Jean Tamaki, who was legendary in her ministry as secretary to five bishops of the Diocese of Sacramento over the course of 48 years, died on Oct. 1 in Sacramento. She was 93.
Bishop Emeritus William K. Weigand will be the principal celebrant at her funeral Mass at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, in the chapel at St. Mary’s Funeral Center at 6509 Fruitridge Road in Sacramento. Msgr. Robert Walton, pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Parish in Sacramento, who worked for decades with Jean, will be the homilist. Father John Boll, pastor emeritus of St. Anthony Parish in Sacramento, will give a eulogy. Viewing will precede the Mass at 9 a.m. Msgr. James Kidder, pastor emeritus of Holy Trinity Parish in El Dorado HIlls, who also worked with Jean for decades, will do the burial.
Jean grew up on her family’s four-acre strawberry farm in south Sacramento and attended nearby Pacific School. During World War II, Jean and her family were among some 120,000 Japanese Americans forced to evacuate the West Coast. For many second generation Nisei in Northern California who were citizens, such as Jean and her sister Lil, who died in 2016, the evacuation meant leaving behind friends, property, businesses and all else to spend the war years at the desolate Tule Lake internment camp in far northeastern California.
In an interview with Catholic Herald magazine in 2011, Jean and Lil said the years they spent sequestered from the outside world at the camp became the defining period of their spiritual lives. During that time, they immersed themselves in the practice of their newfound Catholic faith and wove their story into the spiritual history of the Diocese of Sacramento.
At the Camp Walerga assembly center in North Highlands, where Lil and her family were housed for months in simple barracks prior to Tule Lake, Jean had her first encounter with the Catholic faith. She and Lil met the Franciscan Sisters of Penance and Charity who ran Holy Angels kindergarten for Japanese-American children, and Father (later Monsignor) Thomas Kirby, secretary and chancellor to Bishop Robert Armstrong. Msgr. Kirby also served as chaplain to the Japanese Catholic community. Jean and Lil began taking Bible and catechism classes.
“You can tell God was present then, and through all of my life,” Jean told Catholic Herald magazine. “This is how we were introduced to the church. When we were at Tule Lake, the Maryknoll Fathers were assigned to minister to Catholics there. It was a natural thing to grow in the Catholic faith and to attend Mass.”
Maryknoll Father Joseph Hunt, who spoke Japanese with a strong Boston accent, ministered to the small number of Japanese Catholic families at Tule Lake. Jean and Lil took catechism classes from Father Hunt until 1943, when they were baptized and confirmed by Bishop Armstrong, who traveled to Tule Lake with Msgr. Kirby to administer the sacraments to a small number of new converts.
When Jean and Lil returned to Sacramento in 1945, they were influenced by Father Hunt’s suggestion to attend a Catholic school, so they obtained permission from their parents to attend St. Patrick’s School on Franklin Boulevard. Both Jean and Lil graduated from St. Patrick’s School and later St. Francis High School, and began decades as faithful parishioners of St. Rose Parish.
During her junior and senior years at St. Francis, Jean, at the referral of Msgr. Kirby, began working part time for Msgr. Cornelius Higgins, then director of the diocesan tribunal at the chancery office in the Cathedral rectory. After graduation, she became Msgr. Kirby’s secretary and later Bishop Armstrong’s secretary.
Subsequently she served as secretary to four more bishops: Bishop Joseph T. McGucken, Bishop Alden J. Bell, Bishop Francis A. Quinn and Bishop William K. Weigand.
After her retirement in 1995, she continued to volunteer her services each week to Bishop Quinn at Mercy McMahon Terrace in Sacramento to handle his correspondence until his death in 2019.
Jean is survived by her nieces, Joylene Satow and Sherry Sanbo; her great nieces, Erin Takechi and Robi Satow, and her great grand niece, Lauren Takechi.
Read the article by Father John Boll about the Tamaki family of Sacramento at https://www.scd.org/sites/default/files/2017-06/Vol_4_No_17_The_Internment_of_the_Tamaki_Family_in_Tulelake.pdf
Read the article by Julie Sly, Catholic Herald editor, about the Tamaki family in the September/October 2011 issue of Catholic Herald magazine (pages 20-23) at https://catholicmagazines.org/magazine-archive/catholic-herald/sac0911