“This honor is actually given to the Hispanic community in the United States”

The Augustinian Recollect Alphonse Gallegos, on the path to sainthood and declared Venerable by Pope Francis, thus received his episcopate: as an honor granted not to him, but to the Hispanic Catholics, and a commitment to serve a Church in which the Hispanic presence was increasing.
News | 2023 Sep 14

When the Augustinian Recollect Alphonse Gallegos (1931-1991) was named bishop in 1981, he was the director of Hispanic Affairs for the California Bishops' Conference, a state that, in addition to having a large percentage of Hispanic population (39.4%) and being on the border with Mexico, has many undocumented migrants. It is estimated that close to half of the workers in the primary sector in California are Hispanic, without legal residence.

On September 1, 1981, when the news came to light but he had not yet been consecrated bishop (he would be on November 4), Gallegos held a press conference to introduce himself to society. Although he was known in ecclesiastical circles, his new position transcended the Catholic community itself and the press was summoned.

It is striking how aware Gallegos is of the importance that the Hispanic presence has taken in the Catholic Church in the United States. If during the first half of the 20th century most of the Catholics were of Irish or Italian ancestry, which was reflected in the identity of the bishops, he considers his episcopal appointment a direct recognition of this new flow of Hispanic Catholics.

This reality, this trend, which Gallegos knows how to identify in that 1981, has accelerated over time. Today Hispanics are present in every Diocese in the United States, and more than 20% of Catholic parishes have specific Hispanic ministry.

Gallegos was a pioneer in promoting Hispanic Affairs. Today, more than 80% of all Dioceses in the United States have diocesan personnel coordinating Hispanic ministry. Reason? More than two-thirds (68%) of all Hispanics in the United States consider themselves Catholic.

In fact, Hispanics today constitute more than 35% of all Catholics in the United States and since 1960 they have been responsible for 71% of the growth of the Catholic Church in the country. For example, currently 15% of newly ordained priests are of Hispanic descent.

It is projected that by the year 2050 the Hispanic population in the United States will exceed 132.8 million people; and right now, more than 40 million people within the United States consider Spanish as their native language.

These were the words of Venerable Bishop Gallegos at that press conference:

I am deeply moved this morning with the announcement of my appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento.

I wish to express my gratitude to His Holiness John Paul II for the confidence he has placed in me by naming me to this high office of Bishop. I will make every effort to become worthy of such an office.

To Bishop Francis A. Quinn, the priests, religious and the laity, I ask your prayers that I will meet your expectations of what a bishop should be and that I will be the best of assistance to Bishop Quinn in his love and service to the people of Sacramento.

To my Hispanic brothers and sisters, this honor bestowed upon me is truly an honor bestowed upon the Hispanic community. Some two years ago, I arrived in Sacramento to take up my duties as Director of the Division of Hispanic affairs of the California Catholic Conference. It is my desire to continue my involvement with our community in a spirit of unity and concern. I ask your prayers and encouragement in my effort to help our people.

The church will stay young only if it continues to move forward. For this reason, I ask the helping hand of the youth of the diocese. With your enthusiasm, ideas, newness of life the church can find new meaning in meeting the needs of all youth in the diocese. I would like very much to be a bishop of the youth and for the youth.

To my Augustinian Recollect fathers and brothers, I express my love and gratitude. I share this moment with you and express the words of St. Augustine, ''Above-all things, let us love God and our neighbor, for this is the principal precept given to us by God Himself."

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