“It’s worth it!” says Fr. Juan
Romero, ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles fifty years ago on
April 30, 1964. A decade ago, he retired from
administration, and moved to the Coachella Valley, part of the vast San
Bernardino-Riverside Diocese, where he has been serving as a
“supply-priest” at various parishes.
On Saturday May 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm, Father Romero celebrated a fifty-year
anniversary Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Indio where he spent a
year as a “priest-minister.”
He will celebrate another anniversary Mass on June 21 at the church of
his baptism, the oft-photographed church of St Francis in Ranchos de Taos in
northern New Mexico.
Jubilee celebration is a special time to give and praise and thanks to God, and
I do! As long as the Lord gives me life
and breath, I intend to serve God and His people,” stated the jubilarian. Friends of Father Juan Romero are arranging
an Alaskan Cruise Inside Passage
from August 29 to September 5.
“It’s a great time and place to get out of the Valley’s summer
heat. Welcome aboard!” Romero
invited. For information on the
Celebrity Solstice Cruise that leaves from Seattle, call (800) 772-0847 and ask
for Father Juan’s Desk.
recalls the last half-century with some nostalgia, great joy, and a lot of
gratitude. He has had his share of
excitement and even drama as a priest: walking picket lines with farm workers
and going to jail with them in civil disobedience of unjust injunctions;
marching in protest against the Vietnam War in which a so many were killed, especially
the disproportionate number of Mexican Americans; and participating in
broad-based community organizations such as UNO, United Neighborhoods Organization
in East Los Angeles and other places. “It
was fun to see regular parishioners from different parishes and Protestant
congregations hold politicians accountable for specific benefits to the broader
community,” he stated. “However, the
most important thing I do and have done is to celebrate Mass, baptize, anoint
the sick, hear confessions and give absolution.”
For four decades, he
served in a variety of parishes in the far-flung Archdiocese of Los
Angeles—from Santa Barbara to La Habra in north Orange County when it still
belonged to the L.A. Archdiocese. He was
assigned as pastor to three different parishes throughout the Archdiocese: in
La Puente (now called Valinda), Santa Monica-Venice, and East Los Angeles where
he served three different times.
from assignment in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he twice worked in
specialized Hispanic ministry on the national level. In the mid- ’70s, Father Romero
worked four years out of San Antonio, Texas as executive director of the PADRES
organization. For one intensive year in 1984-85,
he worked out of Washington, D.C. on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Bishops’
Spanish Speaking Secretariat as the national coordinator of the Tercer Encuentro, “a fascinating
challenge!”Romero described the job. Meetings within parishes, dioceses, and large regions
composed of groupings of states in a geographical area took place over a period
of a few years with the purpose of producing a national pastoral plan for the country’s Spanish speaking. “My job was to wrap up the final
phase of the consultation process among Latino Catholics within the United
States, and to set up the logistics for the culminating event of the Tercer Encuentro Hispano de Pastoral at
Catholic University in August 1985.
Father Romero remembers
with nostalgia and gratitude the special relationship he enjoyed with Cesar
Chavez and Dolores Huerta. In November 1972 during the “No on 22
Campaign,” when his family home was unoccupied, Cesar lived in the house for a
month. “He and his staff of about eight people took the place over while Cesar’s
two German shepherd guard-dogs, Boycott and Huelga, commandered the back
yard,” Romero recalled.
In April 1973,
Father Romero was part of an inter-religious delegation of clergy and laity who
took a straw poll among workers in the Coachella Valley to ascertain which
union they would prefer to join: the Teamsters or the United Farmworkers.
“Hands down, it was the UFW,” affirms Romero. This was during
his PADRES years, and by the late summer that year, Romero spent almost two
weeks “in prayer and fasting” in the Fresno County Jail. He was in the good company of hundreds of
farmworkers, clergy, religious and lay supporters of farmworkers including
Dorothy Day, the storied apostle of the poor. “When Chavez died
twenty-one years ago (April 23), I was asked to be in charge of the logistics
for the funeral Mass, and was pleased to do so.
My own Archbishop and schoolmate, Cardinal Roger Mahony, gave the
Research and writing
about the life and legacy of Padre Antonio José, Cura de Taos (1793-1867), has
been the passionate hobby of Fr. Romero.
He maintains a blog on the Padre, <thetaosconnecion.com>, has
written a biography on the priest, Reluctant
Dawn, and was the principal catalyst for having the state of New Mexico in
2006 fund and place in the Taos Plaza a larger than life-sized bronze memorial
of the Padre.
Retired Air Force
Major Tobias Romero, Father Juan’s oldest brother in the seminary for five
years before going into the Air Force, was unable to make the celebration in
Indio because of ill health. His older
brother Father Gilbert, Ph. D. (from Princeton, Old Testament) ordained in
1961, accompanied Fr. Juan, and gave him a special blessing at the end of the
Anniversary Mass. Their father J. Tobias
Romero was ordained a Claretian priest in 1975.
His last employment, before going into the seminary a year after his
wife died in 1969, was as an accountant for CBS. Father Tobias Romero, the
elder, served in ministry for almost twenty-two years before his death in 1996.
Father Juan Romero
summed up his half-a-century as a priest:
With the prayerful support of family, my priest-support
group and close friends, I have been able to negotiate life’s road with all its
twists and turns, curves and hills with their downs and ups. There have been plenty of the former, but even
more of the latter. My life as a priest has
definitely been worth it, a true blessing of the Lord in His service and that
of His people!