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Deacon Sal Alvarez, RIP — UPDATED

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 06/12/15


A giant is gone:

A career that started in academia and then embraced the teachings of Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi and Cesar Chavez — a life’s work honored by the Vatican in 2011 — ended on Sunday when Salvador E. Alvarez died at home in San Jose after a long, debilitating illness. He was 74.

Soon after he was born with a club foot in Santa Maria in 1940, Alvarez’s Mexican immigrant parents moved the family to Mountain View so he could be treated at nearby Stanford Children’s Hospital. Showing a bright mind early, he went on to graduate from James Lick High School in East San Jose and then San Jose State, where he was one of few Mexican-Amerian students. He met his wife, Sylvia, on campus and the couple married in 1965 at Holy Family Catholic Church in downtown San Jose. …Alvarez seemed to be everywhere over the next few decades, including Washington, where he huddled with Congressman Peter Rodino and Senator Alan Simpson to plan the Immigration and Reform Act of 1986. In 1997, he was arrested with actor Martin Sheen in Watsonville as they and group of Quakers demanded better treatment and pay for farmworkers from a local grower. “He had a lot of passion and he was a charismatic leader,” Sylvia Alvarez said. “At home, it was hard for him to relax. There was always that energy to get things done.” He developed a specialty in conflict resolution, counseling troubled youths and dysfunctional families through his Institute for Non-Violence. More recently, Alvarez continued his work to win national historic landmark status for church sites where Cesar Chavez honed his organizing skills. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI awarded Alvarez the prestigious “Pro Eccesia et Pontifice (For Church and Pope)” award for his work on civil rights in the United States and as a delegate on peace missions to 20 nations, including South Africa, Israel, El Salvador, Mexico, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Read it all. 

UPDATE: The United Farm Workers released this remembrance:

After four years of liturgical study Sal also became a deacon in the Catholic Church. Faith played a central role in his life and colored his view of the UFW, which he saw not just as an economic organization, but also as a spiritual movement embracing belief in Our Lady of Guadalupe and the social doctrine of the church that called people to lead lives of service to the poor. Cesar and Dolores would assign Sal tough lobbying missions. He started each day praying for God’s guidance. His faith connected him with lawmakers whom he met on a spiritual level. The UFW dispatched Sal to Washington, D.C. in the 1980s, to push for immigration reform. Every morning Sal began his day with Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, which President Kennedy had attended. There he met and talked with lawmakers bout offering farm workers relief through immigration reform. One of them was Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who initially opposed such relief. Simpson invited Sal to his office. The spiritual relationship Sal struck up helped turn around the senator. Sal helped assure that farm workers were covered under the amnesty provisions of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. It helped 1.4 million farm workers and their families earn permanent legal status and it is a model in today’s push for immigration reform. Sal then co-founded and worked for three years with P.A.D.R.E.S., a Chicano priests’ group organizing priests pressing for ordination of Latino bishops. He worked with the Santa Clara County Welfare Department, organizing Latino social workers to change a system that placed a disproportionate number of Latino children into foster care. He returned to community organizing with the county Human Relations Commission and founded and directed the Institute for Nonviolence in San Jose, teaching young people about conflict resolution. But his commitment to the UFW was always constant. He also labored for years to win historical recognition for McDonnell Hall at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in East San Jose. It was where Cesar Chavez came under the tutelage of Father Donald McDonnell, the parish priest who exposed him to Catholic social teachings and inspired his organizing career.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him… 

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