[It is a rare exception that I write about myself on this blog dedicated to Padre A.J. Martínez, but the occasion of my Golden Jubilee makes it "worth it." - JR]
Ordination day, 1964: Father Juan Romero blessing
his mother, with his father and his priest brother
Father Gil Romero looking on
"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.
"The Golden 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.
Father Romero 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.
Temporarily released 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 homily."
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, <thetaosconnection.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!"