SAN JUAN. Puerto Rico — A New Jersey native and Siena College graduate, who has served Catholic communities in the Bronx, Boston, Texas and Puerto Rico, was honored last week for his 25th anniversary since he became bishop. Roberto González, OFM, archbishop of San Juan, is known as a “champion to the people of this island, of their culture and language, of their neighborhood,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. The archbishop celebrated with clergy and with the public at a variety of commemorations on Oct. 2 and 3.
It was “a very happy occasion” for the people of Puerto Rico, where Roberto was installed as archbishop of San Juan in 1999, according to the Oct. 3 article.
Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, participated in the festivities that included meals and liturgies in varied settings.
Being able to celebrate his anniversary with a representative of the Province meant a great deal to Rorberto, who said: “The celebration was a very moving experience for me. I am particularly grateful for the presence of Fr. John, our Provincial Minister. I felt the solidarity and love of the entire province at a time of great trial which has now concluded due to the Lord’s merciful compassion toward me.
“The friars of Holy Name Province have always been a source of tremendous solidarity, understanding, support and affection,” he added.
Commemorations of Anniversary
The milestone gave Roberto a feeling of “profound gratitude to the Lord for his infinite and unconditional mercy and love,” he said. The events were covered in depth by the local newspaper, El Visitante PR, which published a special issue about Roberto and his anniversary celebration. Among the articles was one by Alfonso Guzmán, OFM, secretary to the archbishop, titled “Friend, Brother and Boss” when translated from Spanish.
The main festivities were held on Oct. 3 — the date that Roberto was ordained a bishop, as auxiliary of Boston in 1988. The day began with an 11 a.m. prayer service for the clergy of the diocese followed by a “very nice meal in a beautiful parish hall,” John said. That evening, a 7:30 p.m. Mass for the public was celebrated at St. Teresita Church.
John and the other visitors were taken by police escort to the church by the ocean, where the “major liturgy took place with the governor, members of the legislature, the mayors of San Juan and surrounding jurisdictions, and the public,” John said.
“After the liturgy, about 80 of us — visiting clergy, representatives of the Vatican, government leaders and ‘special invited guests’ — dined at a local restaurant,” said John, who enjoyed the local culture.
“The entertainment consisted of men and women in the national dress doing music and dances celebrating the different periods of Puerto Rican history,” John said. “The music and dancing were superb. They also unveiled a beautiful portrait of Roberto.”
The Provincial Minister began his visit the previous day at lunch with Roberto, two bishops, and Cardinal William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
John enjoyed the conversations, he said, recalling that “Cardinal Levada spoke of the great ministry that the Franciscans do in the United States. He also said what a great compliment it was to the Order that the pope took the name Francis of Assisi.”
On Wednesday, described as “brutally hot,” John and other visiting clergy members participated in several less public events.
That evening, he concelebrated a private Mass at 7 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Cathedral with Cardinal William Laveda and Bishop Álvaro Corrada del Río, S.J., former auxiliary in Washington. Afterward, the visitors attended a dinner hosted by Roberto at the archbishop’s residence. Two cardinals were present, John said, “the other being Cardinal Amico Vallejo, OFM, archbishop emeritus of Seville, Spain. Bishop Corrada and several chancery officials and the representatives of the Apostolic Nuncio’s office were also present.”
John said he and the other visitors were given special services during their stay in San Juan.
“We were all treated as VIPs with police motorcycle escorts from the airport, and police were on duty at the hotel,” said John. “This is done out of respect for Roberto, whom the people love, not because of the crime rate. In fact, I learned that the crime rate in San Juan is now no worse than other big U.S. cities.
“Roberto is really emphasizing his ties to our Province and is obviously proud to be a member of Holy Name Province,” John said. “I’m glad I came to the celebration, as Roberto was very appreciative. Several local clergy told me how honored they are that the Provincial would attend this celebration.”
The commemoration gave Roberto “a unique opportunity to begin an entirely new chapter in my life,” he said, adding that he has “a much deeper awareness of the giftedness of brothers.”
The archbishop was born Roberto Octavio González Nieves in 1950 in Elizabeth, N.J. But when he was a child, his family returned to San Juan, where he grew up in a parish staffed by the friars of the Province. He describes himself as “a child of the Puerto Rican diaspora, my emotional and primary homeland.”
He received his elementary education in San Juan, where he remembers first reading about St. Francis in a book called “Las Florecitas de San Francisco.” Attracted to being a friar, he enrolled in St. Joseph Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., and then entered the Province’s formation program at Siena College, graduating in 1972.
Roberto entered the Order that year and was ordained in 1977, serving mainly at the Province’s former parish, Holy Cross, in the Bronx, N.Y. Besides his theology degree from the Washington Theological Union, he holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Fordham University. He was made auxiliary bishop of Boston in 1988, becoming the youngest bishop in the country at that time at the age of 38.
In 1995, he became coadjutor bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, succeeding as ordinary in 1997. Two years later, he was named archbishop of San Juan. In 2009, Roberto was recognized by Fordham with its Sapientia et Doctrina award, honoring his contributions to Hispanic ministry.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province. This image is courtesy of El Visitante PR.