It Rained and It Poured Love, Affection and Gratitude for
the Very Reverent Father John S. Bakas at a Tribute Gala Honoring His Decades of Service, Devotion and Dedication at
Saint Sophia Cathedral and Marking His Retirement
LOS ANGELES, CA – On Saturday, evening, January 14, 500+ guests weathered a torrential downpour to gather for a Tribute Gala at Saint Sophia Cathedral Huffington Center to honor the beloved Very Reverend Father John S. Bakas and to celebrate his 27 years of service, devotion and dedication. Fr. Bakas retired January 22nd 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.
ABOUT VERY REVEREND FATHER JOHN S. BAKAS
For decades Fr. Bakas has played a crucial role in the growth and development of the cathedral, the surrounding neighborhood, and multiple projects and ministries. In addition to serving as Dean of St. Sophia Cathedral since 1995, Fr. Bakas has also been active in various charitable and community service initiatives. His charismatic personality combined with his dedication to bridging faith and civic life led him to work closely with all L.A. mayors, LAPD, City Councilmembers, academics and a variety of civic and state leaders. His service has extended well beyond the walls of the Cathedral and the city of Los Angeles.
Prior to his assignment at the Cathedral, Fr. Bakas served as Chaplain and President of the Valley Children's Hospital Foundation in Fresno, California where he led the fundraising drive to build a new $170 million-dollar facility, now in operation as the nation's state of the art, premier children's hospital.
Bakas led the effort to transform the Cathedral’s surrounding area and helped establish the Byzantine Latino Quarter. His fluency in Spanish, and commitment to transforming this once-dangerous neighborhood, led him to partner with St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church next door and the gangs that roamed the area. He forged a new effort to include former gang members in an uplifting of the community—successfully engaging them in cleaning up the neighborhood. Today the neighborhood is graffiti-free and showcases a mural of angels accompanied by one of his favorite quotes “We are each of us angels with one wing. We can only fly embracing each other.” He founded Camp Axios—a camping program for Los Angeles inner-city at-risk youth. Bakas also founded Project Nino-Mexico which offers free medical care for poor children in Mexico through Rotary International, and the Rotary Greek Amphitheatre in Fresno, a 2,500-seat outdoor theatre built as a mini Epidauros theater of ancient Greece.
Closer to home and starting in 2010, Fr. Bakas led St. Sophia’s effort to build a new community center, engaging parish members and former Congressman Michael Huffington, actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, motion picture executive Jim Gianopulos and community members Ted and Maria Maniatakos and Mary Lynn and John Rallis. The Huffington Center, on the grounds of St. Sophia, not only provides a large state-of-the-art facility for the St. Sophia community, but also a conference space for civic and community groups, as well as a filming location for local productions.
Asked what gives him joy, he replies to find a purpose in his life. "My purpose was to do exactly what I’ve been doing here for the last 27 years,” he says. “To keep Saint Sophia alive, to define our spiritual talents and to help us stay connected to God.”
Born in Kalamata, Greece he emigrated to the United States in 1959 to Albuquerque where he completed his education and went on to become a police officer. Because of his fluency in Spanish, Bakas was assigned and worked in a Latino area riddled with crime. During a routine patrol he arrived at the scene of a shooting, and was overwhelmed to see the victim was a friend with whom he had served as an altar boy years earlier. “He had a bullet hole in his chest,” recounts Father Bakas. “Through tears I performed mouth to mouth resuscitation, and he regained consciousness and said ‘Yianni, you’re a cop. I thought you were going to become a priest. Do it, do it,” then he died. This tormented me for weeks. I was eventually presented with an opportunity to become a priest.”
Fr. Bakas was ordained by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos (of blessed memory) to the diaconate on March 7, 1976, and to the Holy Priesthood on January 21,1979. Over the course of his tenure, he has served as a spiritual leader and mentor to countless individuals. The dedicated Greek Orthodox Christian Priest and his wife, Presvytera Maria, have four adult children and five grandchildren. He is a passionate Civil War buff, participating in re-enactments as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
- Founder of the Rotary House Children’s Hospice in Fresno, Ca.
- Founder, Project Nino, Mexico- Offering free medical care for poor children in Mexico.
- Founder, Byzantine-Latino Quarter of Los Angeles-inner city redevelopment program
- Part-time faculty member – Loyola Marymount University
- Master of Divinity, Loyola Marymount University
- Founder, Camp Axios camping program for Los Angeles inner-city at-risk youth
- Founder of the Rotary Greek Amphitheater in Fresno, a 2,500-seat outdoor theater built as a mini Epidauros theater famous in ancient Greece.
- Co-Chairman of the Police-Clergy Forum of the Los Angeles Police Department
- Serves as Commissioner of the Los Angeles Commission on Children, Youth and Families
- Father Bakas has served as consultant on the Orthodox perspective for director Steven Spielberg’s animated musical drama, Prince of Egypt and Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ.
- Fr. Bakas has appeared as an on-air commentator for the A&E production of “Christianity, The First Thousand Years” and “Banned from the Bible.”
- He was featured on the PBS program “Visiting…with Huell Howser”. The video tour has become a favorite on area Public Television and generated daily tours to the Cathedral.
- He belongs to the California Civil War Re-Enactors Society where he takes on the role (in full uniform) of General Ulysses S. Grant.
- He was a tenor for the Albuquerque Light Opera.
- 2004 University of Southern California (USC) Baccalaureate speaker.
- Ordained to Diaconate on March 7, 1976
- Ordained to The Priesthood on January 21,1979
- Father Bakas is Founder of the Diocesan Camp AGAPE, “Kids N’ Cancer” program for disadvantaged children with cancer.
- Has taught at the University of New Mexico and at Cal State University Stanslaus,
- Served as Chaplain and President of The Valley Children’s Hospital Foundation in Fresno, Ca.
- Has served the following parishes:
a. St. George, Albuquerque, New Mexico
b. Annunciation, Modesto, Ca.
c. St. George, Fresno, Ca.
d. Co-Founder and First Director of St. Nicolas Ranch Retreat Center
e. Founder, St. Basil Parish in Modesto, Ca.
f. St. John, Las Vegas, Nev.
g. Priest and Spiritual Director of The Virgin Mary Convent, Dunlap.Ca.
h. Dean of Saint Sophia Cathedral of Los Angeles, Ca.
Photos: Courtesy Alan Altchech www.holdthatsmile.com”
# # #