On a Thursday, January 25th, of 1918 a small group gathered in St. Patrick’s, the recently dedicated Cathedral of the newly formed Diocese of El Paso and our first bishop, Joseph Schuler, Ordained to the Priesthood a young man from Chihuahua, Mexico. His name was Pedro de Jesus Maldonado. He came to El Paso for his Ordination because his own bishop was being treated in Mexico City for an illness. Besides, public worship was a risky activity in Chihuahua in those days during the Mexican Revolution and prior to the Cristero War.
Pedro prostrated himself upon the floor of the Cathedral as the Litany of the Saints was invoked and the bishop added his petition that the Holy Spirit would consecrate this young man to priestly service. After the prayer Pedro approached the bishop who solemnly laid hands upon his head.
As Pedro knelt before him the bishop continued with the consecratory prayer asking that God would renew within him the Spirit of holiness and that he might be a faithful steward of God’s Mysteries. Bishop Schuler prayed that through Pedro God’s people would be renewed in the waters of rebirth through Baptism, nourished at God’s altar through the Eucharist, reconciled through the Sacrament of Penance and that the sick might be raised up through the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
So began the priestly service of this young Chihuahuan. Presumably his first Mass would also have been celebrated in El Paso although the formal celebration took place in Chihuahua on February 11th of that year.
He served at the parish of San Nicolás de Carretas for a number of years. At the time of his arrival an epidemic was spreading among the people there and he served them without fear. Then in 1924 he was assigned to the parish of San Isabel, south of Chihuahua. He energetically set about teaching the faith sometimes using songs and dramas to convey the message. He initiated Nocturnal Adoration in his Diocese and he established the first Council of the Knights of Columbus.
Although the Cristero war had ended great antipathy toward the Church continued in Chihuahua. In 1934 Fr. Maldonado was deported by the government to El Paso but he quickly returned to serve his people. Upon his return he began living in hiding in a small village outside of Santa Isabel named Boquilla del Río.
On Ash Wednesday, February 10th of 1937, after hearing Confessions, Fr. Pedro was captured by a group of police and others. He was marched barefoot into the city hall of San Isabel followed by faithful women of the parish. There he was brutally beaten by city officials. Struck in the head by a pistol he fell to the floor covered in blood. The pix filled with hosts he was carrying fell out and one of his attackers forced him to consume them before he lost consciousness. It was his last Communion, Viaticum.
The next day, February 11, 1937, on the 19th Anniversary of his First Mass, Fr. Pedro de Jesus Maldonado died. His Faith, his courage and his dedication to the service of God’s people has never been forgotten. On May 21st, of 2000, Fr. Maldonado along with 24 other martyrs of the Cristero War was canonized as a Saint by Pope John Paul II.
It is with great pride that we in El Paso recall our significant role in San Pedro’s life! It was here in our Cathedral that he received the gift of the Spirit and his call to service as a priest was confirmed. I hope you will join me as we gather at St. Patrick’s Cathedral along with the Archbishop of Chihuahua, members of his family and many others on Thursday, January 25th at 7:00 p.m. to celebrate the Centenary of his Ordination. Check the entire schedule of events which will take place that week.
We here in El Paso can make a claim few communities can make: we have a Saint! San Pedro de Jesus Maldonado, pray for us!
Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz