October 24, 2014

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Jesuit Roots of OC Hispanic Ministry

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The Jesuits saw a need they wanted to address: the need to serve the Latino Catholic community. So they did something about it. Through their provincial, the Jesuits consulted with Cardinal Timothy Manning, leader of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (which included at that time—the early 70s—Orange County).

It took a little time, but eventually a group of Jesuits was given an assignment: to go down to Orange County, find out what the needs of its Latino Catholics were, and to work to meet those needs.

The Jesuit team—a handful of young men—was given living quarters at the convent of Buena Park parish St. Pius V, and they got to work.

“We began Masses in Spanish in eight different parishes,” recalls Father Allan Deck, SJ, who was a transitional deacon at the time he moved down to St. Pius V as part of the Jesuit team. “Now, more than half of [Orange County parishes] have [Mass in Spanish].”

That was a big change—but more changes quickly loomed up. Foremost among them was the foundation of the Diocese of Orange in 1976. The following year, the Jesuit team was asked to take responsibility for Santa Ana parish Our Lady of Guadalupe, Delhi; Father Deck became the administrator. (Another group of Jesuits moved into St. Pius V, bringing with them community organizing skills that continue to make an impact today.)

The Jesuits also established the Centro Pastoral Guadalupe, a nonprofit religious educational institute promoting Hispanic ministry in Orange County. And then, in 1979, Diocese of Orange founding Bishop William Johnson told the Jesuits he wanted the Centro Pastoral Guadalupe to become the Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Orange.

“When [the diocese] acquired Marywood, we [Father Anastacio Rivera, SJ, and I] were among the first people to go up there and open the Office of Hispanic Ministry,” Father Deck recalls.

Though Hispanic Ministry seems a commonplace now, 35 years ago it was something of a new idea in the United States. There was a need for such a ministry, but resources to develop and grow one were scarce. Father Rivera recalls that prior to the Jesuits’ move to Orange County, few Spanish-language Masses were celebrated here—and then, often, only when a priest could come down from Los Angeles for a weekend. (There were exceptions, of course; Spanish-speaking Augustinian Fathers staffed Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Pillar, both in Santa Ana, for many years before the arrival of the Jesuits in Orange County.)

And the idea of training people for liturgical ministries—that was even tougher, Father Rivera recalls. “Sisters would be doing the catechetical work in some of the parishes, but any other kind of involvement on the part of thee people—there just weren’t any resources for that.”

These energetic priests were soon called to other areas of ministry; Father Deck founded the Loyola Institute for Spirituality, based in Orange, and Father Rivera was called back to Los Angeles to head Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese. (Father Deck later served as founding executive director of the US Council of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity, and is currently the Charles S. Casassa Chair of Catholic Social Values at Loyola Marymount University.)

This month, Father Deck and Father River celebrate 50 years in the Jesuit order—an appropriate time for looking back on their ministry.

“The demographic trends were already very much in the direction of the Hispanic community becoming very prominent in the Catholic Church. We knew there was a lack of leadership, there was often a lack of services, and we were concerned about serving those that were being left out,” says Father Deck.

“There’s no question but that my experience in Orange was the most influential pastoral experiences that I had, that shaped my teaching and my writing. I met people who formed me as a priest, and made many good friends.”

“It does just really seem incredible that 50 years have gone on since we entered,” agrees Father Rivera.

“It just seems like there’s a continuing, never-ending process of deepening who is Christ for me, and where is Christ calling me.”

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