January 10, 2017

As the nation’s first Mexican-American bishop, Archbishop Patrick Flores was a trailblazer who had to overcome many road blocks.

In an article for U.S. Catholic magazine, journalist Moises Sandoval recounted that, before he became a bishop, Patricio Flores had to persevere through many struggles:

The sixth of nine children in a Texas family of illiterate migrant farmworkers, he was a 10th-grade dropout in the 1940s when the desire stirred in him to become a priest. He spoke to his pastor, who told him to go home and pray for six months.

When Flores came back and was told to pray for another six months, he realized he had to seek help elsewhere. A religious order priest discouraged him, but a diminutive middle-aged Sister of Divine Providence, Mary Benetia Vermeersch, showed no hesitation. Asking Flores if he could drive, she borrowed a Model-T and said, “Drive me to see the bishop.”

Bishop Christopher Byrne of Galveston, Texas paid Flores' tuition, books, and other expenses so he could attend a Christian Brothers high school. The young Mexican American graduated as valedictorian, went on to the seminary (where he had to shine the shoes of his classmates to earn money for incidentals), and was ordained in 1956.

In 1969 San Antonio’s Archbishop Francis Furey decided he needed a Mexican American auxiliary--an option no bishop had dared propose. Furey submitted Flores' name as his only nominee.

When the apostolic delegate to the United States, Archbishop Luigi Raimundi, returned the paperwork asking for two more names, Furey simply wrote Flores’ name two more times. “I had to do a lot of pushing,” Furey later remembered. “A breakthrough in the Catholic Church is not easy.”

Flores was summoned to Washington, where Raimundi interrogated him for a whole day.

Finally, according to Flores, the apostolic delegate said, “Father Flores, I understand you have been seen dancing in public.”

Flores, who sometimes performed special dances with his sister, replied, “Yes, your Excellency, but don't you think that is better than dancing in private?”

As we mourn the passing of this great pioneering leader of the American Catholic Church, we take comfort from knowing that he will now be dancing in heaven.


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