Flores, Patrick: 1929—: Roman Catholic Archbishop

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Patrick Flores: 1929: Roman Catholic archbishop

A respected minister and peacemaker, Archbishop Patrick F. Flores has helped and inspired many people as he rose through the ranks in the Roman Catholic church. His openness to other faiths has put him on a platform alongside Protestant minister Dr. Billy Graham and Lutheran officials mending the hurt caused by the Reformation. Without arousing rancor, Flores stood at the forefront of a move to encourage doctrinal unity among theology professors at Catholic colleges in Texas. Evidencing Flores's abilities as a counselor and minister to the oppressed is his skill on a one-to-one basis that helped him end a hostage situation at his own office.

Mexican-American Roots

Flores required no special training to introduce him to the concerns and needs of immigrant Latinos in Southern Texas. He was born on July 26, 1929, seventh among the nine children of Patrico and Trinidad Fernandez de Flores, Mexican-American immigrants, and migrant farm workers living in Ganado, Texas. Intent on quitting school in the tenth grade, Flores obeyed the urgings of a Catholic bishop and obtained a diploma from Kirwin High School in Galveston, Texas. While sweeping up beer cans and cigarette stubs in a public dance hall in his teens, he decided to make the world cleaner and more liveable by becoming a priest.

Once the decision was made, Flores did not waver in his career goal. After studying at St. Mary's Seminary in La Porte, Texas, and at St. Mary's Seminary in Houston, he took holy vows. Bishop Wendellin Nold ordained Flores on May 26, 1956. As Father Flores, he celebrated his first mass at the Guardian Angel in Pasadena, Texas, before accepting a post in the Houston diocese. At the time, he wanted to serve a parish, but he had no drive to reach the upper levels of officialdom in the American Catholic Church.

Flores began his career at Holy Name Parish, Guardian Angel Parish, then St. Joseph's-St. Stephen's parish as assistant pastor and pastor. An activist from the beginning, he directed the Christian Family Movement and the Bishop's Committee for the Spanish Speaking, a ministry that encouraged bilingual congregations. After Pope John Paul VI named Flores auxiliary to the archbishop of San Antonio in May of 1970, within months, he advanced to interim bishop, becoming the first native Texan to head the state's largest archdiocese and the first Mexican American to attain so powerful a position in the Roman Catholic Church.

At a Glance . . .

Born Patrick F. Flores on July 26, 1929, in Ganado, TX. Education: Attended St. Mary's Seminary, La Porte, Texas, 1949; divinity degree, St. Mary's Seminary, Houston, TX,1956.Religion Roman Catholic.

Career: Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary' Cathedral, Galveston, TX, ordained priest, 1956; Houston Diocese, assistant pastor and pastor, 1956-1970; Archdiocese of San Antonio, auxiliary to the archbishop and interim archbishop, 1970; Mexican-American Cultural Center, San Antonio, co-founder, 1972; National Hispanic Scholarship Fund, founder, 1976; Diocese of El Paso, TX, bishop, 1978; Archdiocese of San Antonio, TX, archbishop, 1979.

Awards: Medal of freedom Ellis Island medal of honor Statue of Liberty 100th Birthday, 1986; Hispanic Heritage award for leadership, 1986; American Jewish Committee, Human Relations Award, 1995; Salute to Education award, 1995; San Antonio Council fo Churches, San Antonio, Texas, Distinguished Churchman Award, 1995.

Addresses: Office Chancery Office, P. O. Box 28410, 2718 West Woodlawn Avenue, San Antonio, TX, 78228-5124; also, 2600 West Woodlawn Avenue, San Antonio, TX, 78228-5122.

Despite a title and ecclesiastical power, Flores's activities continued to center him in humble undertakings. In 1972 he nourished city-wide plans for San Antonio's Mexican-American Cultural Center, for which he served as honorary chairman. He helped form the National Foundation of Mexican American Vocations and the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund. In his twentieth year in the priesthood, he co-founded the "Telethon Navideno" [Nativity Telethon], a charity aiding indigent Latino families.

From Bishop to Archbishop

In 1978 Flores advanced to bishop of the diocese of El Paso, Texas. Within months, his career made an even greater leap after he returned to San Antonio to serve as archbishop of the largest archdiocese in the United States. In Thomas J. Reese's text Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church, the author used Flores's rise from parish work to archbishop as an example of "vox populi"a spontaneous grassroots selection based on parishioners' love and respect. His responsibilities encompassed one million Catholics living in a broad span of territory reaching north from the Texas-Mexico border into the uplands. Among the prickly issues he weathered were charges of a church cover-up in the child molestation scandal involving two diocese priests, Father Xavier Ortiz-Dietz and the Reverend Federico Fernandez.

