By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Deacon Julian Gutierrez and his wife, Maria del Rosario, serve as translators, teachers, chauffeurs and fund-raising organizers. They advocate for fair housing and immigration and are role models in their parish and community, especially among Hispanic families.
But the couple from St. Mary Parish in Davenport feels called now to move to Alexandria, Va., to devote more time to their “domestic church,” the immediate family comprised of four grown children, a son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren.
“They want to enjoy us for as many years as God gives us,” Deacon Gutierrez, 72, said. “There’s nothing more we want than to be closer to our children,” Rosario added. And after prayerful consideration, they believe this is God’s desire for them as well. Still, the thought of leaving at the end of September brings tears to Deacon Gutierrez’s eyes. It’s heart-breaking to leave the community to which the couple has given its heart and soul. Faith leaders attest to that commitment and its impact on Church and community.
Father Rudolph Juarez, vicar for Hispanics and pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, previously served at St. Mary’s in Davenport and has known the couple for years.
“Julian and Rosario, whom we call ‘Chayo,’ were part of the first class of deacons. So, they were pioneers as it were,” Fr. Juarez said. “Throughout their time in the diocese, they have helped countless numbers of persons through their service to the Church and community. They are persons who have demonstrated their love for God, family, Church and community. This move to the east coast takes them closer to their immediate family. And I am sure that they will become involved with whatever new parish they reside in, inasmuch as I am sure that they will work in their local community to promote justice for all people. I wish them well, and God’s blessing.”
They’ve been promoting justice for more than 40 years, ever since a landlord refused to rent them a house out of fear they’d have too many children living there. “It was painful,” Rosario said, remembering the incident as if it happened yesterday. “That’s when we started to fight for social justice,” said Deacon Gutierrez, who sought training on housing-related issues so he could help other families secure a home of their own.
Another personal experience, the near-deportation of Deacon Gutierrez’s father, compelled the couple to advocate for justice for immigrants. The father was jailed, temporarily, because he lacked a proper work permit. His son spent hours traveling from one city to the next trying to resolve the issue. “My dad had never been in jail in his life, and then he comes to the United States legally and they put him in jail. That’s not fair,” said the deacon, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1959 and is a naturalized citizen. “I asked God to give me the opportunity to learn as much about immigration as I could and to help people who come here to better themselves and sustain their families …”
During the immigration amnesty of 1986, Deacon Gutierrez was swamped with requests for help from people seeking to legalize their immigration status. “I had people coming here to (to the house) asking me to help them fill out their paperwork,” he said. Now he’s advocating for legislation known as The DREAM Act, which provides a hard-earned path to lawful status for young people pursuing higher education or military service in the U.S.
Their commitment to serve others and a deep, abiding faith compelled Deacon Gutierrez to seek ordination to the diaconate, with Rosario’s support. He was ordained in 1981. His children, who were young at the time, would have preferred that someone else’s dad take on that responsibility.
But Deacon Gutierrez believes he was called by God to this ministry, and he and his wife seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that they do.
Eight months ago, St. Mary’s Parish celebrated the 30th anniversary of Deacon Gutierrez’s ordination to the diaconate with a surprise party.
“Julian and Rosario have made a tremendous contribution to St. Mary,” said Father Ed O’Melia, the pastor. “They have made presentations to Latino youth to encourage them to live chastely. They have supported many families in the area of health care, alien rights, preparing couples for marriage and baptism, visiting the sick and imprisoned. They have helped many families to feel at home in the parish, who may have felt isolated otherwise.”
“They’ve been such a presence there, showing people that you should participate in the life of your parish and the blessings that come from that,” said Deacon George Strader of St. Mary’s Parish. “They encouraged people to be active and do things together. They helped build a stronger and more cohesive parish group because of that.”
“Deacon Julian has been a gift to the people of the diocese for over 30 years,” said Deacon David Montgomery, director of the diaconate for the Davenport Diocese. “His passion to serve God by serving people has led many to a deeper appreciation of their faith. He will be greatly missed.”
St. Mary Parish in Davenport will bid goodbye to Deacon Julian and Maria del Rosario Gutierrez during “Potluck 1” after the 5 p.m. Saturday Mass on Sept. 24 and during “Potluck 2” after the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass on Sept. 25. All are invited to join in and to bring a dish to share.