When it comes to walking in the shoes of the people one serves, Deacon Jesús Herrera has been doing that since he was a child.
Herrera was born in Mexico. His mother died when he was 7 years old and he lived with relatives in poverty. In eighth grade he had to quit school to work, so he moved to New Mexico, where he became a U.S. citizen.
These early years of loss, suffering and sacrifice shaped his Catholic faith and led him to devote his life to serving others who struggle.
In America he became a roofer and eventually owned his own company. He also married, had three children and became active in his parish in the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico. For years he begged Bishop Ricardo Ramírez to help him become a deacon. No diaconate training was offered in his own diocese, but when an opportunity arose to train in another diocese, he jumped at the chance. He was ordained in 1999.
Herrera was assigned to be the administrator of three mission churches south of Roswell — Immaculate Conception in Dexter, St. Catherine in Hagerman and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lake Arthur — which operate as one parish. None of the missions has a resident pastor, but a priest comes each weekend to celebrate Mass in the churches.
One of the first projects that Herrera launched was establishing a home visit program. He knew there were many Catholics in the area who were not engaged in the Church. Many faced challenges that he believed the Church could help to smooth. “Families have domestic problems and are hurting spiritually,” he said. “For the immigrant families especially, they face fear, shame and insecurity.”
In meeting one-on-one with individuals and families, he invites them to reconnect with the Church. He describes the parish’s religious education, youth groups and sacramental preparation.
He also discusses the Cursillo movement, which he established in his parish and which has been a particularly successful tool in boosting attendance at Masses. Every year about 30 people participate in a Cursillo retreat, providing a continuous source of growth and leadership in the parish.
Herrera recalled his own life-changing experience at a Cursillo retreat in 1989. Cursillo encourages people to consider how they can bring God’s presence to those around them and how they can participate in a unique capacity. As an experienced roofer, Herrera knew he could fix homes. This became part of his “apostolic action” — his special ministry.
To this day Herrera is not only repairing people’s spiritual homes, he also fixes their physical homes. When he makes his home visits, he has an opportunity to assess living conditions. When someone needs a few repairs, he does them himself or calls in a crew of volunteers.
A few years ago he helped a woman, Rachel Martinez, who had raised 11 children in a tiny house in a poor area of Roswell. Herrera received a note from her son Johnny who said his mother was living in substandard conditions and might become homeless. Herrera asked the community for skilled workers and donations. Together they repaired the house.
Similar home renovations — which have become parish-wide events — have been completed throughout the community. “Everyone can do something,” Herrera said. “Each of us has a talent which can make a difference in our Church ministries.”
Another passion for Herrera is helping civilly married couples to have their marriage blessed. With added fuel from Pope Francis’ emphasis on the importance of marriage and family, Herrera helps prepare couples for this blessing. Recently, thanks to Herrera’s tireless efforts, Bishop Oscar Cantú presided at a joint marriage celebration of 15 couples in the parish.
Catholic Extension began funding the mission churches in Herrera’s parish in 1955, when a grant was given to help build Immaculate Conception in Dexter. Since then multiple grants, totaling $175,000, have been extended to fund the building and repair of churches and facilities, salary subsidies for priests and sisters, religious education and operational costs.
Herrera is now officially retired, but he still has boundless energy for his ministry. He is beloved by his parish — which now has 1,000 registered families and 400 children in religious education — and he’s not quite ready to take off his well-worn shoes.