Big Bend Conservancy
Hundreds to celebrate 'Father Joe's' careerBy Ram?n Renter?a / El Paso TimesEl Paso TimesA National Geographic magazine photographer on assignment in the Big Bend once asked permission to shoot Joseph Hermoso's portrait in Terlingua.The photographer said Hermoso, wearing long sideburns at the time, looked distinctive.A copy of the color photograph still hangs in Hermoso's office. He looked more like a bullfighter than a popular priest who has influenced thousands of Catholics from Kansas and Missouri to the Dominican Republic, El Paso, far West Texas and Southern New Mexico.The Rev. Joseph Hermoso, 73, known as "Father Joe" among parishioners and friends, is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest.Three hundred people bought tickets for a party in his honor today at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Central El Paso, where he has been pastor almost 12 years."Fifty years in the same job is a cross to carry," Hermoso said.Hermoso was ordained a priest for the Order of Augustinian Recollects on April 24, 1957, in Suffern, N.Y., after immigrating to the United States from his native Spain.Unable to speak English well, Hermoso celebrated his first Mass at a parish in a large Spanish-speaking community in Topeka, Kan. He learned English sitting in parochial school classes in Kansas City, Mo.Hermoso talks about riding jeeps, horses and mules through mountain trails to remote villages in his 10 years as a priest in the Dominican Republic during the often violent final years in dictator Rafael Leonides Trujillo's reign.He had a good working relationship with Trujillo, but the situation worsened after the dictator was assassinated in 1961. Hermoso then was put under surveillance and threatened for preaching about human rights and justice for the poor.Hermoso returned to the United States and became a citizen in 1968.Browsing through a phone book, Hermoso stumbled across El Paso as a place that had many Spanish surnamed individuals and potential Spanish speakers. His English had become a little rusty.Hermoso became a diocesan priest in the early 1970s in El Paso under Bishop Sydney Metzger. He worked a spell in Alpine and the Big Bend region and later spent more than 10 years as pastor of St. Ann's parish in Deming, where he oversaw various renovations.Hermoso is credited with establishing and building Queen of Peace Catholic Church on the West Side in the early 1980s. The parish hall is named in his honor.Bishop Raymundo Pe?a reassigned Hermoso to St. Joseph's in 1995 before moving to Brownsville.St. Joseph's secretary Veronica Mendez has seen Hermoso head various projects, adding natural lighting to the church, building a patio and installing marble in the sanctuary, with the generosity of the church's 700 parishioners."Even though a lot of people say he has a strong temperament, deep inside he's a good person, a true friend who will be there when you need him," Mendez said.Hermoso knew by age 12 that he would become a priest.Today, as the mariachis serenade him, Hermoso will think of all the memories and all the years he has shouldered so many of society's problems for so many people."It's a very lonely life, a difficult life, but the love of God -- your dedication -- gives you the strength to continue," he said. "At this stage, it is more about being at peace."Ram?n Renter?a may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6146.
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