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Meet the “Chaplain of the Low Riders”


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Philip Kosloski - published on 09/03/17

Venerable Alphonse Gallegos had a unique ministry to migrant workers and gang members in California.

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Born to a simple family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1931, Alphonse Gallegos started out life nearly blind. On account of his medical condition his family moved to Los Angeles and after two surgeries his sight greatly improved.

Gallegos grew up in a prayerful family where the Rosary and a devotion to St. Joseph were part of the fabric of their life. The family also attended a parish run by the Augustinian Recollect Friars, who had a great impact on Gallegos’ life. It was through being an altar boy at the parish that he found his vocation in the Recollect order.

After entering the order he was sent to seminary in New York, but his failing eyesight was proving to be a problem. According to the National Catholic Register, “He had a hard time completing his academic work to his superiors’ satisfaction. They debated whether to ordain him, but in the end it was decided that ‘his holiness, humility, and community spirit’ were unsurpassed and were the very qualities they wanted in a priest.”

Gallegos was ordained in 1958 and served in many different capacities for over a decade. He was then placed as the pastor of his hometown parish. At the time an influx of immigrants made for many challenges and a rise of Latino street gangs presented new struggles. However, Gallegos decided to literally “take it to the streets” and would make regular visits around the neighborhood. It was from this unique ministry that he became known as the “chaplain of the low riders.”

Shortly thereafter Gallegos was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Sacramento. He continued his ministry to the rising Hispanic community and was a faithful friend of the many migrant workers and gang members. As a bishop he was the first director of the Division of Hispanic Affairs of the California Catholic Conference.

In 1991, Gallegos died in a car accident and he was sorely missed in the community. According to the Catholic Herald, about “300 low rider cars participated in a procession before the bishop’s funeral Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento.”

The cause for his canonization was opened in 2005 and at the time Father Eliseo Gonzalez said that “Many favors are already attributed to the intercession of Bishop Gallegos.” His cause took another step forward last year when Pope Francis declared him “venerable.” The next step is for a miracle to be attributed to his intercession that will lead to his beatification.

See more in our series on the Saints of the United States.

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