There’s a lot of “hidden” history in El Paso, a lot of stories that are not widely known. One of those stories is the product of the Mexican Revolution.
Saint Pedro De Jesus Maldonado Lucero (St Peter of Jesus Maldonado), born June 15, 1892, in Chihuahua City wanted to be a priest. He could feel the call of Christ in his life and could think of no better service than that of the Lord.
At seventeen, he became a student at the conciliar seminary of the Diocese of Chihuahua City.
When he began in 1909, there were already rumblings of a coming war, a coming fight for freedom and independence. Young Pedro could not have yet know how that would affect his studies, but when fighting broke out the next year, he found out.
In 1914, Pedro was faced with a choice, leave seminary, or find other options.
Victoriano Huerta, the 35th President of Mexico (February 19, 1913, to July 15, 1914) was no friend of the Catholic Church. In fact, to help pay for the Civil War, he would plunder the Church and sell off its goods in order to pay his men. When the Church complained, Huerta said, “Mexico can do without her priests, but cannot do without her soldiers.”
At the same time, a larger suppression of the Catholic Church had begun. With the government raiding the Church to pay its soldiers and the overall political situation becoming dire, Pedro had to decide how he would live out his calling to a priestly vocation.
Saint Pedro De Jesus Maldonado Lucero was once quoted as saying, when talking about why he was in seminary, “I thought of having my heart always in heaven, in the tabernacle.” This thought would not only motivate him but guide him to continue his studies, no matter what.
In 1914 Pedro decided to come to El Paso to study for the priesthood.
During this period, El Paso also saw the influx of many individuals escaping war in Mexico. Saint Pedro De Jesus Maldonado Lucero was not the only one coming to El Paso. There were families who came, individuals, even religious groups like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – who built their first chapel in Texas right here in El Paso.
St. Peter of Jesus Maldonado finished his studies here, in El Paso. Because of the health of his Bishop in Mexico City, he was ordained here, in El Paso at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on January 15, 1918, by Bishop Anthony J Schuler, S.J. (Bishop Schuler was a Jesuit).
The now Father Maldonado said his first Masses in El Paso. His first Solemn Sung Mass was said at the Church of the Holy Family in Chihuahua on February 11, 1918. That day, the feast of Our Lady of Lordes, was special to Fr. Maldonado. Why? He always felt a special connection to Our Lady of Lordes.
As a priest, St. Maldonado was assigned to many churches throughout Mexico.
During this time, he would go on to found many religious organizations to help increase devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to our Blessed Mother. Yet, even during this time of spiritual growth in Mexico, things would take a turn for the worse once again.
1926 was the start of another time of persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico. A priest wearing a Roman collar was suddenly guilty of a capital offence. Priests were suddenly arrested, tortured and murdered for nothing more than saying a mass, hearing a confession, or simply being a priest.
Fr. Maldonado would not let this deter him, he continued saying mass and helping others grow in faith.
Then, in May of 1934, because of his work as a priest and following the condemnation of the “State Priest” of Mexico, Fr. Maldonado returned to El Paso. Still, while serving in El Paso, he still felt called to serve the people of Chihuahua. Knowing the dangers, he returned to Mexico.
The work of a priest was dangerous during these times. The Masonic-led government of Mexico was keen on removing the Church and anything attached to it. Priests had to say Mass and hear confessions in secret. Baptisms and confirmations were not public. The Church had moved underground.
On February 10, 1937, Ash Wednesday, Fr. Maldonado was arrested.
For the next fifteen hours Fr. Maldonado was brutally tortured. Even still, even after all he suffered – the beatings, the loss of blood, and being rendered unconscious, he was still alive.
Fr. Maldonado died on February 11, 1937, seventeen years to the day after his first Solemn Sung Mass on the feast of Our Lady of Lordes. I can almost imagine the Blessed Mother, on the day of his passing, taking him into Her arms and carrying him home.
Some 55 years later, in November of 1992, Fr. Maldonado was beatified by Pope John Paul II; then on May 25, 2000, John Paul canonized him.
Saint Pedro De Jesus Maldonado Lucero is the patron saint of the Clergy of the Archdiocese of Chihuahua, and the Diocese of El Paso. He’s also the patron saint of the Knights of Columbus.
There is also a connection at St. Stephen’s Deacon and Martyr Catholic Church here in El Paso. Behind the altar, as you walk towards the tabernacle, there is a relic of El Paso’s saint there.