Bishop Kevin Vann couldn’t attend the funeral in person, but he made time before the packed ceremony at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Westminster to pray before the deacon’s casket.
Joseph Randolph Stripling, Sr. – “Deacon Joe” to the tens of thousands of parishioners he cared for during his 37 years at Blessed Sacrament – died on Dec. 4, 2016, at age 78.
Deacon Joe was the first and only Black deacon in the Diocese of Orange, until recently. According to his loved ones, priests and parishioners who knew him well, he was a shining example of how a deacon is called to embody Christ the servant.
Today, Deacon Joe’s family – wife Dolores and their six surviving children – continue to live out his Christian legacy of selfless love and compassion for all.
DEACON JOSEPH STRIPLING AND HIS WIFE DOLORES STRIPLING ON THEIR WEDDING DAY, NOV. 5. 1960
“We feel it’s our responsibility as his children to affect as many people as we can in a positive way,” said son Gerard, an accomplished sculptor who lives in Laguna Beach. “Even collectively, we won’t be able to do as much as he did, but at least we need to try because he’s not around to do it.”
Wife Dolores was married for 56 years to the man she met while growing up in New Orleans, and her support was key to his success as a deacon.
DEACON JOSEPH STRIPLING AND HIS WIFE DOLORES STRIPLING (FRONT ROW CENTER) ARE PICTURED WITH FAMILY MEMBERS DURING THE VOW RENEWAL CELEBRATION OF HIS SON JOE JR. AND HIS WIFE ALMA. CIRCA 2013.
“Dolores is the epitome of graciousness,” said Patti Calabrese, wife of Deacon Matt Calabrese, who served at Blessed Sacrament concurrently with the Striplings for several years. “She is generous and a
Dolores said her husband’s church responsibilities never detracted from his role as an active and loving husband and father.
“He made sure the needs of his family were always met,” she said.
It’s no surprise that Deacon Joe’s casket was decorated with bronzed raised accents depicting The Last Supper, whose numerous meanings include the importance of fellowship.
For Deacon Joe, family and his large faith community of Catholics were everything. One of his gifts was the ability to bring out the best in everyone.
The significance of his passing was not lost on Bishop Vann.
“Well done, my good and faithful servant,” the bishop addressed Deacon Joe during his blessing.
DEACON JOSEPH STRIPLING TAKES A SWING WHILE OUT ON THE GOLF COURSE.
‘FAITHFUL IN ALL THINGS’
Deacons are mentioned numerous times in the Bible.
The First Epistle to Timothy in the New Testament, which includes descriptions of the organization of the Church and its leaders, said deacons “must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience….Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.”
“Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well,” 1Timothy 3:8-13 continues. “For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
DOLORES STRIPLING IS PICTURED IN HER GRADUATION PORTRAIT FROM ST. MARY’S ACADEMY IN NEW ORLEANS.
Today, there are close to 150 active deacons in the Diocese of Orange, said Deacon Frank Chávez, director emeritus of the Diocese’s permanent diaconate program.
Ordained in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1977, Deacon Joe was among the first handful of deacons in the Diocese of Orange when it was formed on March 24, 1976.
“He and Dolores were real pioneers,” said Chávez, a deacon for 39 years. “She’s a great woman…And I’ve always admired their tremendous faith. It’s pure and deep, and they’ve been a wonderful example to all of us.”
AN INEVITABLE CALLING
A member of the inaugural graduating class of St. Augustine High School, a private, Catholic, all-boys high school run by the Josephites in New Orleans, young Joe Stripling had an unwavering faith that made his decision to become a deacon somewhat inevitable, his wife and children say.
The Stripling children were encouraged to pray together nightly and were reminded to treat each other with respect.
“He definitely wanted us to get along – no matter what,” said daughter Gerise Stripling Reaves, who owns Body Oasis Pilates Studio in Seal Beach. “We learned how to celebrate each other’s passions and achievements.”
“I remember when there was an argument or fighting between any of us, my father would indignantly say out loud to whomever was squabbling: ‘That is your sister. That is your brother. You must get along. You must love one another.’”
LORI STANLEY, DEIDRE PORTER, GERARD STRIPLING, GERISE STRIPLING REAVES, JOE STRIPLING, DOLORES
STRIPLING AND BYRON STRIPLING VISIT CHRIST CATHEDRAL CAMPUS ON AUG. 11.
The Stripling children’s parents, who spent their formative years in the segregated South before relocating to Los Angeles after Joe served in the U.S. Air Force, instilled in them the importance of loving and accepting all people – even when others openly exhibited prejudice toward them.
“We love because of our faith,” said Dolores, who recalls painful incidents growing up.
“At times, living in the South was very devastating to my parents,” said another daughter, Dr. Deidre Porter, a retired educator with an Ed.D. in educational psychology from USC. “Nevertheless, my parents rose above their circumstances and embraced their Catholic faith.”