At home in the archdiocese of San Antonio, Flores does not think of himself as a racial or ethnic role model. Rather, he accepted as his calling a lifetime ministry to people of all cultural backgrounds, particularly the poor fleeing misery in Central America. As a fellow Texan known simply as Patrick or Patricio and nicknamed the "mariachi bishop," he hasn't allowed piety or majesty to overrule his love of celebration, Latino music and dance, and congenial fun. He has cooked benefit breakfasts, fought urban violence, hosted retreats for married couples, and joined "Kissa-Pig" contests to support the American Diabetes Foundation. In addition to providing transportation for a parental support group for death-row inmates, he has raised funds to defray utility and medical bills for needy families and to support the San Antonio Battered Women's Shelter.

Flores has displayed a courage and flair in the execution of priestly duties that has cinched his reputation for resolve. He extended hospitality to Pope John Paul II during his 1987 visit to San Antonio by offering a room at the archbishop's residence next door to the chancellery. During a 1997 land-use lawsuit that progressed to the Supreme Court, Flores represented the congregation of Beorne, Texas, in demanding the right to a permit from the city of Beorne to enlarge a church that has been declared an historic property. In his world travels, he has been spokesman for the entire American Catholic Church, a task that attests to the trust he has earned from followers of the faith.

Two public events exemplify Flores's openness toward people of all faiths and his intent to bring Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together in commitment to faith and spirituality. In 1997, before a four-night religious crusade at San Antonio's Alamodome in Hemisfair Park, he supported Dr. Billy Graham's evangelistic mission by taping radio promotions in English and Spanish. In gratitude for the 247, 500 attendees from fifty denominations, many from seventy area Catholic Churches, Graham credited Flores for encouraging the record response among largely Catholic Hispanics, who comprise 60 percent of the city's population. On January 1, 2000, during a joint Catholic-Protestant service at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Flores joined Lutheran bishop James Bennett in a public embrace to perpetuate the spirit of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The gesture commemorated the abolition of doctrinal condemnations issued by Protestants and Catholics against each other during the Reformation.

Ministered to the Oppressed

At age 70, Flores returned to his background in pastoral counseling to end a potentially deadly situation. On June 28, 2000, Nelson Escolero, a disgruntled Spanish-speaking immigrant from El Salvador, took Flores hostage along with the archdiocese secretary, Myrtle Sanchez. Escolero entered the archbishop's office at the chancery on Woodlawn Avenue and threatened to detonate a hand grenade. One office employee escaped and turned on a silent alarm to police headquarters.

After Escolero ripped out the telephone, Flores had only his faith and experience as a means of ending the situation peacefully. A nine-hour standoff on the third floor of the episcopal residence that involved officers of the police SWAT teams and FBI negotiators as well as the kidnapper's wife and son and 100 onlookers, who stood in 90-degree heat awaiting the victims' fate. Under reasoned counsel from Flores, Escolero relented and released first Sanchez, then the archbishop later. Flores was unharmed, but attendants took the precaution of removing him by stretcher.

Flores publicly forgave the kidnapper and took pity on the man's emotional distress over a passport problem. Flores explained his actions in America magazine: "I forgive. In this I have no choice. If I want to be forgiven, I have to forgive." Commentators from the parish noted that one of Flores's strengths as a priest is sympathy for immigrants like Escolero.

Rewards for Character and Trust in Parishioners

Another test of Flores's commitment occurred in 2001 during a renewed campaign to assure that theology teachers at the seven Catholic institutions of higher learning in his archdiocese remained true to the faith. He proposed a loyalty oath affirming intent to teach authentic Catholic doctrine. Typical of Flores's open-mindedness was his presentation of the controversial document. He asked each teacher to make a formal promise, but declined to expel those who refused to sign the oath. Instead, he predicted to doubters that nearly all staff members would follow church teachings. Rich Heffern, writing for National Catholic Reporter, disclosed the archbishop's logic: "It's simply a profession of faith, and we make a profession of faith every time we say the Creed at Mass."

Describing his archdiocese, Flores told reporters from the San Antonio Express that the city "has the greatest ecumenical spirit I've found anywhere. When I'm with non-Catholic ministers and rabbis, I feel at home with them and they feel at home with me." His numerous outreaches to diverse nationalities and cultures have earned him accolades, in particular for broadcasting Sunday mass from the Cathedral of San Fernando across the Southwest to English- and Spanish-speaking worshippers. In 1995 he won the San Antonio Council of Churches' Distinguished Churchman Award. In addition he received several honorary doctorates and the American Jewish Committee's Human Relations Award. Some church officials have proposed Flores for the position of cardinal, even election to the papacy, a supposition that he humbly disregards as more work than he bargained for.



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Mary Ellen Snodgrass

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Flores, Patrick: 1929—: Roman Catholic Archbishop

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