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Police officer, husband, and permanent deacon: “I wanted to give more of myself to the Lord”

PUERTO RICO

Photo courtesy of Vicente Nieves de León

Jesús V. Picón - published on 03/29/23

Vicente has an unusual combination of vocations, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

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Vicente Nieves de León was born in San Juan de Puerto Rico and currently resides in the town of Carolina, Puerto Rico. Aleteia interviewed him about his unusual combination of vocations: police officer, husband – and permanent deacon.

Which came first, being a policeman or being a deacon?

Being a policeman.

PUERTO RICO
Officer Nieves on the job in the early days

At what age did you enter the academy?

I entered when I was 20 years old. I was working at the supermarket in town and at the time I was getting very thin. My grandmother, may she rest in peace, worried about the situation. She told an aunt who worked for the police as a secretary if she could get me a job that didn’t require so much physical strength.

So I went with her, but the job that was available required more advanced education. So, my aunt talked to a police officer, a lieutenant, and asked him if there was any job that required less experience and he said no, at my age the only position was as a police officer. 

Well, I didn’t have much choice, so I went to the second floor to recruitment and they took my fingerprints and requested a certificate of good conduct, and I started working there. That was in January 1996, and in April I started as a cadet at the police academy.

Today I have the rank of first lieutenant. Right now I’m serving in a police education center, which is related to policy reform in Puerto Rico. There, new police officers are trained in less lethal weapons and other training that is constantly being given to the police for their personal improvement and continuing education.

PUERTO RICO
Next to the parish priest, at church with his children who are altar servers

What are your main weapons in life?

Prayer and the holy Rosary.

How did God come into the life of Lieutenant Nieves?

I was raised Catholic from the beginning as a child. In 2006 I met my wife. I didn’t know she was Catholic and at one point she invited me to a festival at the parish. And as I always had this desire to go back to church, I accepted the invitation. From that year on I started attending church with her leading up to our marriage. Since then I’ve continued to grow in my love for the Church, for God and for my police service.

How many children do you have?

Three children.

How did you feel called to be a deacon?

I participated as a lector at the parish and also helped in whatever was required, such as during Holy Week or at other times, even helping clean the church. I never thought about the diaconate until I started volunteering in the Catholic Church and knowing more about this ministry. That’s when I felt the call.

I didn’t think about it too much at first, because at least 10 years of marriage were required. In 2012 I asked my pastor what the requirements for the permanent diaconate were. In 2013 he explained to me what the diaconate was like. My wife and I accepted God’s call, and I began the process for my formation and discernment. On November 1, 2018, I was ordained a deacon.

And why did a policeman want to be a deacon?

Because I wanted to give more of myself to the Lord, to give myself more, and I had the example of two young priests, Fr. Quique – director of Caritas Puerto Rico – and also the diocesan director of social media, Fr. Milton Rivera.

PUERTO RICO
The day of Lieutenant Nieves’ ordination

When they discovered their vocations, one was an accountant and the other was a lawyer. Seeing their example and their dedication, that they left everything including successful careers to give themselves to the Lord, I realized that for me being a deacon is nothing. Their examples and testimonies led me to take that step without thinking much about it.

Did your superiors in the police know that you were preparing to become a deacon?

Yes, and I have to thank many of them for always helping me if I needed time for any special training or preparation.

How has being a deacon helped you?

In my marriage it has helped me greatly and continues to help me, because my wife is also dedicated to the service of God and his Church. She’s in charge of the music ministry and is a catechist, and she’s in youth ministry. We’ve both experienced more spiritual growth during all this time. The family is closer because we’re always together serving the Lord. Our children are altar servers.

And in the police it has helped me in discipline, in character, in responsibility, because I have to give a good testimony with my behavior more than another person on the police force. And I have to be a team player. I have to be exemplary and have impeccable conduct.

What frightening situations have you encountered in the course of your work that have led you to seek God’s help?

I always entrust myself to the Lord. I don’t feel scared at the moment of experiencing frightening situations because of the adrenaline, but that’s when you apply the fundamentals and experience. You might be afraid more often in the first years of service.

PUERTO RICO
The lieutenant and deacon with his wife

Your wife is a police officer too?

Yes. She’s in an office that’s in charge of investigating police officers who commit misconduct or corruption.

So you met her while on the police force?

Yes.

How has being a deacon changed your life?

It totally changed me. My life has changed from the moment I came back fully to the Church.

Is your wife particularly devoted to any saints?

She’s always been devoted to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whereas I’ve always been touched by the story of St. Damien of Molokai.

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