Spending time in France, Germany and other parts of Europe while in the Air Force was a critical experience for Joe, said son Byron, a furniture and architectural designer who lives in Eagle Rock.
“That opened his eyes a lot,” Byron said. “He was treated by others like a human being.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Deacon Joe’s favorite Scripture is Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
LOVED GOLF, COOKING
As a quality control engineer, Deacon Joe desired to create greater opportunities for his wife and children at the time (the Striplings lost a daughter, Marla, 25, in a car accident; another daughter Erica died at birth) motivated him to relocate his family from Mid-City Los Angeles to Huntington Beach.
The family appreciated the relative diversity of Blessed Sacrament parish in neighboring Westminster. Among many of their accomplishments, it was here that Joe and Dolores established the Divine Mercy devotion.
A highlight during their marriage was attending together the canonization of St. Katharine Drexel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, in Rome in 2000. Dolores attended Xavier University, which Drexel established in New Orleans as the first and only Black, Catholic university in the United States.
“It was my first trip abroad,” Dolores recalled, “and it was surreal – such a beautiful experience.”
Retired Fr. James Hartnett, pastor at Blessed Sacrament Church from 1986 to 2005, recalls Deacon Joe’s special devotion to the sick and elderly; he presided at many funerals and assisted families in the bereavement process.
“He had a very gentle character and was a very humble man of tremendous faith,” Fr. Jim recalled. “He was very dedicated and always had a smile on his face.”
Fr. Jim also was a frequent participant in Deacon Joe’s main passion outside of church and family: golf. He fondly recalls their many matches on Deacon Joe’s favorite golf course, Willowick in Santa Ana.
A serious golf habit can chew up a person’s weekends like so many errant whacks of a club on grass. Not so for Deacon Joe, whose children recall him frequently practicing his swings in the backyard or putting on the living room carpet while spending time with his family instead of spending hours away from them on the greens.
Invariably, weekends would be time for another of Deacon Joe’s passions: cooking.
Among his famous creations were his insanely good guacamole, jambalaya, gumbo and chicken sausage – food his numerous grandchildren still rave about today.
“He had serious cooking skills,” said granddaughter Zoe Stanley. “In addition to that, he was one of the best men I know. He was honest, caring and so much more.”
Rikki Porter, another granddaughter, recalled his love of sports and his undying support of her at soccer games.
“Get the ball in the goal!” he would scream at her in encouragement. Similarly, Deacon Joe would bellow at the TV while watching NFL games, recalled granddaughter Madison Reaves.
“C’mon, boys – get a TD!!” Deacon Joe would shout at the screen.
Lori Stanley, the Striplings’ eldest daughter (son Joseph Jr. is the first born), taught for several years at Blessed Sacrament School. In 2018, she became the first layperson to be named executive director
of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange.
“We don’t understand how our father could help so many people and still spend so much time with us,” said Stanley, who earned a master’s degree in Pastoral Theology from Loyola Marymount University.
“We felt he gave all his love and attention to us, but that’s the way he was with everybody Scrolling through her father’s mobile phone after he died, Stanley was blown away by all the heartfelt messages from parishioners who adored him.
“It was almost like he was an international dignitary,” she said of the throng of those who showed up to pay their respects at Deacon Joe’s rosary and funeral.
Joseph Jr., an independent contractor driver, recalled the good works his father did without broadcasting it to everyone.
Recently, Joe Jr. learned from a good friend how his father counseled his friend during a particularly trying personal crisis when he was a young teen.
“Dad counseled him for hours – he didn’t have to do that,” said Joe Jr., who was an altar server at his father’s diaconate ordination.
Such an act was totally in Deacon Joe’s character.
Christina Sinclair, early childhood director at St. Joachim Catholic Church in Orange, used to work at Blessed Sacrament School.
“I would ask Deacon Joe to pray over the fathers and children during our annual pre-kindergarten Father’s Day celebration,” Sinclair said. “He valued fatherhood and family and was so aware of the importance of that role.”
A GOOD DEACON
What makes a good deacon?
Being effective on the altar is important, said Deacon Chávez.
“But also, being aware of what’s going on in the community — at hospitals and jails and any type of center where we are taking care of people on the fringes of life,” he added. “That’s where deacons should be, and that’s where Joe excelled.”
And where there was Joe there was Dolores.
“It’s often said that there’s always a good woman behind a successful man,” said Shirl Giacomi, who served as Chancellor of the Diocese of Orange for a decade and a half, up to 2017. “This was certainly true with Dolores. She was a true partner in marriage, parenting and ministry. Her strong faith in God was evident in the bond they shared with their family and her partnership in Deacon Stripling’s ministry.”
Added Deacon Chávez: “When you were with Joe,” there were no issues. You were struck by his peaceful and hopeful words and his affirmations. You just felt good when you were with him.
“And you never visualized Joe and Dolores as being separate. When you thought of Joe, you thought of Dolores. And when you thought of Dolores, you thought of Joe.”