Living Hope Newsletter – February 2008
Immigrant, Priest, Pioneer... Bishop
In a short time the Most Rev. Bishop Plácido Rodríguez, C.M.F., has traveled a long way from his modest beginning in Celaya, Mexico. But all through his journey he has tried to live up to one cardinal rule: “Be as helpful as you can to everyone regardless of his or her origin or capabilities.”
That mantra has gained him 39 years of service as a Claretian priest, including 24 as a bishop, spanning dozens of ministries and communities, and countless lives touched. Now the Bishop of Lubbock, Texas, Bishop Rodríguez is the only Claretian in the United States to be named to such a position, and on his Episcopal ordination day, he was the first Hispanic bishop in Chicago or the entire Midwest.
"I was only 43 at the time, and I prayed that the new work would not be too awesome,” Bishop Rodríguez says. In many ways, awesome is the only way to describe this dedicated man who shepherds a church of more than 80,000 Catholics in 62 parishes on the high and rolling plains south of the Texas Panhandle.
He was 12 years old at the time his parents and six of their children migrated to Chicago from Mexico. Rodríguez’s father Eutemio had been a leader in the underground rescue movement to save the lives of priests during the religious persecution of the 1920’s, and he hoped Chicago would provide safe haven for the family.
“I wanted to do something that would be a challenge, something I felt I was called to do. So I thought, ‘I can be a priest; not everybody can be a priest.’ A doctor, he can heal the body, but the priest heals the soul for all eternity,” Bishop Rodríguez says.
It was at Saint Francis of Assisi Parish School on Chicago’s south side that young Plácido became familiar with the Claretians. The priests and brothers who staffed his parish in the Mexican-American neighborhood were, he says, “a spirited and progressive community.”
“Perhaps what I appreciated most about the Claretians was the fact that they were pioneers in the U.S. for Hispanic ministry.”
After his ordination as a Claretian priest in 1968, Rodríguez got to experience firsthand the Hispanic ministry that had drawn him to the order. He was immediately assigned as an associate pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in South Chicago, the oldest Hispanic faith community in the Midwest.
As pastor there and later Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Rodríguez served the spiritual and social needs of a wide variety of Catholics, especially immigrants. His endeavors made an impact, earning him an appointment by Bishop Theodore McCarrick to head Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey.
In 1983 Joseph Cardinal Bernadin consecrated him Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. Since that day, Rodríguez has maintained an active presence in the church, civic and social arenas of Chicago and Lubbock. He will mark the 25th anniversary of the diocese of Lubbock with a series of events during the Silver Jubilee Celebration, set for June 2008.
"The values of our Church and our diocese— family, a sense of community, a sense of joy, respect for life,” says Rodríguez, “will continue to enrich us in the next 25 years—and beyond.”
Claretian Ordinations Usher in Time of Hope
Three joy-filled events—the ordinations of a new Claretian priest and a deacon, and the final vows of a Claretian brother—in a year of celebration for the 200th anniversary of the birth of founder St. Anthony Mary Claret, have brought a spirit of renewal and excitement to Claretians and their friends in the United States.
Father Fred Sahuc, C.M.F., was ordained October 17, 2007 at Corpus Christi Parish in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory presided at the ordination Mass in the presence of a large assembly of family, friends, fellow parishioners and brother Claretians. “This afternoon the church receives a brand-new priest—not necessarily a young priest,” Archbishop Gregory said as worshippers chuckled, “but a new one who has come to the priesthood of Jesus Christ by a long and curious journey of faith.”
Archbishop Gregory has long been a friend of the Claretians, since he was consecrated a bishop with the Most Rev. Bishop Plácido Rodríguez, C.M.F., the only Claretian bishop in the country.
As a deacon preparing for ordination at Corpus Christi Parish in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Sahuc eagerly looked forward to sacramental ministry in the Church, which brings healing to so many people.
“Not much feels different,” Father Sahuc confessed. “But as priests, the important thing is that we are privileged to act as channels of God’s love, to bring hope and healing to all who call upon us.”
The former advertising executive has earned numerous accolades and awards that come with a successful career. He said he looked forward to leading “a life of leisure, but God had other plans.”
Corpus Christi parishioners believe Father Fred’s age and experience make his words more insightful than a priest just starting his life.
“His age brings something special to the Catholic Church,” said Jim Rosentreter, who with his wife, Peggy, received a first blessing from the priest. “Fred has been out there living, earning a living, meeting all sorts of people.”
Father Sahuc’s ordination preceded the November 17 ordination of Deacon Ferdinand Okorie, C.M.F. As Pastoral Associate at the O’Reilly Catholic Student Center in Springfield, Missouri, which serves the campuses of Drury University, Missouri State University, and Ozarks Technical Community College, Okorie continues to step closer to his own priestly ordination.
“Ours is a long formation process,” Okorie said of his journey to priesthood. “The tests keep coming…this is not the end of that, to be sure.”
Brother Manuel Benavides, C.M.F., pronounced final vows in the order on Monday, September 3, 2007. He credits devotion to St. Jude – his own and the people with whom he serves at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and the National Shrine of St. Jude in Chicago – as a beacon of strength and hope throughout the long formation process.