Born and raised in Ciales, Puerto Rico, Manuel Maldonado-Villalobos, M.Th., studied philosophy and later joined the Carmelite Seminary, earning his master’s in theology. He met some priests from Milwaukee, who, in 2000, invited him to come and develop programs for the Latino community.
“Because of my Latino heritage and because of the need of our community to belong to a Church that is universal and welcoming, and worships as one, I left my family, my country, and came here,” Maldonado-Villalobos. “I am called to serve everyone, with no distinction of race, ethnicity or background, as one Church. At the same time, I love my ministry to our Latino Community so they can find this Universal Catholic Church that is welcoming and serves everyone.”
At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki will ordain Maldonado-Villalobos as a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He is the associate director of the Office of Diaconate Formation and will serve St. John Paul II Parish in Milwaukee. He will participate in liturgical ministry, parent and adult formation, and human concerns. Maldonado-Villalobos will also assist with the St. Ben’s and St. Vincent de Paul meal programs.
Maldonado-Villalobos credits his strong, faith-filled family for his desire to serve the Church as a deacon. He has two sisters and two brothers. One brother lives in Michigan, and the others live near his parents, Victor and Esperanza (Hope). It was his parents who demonstrated Christian love and a willingness to serve others who need help.
“They showed me that in our home, there will always be food, clothes and, at times, a roof for those in need. The love for the Church and the Eucharist, the love for my neighbor and those in need, is a result of the teachings of my parents,” he said. “At Confirmation, I decided to continue to believe in the Church that I grew up in and, as of today, I can say that I love my Catholic faith, and I will continue to serve, as much as I can, my brothers and sisters in need.”
Maldonado-Villalobos said he has volunteered in church ministry since he was 15. One of his favorite scripture passages is Matthew 25:31-46 when Jesus “will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
“As a deacon, I think I can be a bridge between the Church and society, between the people in need and the people who can serve them,” Maldonado-Villalobos said. “As a deacon, I want to continue to see Jesus in my neighbors.”
Maldonado-Villalobos said a common misconception is that he should not go through the program since he works in the Office of Diaconate Formation.
“To these questions and others, I kindly respond that everyone, no matter the studies, backgrounds or even with a position within the Church, always has a space to grow, to learn more and to be formed to serve Christ,” he said. “I can say I am a better minister and a better person because, like everyone, I have the time to open myself to be formed. But this does not stop here. We are called to continue formation, and I will never finish learning about God, The Church and the mission.”
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee currently has around 155 permanent deacons.
As a deacon, Maldonado-Villalobos looks forward to his threefold ministry at St. John Paul II. In liturgy, he will be celebrating baptisms, witnessing marriages, and serving at funerals. In word, he will assist with catechesis for parents, baptism preparation, and proclaiming and preaching the Gospel. In charity, he will be serving in meal programs and the food pantry.
“Mass is the center of my life. It is the center and the summit for all Christians. Yes, I am looking forward not only to participate but also to assist as a deacon,” he said. “As a layperson, the Mass is the center of my spiritual life. Now, as a Deacon, it is not only the center but also the way to be closer to God and serve him more as a minister of the clergy by bringing the table to the lesser, the least and the lonely of society.”