990’s to the Present
Under the pastoral guidance of Fr. Matthias, Saint Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church made great strides in her service.
The church established a bookstore, completed the church icons, purchased land adjacent to the church, and completed her Sunday School Building project, comprising seven new classrooms.
Many family and youth activities also started during this time, including the regular Friday youth meeting, bible studies, family conferences and retreats, holiday celebrations, summer conventions, and the annual graduation celebrations.
Fr. Matthias also spearheaded many publishing activities including the monthly newsletter, divine service books including Coptic Liturgies & Hymns, and the Agpeya. Fr. Matthias also published his M.A. thesis, “The Doctrine of Sanctification according to Saint Athanasius,” and his Ph.D. thesis, “Honorable Marriage according to Saint Athanasius.” He also published more than 20 books and booklets on church history, the lives of the saints, as well as the sayings and commentaries of the Early Chruch Fathers.
Fr. Bishoy Ray Ibrahim served at Saint Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church from March 2007 till March 2017, the church increased in its activities, establishing various meetings and services, and laying the foundation for the Coptic Youth Center and other community projects.