Catholic San Francisco


(Catholic News Agency/Order of Augustinian Recollects)

Bishop Alphonse  Gallegos

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Latino Sacramento bishop who died in 1991 declared ‘venerable’
July 25th, 2016
By Tonia Borsellino/Catholic News Agency

The cause for sainthood of a Sacramento auxiliary bishop known as the ‘Bishop of the Barrio’ advanced earlier this month when Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Servant of God Alphonse Gallegos, who was auxiliary bishop of Sacramento from 1981 to 1991.


Venerable Gallegos, who was a priest of Los Angeles for many years, was auxiliary bishop of Sacramento from 1981 until his death in 1991 in a car accident at age 60.


 One miracle through his intercession is needed for beatification and two for canonization.


 “This is wonderful news for all those who knew him,” Father Eliseo Gonzalez, vice-postulator of Venerable Gallegos' cause of canonization, told Catholic News Agency.


Father Gonzalez is a member of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, in which Bishop Gallegos was ordained a priest in 1958. Venerable Gallegos’ cause for canonization opened in December 2005.


Venerable Gallegos was born Feb. 20, 1931, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was a twin, the eighth of 11 children. He was born with a “severe myopic condition.” Though he had many surgeries, the bishop’s poor vision remained chronic. Venerable Gallegos’ parents moved the family to Watts in Los Angeles in the early-1930s where they began attending San Miguel parish, which was run by the Order of Augustinian Recollects. He entered the order as a novice in 1950.


His vision deteriorated so much that in the seminary he prayed the rosary because he could not read his breviary. Despite some doubts about his preparation for the priesthood, he was ordained a priest May 24, 1958 in the Order of Augustinian Recollects, given his holiness, humility and community spirit, Father Gonzalez said.


He first served as a priest for eight years in the order’s major seminary, Tagaste Monastery, in Suffern, New York, and then as novice master for the Augustinian Recollects' Province of St. Augustine in Kansas City, Kan.  In 1972, he returned home to be pastor at his home parish in Watts, a predominantly poor and African American area that remained plagued with gangs and crimes after the Watts riots in the 1960s.


The priest made it his priority to focus on the local children, greeting them daily at the parish’s school, according to his biography. On the weekends, Venerable Gallegos would spend time with the lowriders of the community, blessing their cars and encouraging the Hispanic youth to pursue a college education. He also took care of the elderly and opened his home to anyone in need. He later served at Cristo Rey parish.


Word spread of his service, and in 1979 Venerable Gallegos was appointed director of the newly-created Hispanic affairs office of the California Catholic Conference. In this role he worked with bishops in both New Mexico and California on issues including immigration and evangelization. St. John Paul appointed him auxiliary bishop of Sacramento in 1981.


“He was Hispanic, yet he ministered to a very diverse group of people,” Olympia Nunez, Venerable Gallegos' long-time secretary, said. “We had a Korean community, Chinese, African-American, Hispanic, and he was the person in charge of all these groups.”


Nunez said the bishop was incredibly kind and outgoing, and never complained about his disability.


“Once a year for his birthday, everyone got together and celebrated with different ethnic foods and customs,” Nunez reflected. “He brought all these people together.”


The bishop’s episcopal motto was “love one another.” He advocated for the culture of life, and personally paid Catholic school tuition for the poor.  


Father Gonzalez called Venerable Gallegos an inspiration and example of hope and fortitude for all.


“If he was able to accomplish such great things, why can’t we? With God’s help we can also accomplish great things.”


On Oct. 6, 1991, Bishop Gallegos and his driver were returning home from Gridley, about 60 miles north of Sacramento. They had car troubles, so the two got out and started pushing the car to the side of the road. Another vehicle, driving in the same direction, struck the bishop.


More than 2,000 people were present at his funeral, and lowriders formed one of the longest funeral processions ever documented, according to his biography.


In addition to his pastoral concern for the poor, Venerable Gallegos was known for his commitment to the culture of life. He had been at a gathering in Gridley to pray the rosary for an end to abortion the day he died.


With the announcement of the bishop's cause advancing, Nunez said: “He doesn’t belong to just Sacramento or California, he now belongs to the United States in general, and to the world, as an example of a good, humble, generous human being.”


The faithful are encouraged to visit Venerable Alphonse Gallegos’ body at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in downtown Sacramento, his life-size statue in Bishop Gallegos Square, and a mini-museum displaying the bishop’s personal items in Oxnard, some 65 miles west of Los Angeles.



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