Passing of Fr. Patrick S. Guillen, Chicano Priest & Co-Founder of Libreria Del Pueblo today.
Patricio Guillen Santoyo was born in 1929 in Bellflower, California, and the eighth child of ten born to Patricio Guillen Zendejas from Michoacan and Juana Santoya Castorena from Aguascalientes, Mexico. Both of his parents immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th Century.
Just 8 months after he was born, the Great Depression of 1929 shook the economy and his family soon lost both their dry farm and family home in Bellflower. To make matters worse the Long Beach earthquake of 1932 hit the area badly and they spent several days living outdoors until the after-shocks lessened in intensity and finally stopped completely.
From 1932 on, his family became one of the thousands of migrant Mexican American farm working families barely earning enough for food and lodging. As the Depression intensified, 4 of his siblings and 15 of his cousins all began to die in their teen years due to the great Tuberculosis Epidemic that struck with deadly force.
Patricio graduated from Chino High School in 1948, attended both La Verne College and Immaculate Heart Major Seminary and graduated in 1957 with his Bachelor’s degree. He was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest on March 19, 1957 (Diocese of San Diego, CA).
Fr. Guillen recounts in his written essay “THE JOURNEY OF A CHICANO PRIEST” (2011) that he began his priestly, pastoral ministry right after his ordination in St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and as he lay flat on the floor of the Sanctuary during the chanting of the litany of the Saints he “offered his life to God in the service of His People.” Little did he know then what lay ahead in his five-year priestly ministry as an associate pastor, two years as a catholic Chaplain of Narcotic Rehabilitation Center, and three years of Post Graduate Studies, Diocesan Ministries and Pastor of four different parishes.
The Civil Rights movement of the late 1950’s and 60’s was emerging more strongly each day, as he wrote “There was too little time to focus on the social issues that we were facing. Even after Vatican II the people found it difficult to move beyond traditional form of Catholicism-Mass and the sacraments.” Two of the most consoling experiences were supporting the campesinos under Cesar Chavez, and the other was the founding of PADRES (the National Association of Chicano Priests). But it was Hispanic Ministry that began to broaden the scope of pastoral ministry, forming Comunidades de Base and establishing a school of ministry for the formation of lay leadership in the areas of Catechetics, Evangelization, Liturgy and Social Action.
It was in October of 1986 he began to work with friends who were committed to organize the community and together they formed and founded Libreria Del Pueblo, Inc (LDP) a community-based non-profit organization with a 501 (c) (3) status.
Fr. Guillen recounts, “Too often we neglect to read the Bible, carefully under the historical context of the Historical Jesus and his Liberating practice. I can truly say that my experience in the Hierarchical Institutional Church has been a very limited ministry. In a way I can say that since I was allowed the opportunity to work for PADRES and for Libreria Del Pueblo Inc., an entirely new exciting ministry has opened up for me. Little did I dream that I would thank God for allowing me to work outside of the institutional Catholic Parish Ministry.”
For 30 years now, LDP has primarily focused on improving the lives of Latinos who reside in the counties of San Bernardino and Riverside. LDP has been serving the community by providing health, educational, citizenship classes and social services with a focus on the immigrant community.
LDP is strategically located in the heart of the city of San Bernardino’s poorest barrios “The West side.” For three decades the organization has quietly gone about its work sowing seeds of life and hope for some of the poorest and neediest of those in the community: victims of domestic violence, farm workers, undocumented individuals and juveniles.
A Catholic priest for nearly 60 years, Fr. Guillen served as executive director of LDP until stepping down from his role a few years ago under the advice of his physician. At the celebration of LDP’s 25-year anniversary, Fr. Guillen shared “I realize how my entire life as a child with my migrant parents, my years of poverty, hunger and homelessness and deaths have provided me with compassion, patience and love for those whom we daily serve. The opportunities I have had to educate myself and the desire and the need to continue learning has helped me not fall into that dreaded routine that leads to a conservatism that destroys the spirit of creativity and freedom that we need as wings to always look ahead and beyond, not only backwards where we have been.”On behalf of the LEAD Organization, we are truly honored that he has accepted to serve as our Padrino de Honor as he is among those we consider a community giant and pillar who has contributed in the fields of education, civil rights, justice for human rights, preserving the arts, journalism, youth leadership development and political awareness.
Bio provided by, Enrique G. Murillo, Jr., Ph.D. Professor, College of Education Executive Director, LATINO EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY DAYS (LEAD) ORGANIZATION California State University, San Bernardino