What was the catalyst of you entering into the diaconate?
The essence of me applying for the diaconate was the people here in Fond du Lac. They were like lost sheep; they didn’t know what, where or how to be part of the Church. The language barrier was so high, they couldn’t even go to Mass. Most of us who are born here know both languages but not everyone. As a whole, we don’t get involved in the Church like we might.
You mentioned that your community was a big part of the reason you became a deacon. Can you elaborate on that?
They became the pushers. I was busy in my career and with my family, and somewhere along the line, they kept pushing and begging, and I knew that this was something I had to do. We started our community with a handful. There was finally a place where they could come in and say prayers, but we didn’t have a Hispanic priest. We didn’t have any deacons. My community kept asking. They saw an opportunity and somewhere along the line, I sat down and pursued it. It took forever to get into the program, but I was finally accepted. I was ordained in 1981.
Were there other Hispanic deacons ordained in that class?
Four or five Hispanics were ordained that year. It was the largest Hispanic group in the diaconate, and it has made such a difference for our communities. I became the deacon in Fond du Lac, but the problem was that because the Hispanics were so far behind, I spent most of my time working with them. There was absolutely nothing. I saw the opportunity to establish a Hispanic ministry in Fond du Lac.
Can you tell me about that ministry?
I took the opportunity, even though the pay was nothing, and I pursued something the people needed. I became the in-between for the Spanish- and the English-speaking world. The main focus was to bring Hispanics back into the fold. We established everything they needed to be part of their churches. They’re very faithful people but, somewhere along the line, they wanted to receive the sacraments but didn’t know the process, so we helped them. We got them there.
How have you been involved in immigration reform?
I’m very political on the subject of immigration. I went to Arizona about five years ago for a huge conference on immigration. We were only a couple of miles from the border, and during that week, while there were over 300 people across the country, I was the only one from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. But I learned a lot that I brought back here. It was a tremendous convention.
How did you end up in Mexico?
It took a long time to be able to go there, but I spent a week in Mexico because I wanted to talk to the people. The biggest takeaway from that trip was the knowledge that all those people want to do is come over here and work. All they want is to earn a living for their family. They want better lives. All week long, with all different kinds of people, that is the story. It is important that we talk about immigration. The problem is that our stories aren’t talked about. Those of us who are here are 30-40 percent of this country and no one talks about it. It is important. The Hispanic community has flourished here and made the country better.
What made the difference for the Hispanic people in the States?
I think it was the Second Vatican (Council) that opened some of the doors to the Hispanic people in this country. Up until then, we didn’t have any Hispanic archbishops. They wanted to go to church but they didn’t understand. They wanted their kids to receive the sacraments, but they couldn’t be taught. If they’re not taught, then they’re not part of the Church. It wasn’t happening.