Father Patricio Guillen, an activist who supported immigrants’ rights in Southern California, and especially in the Inland Empire, passed away this week, family members announced. He was 89.
Guillen, who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on March 19, 1957 by the Dioceses of San Diego, fought for human and immigrant rights since an early age, recounting his experiences in the essay “The Journey of a Chicano Priest,” which was published in 2011.
Better known as Padre Guillen among the immigrant community, he founded Libreria del Pueblo in San Bernardino in 1986, along with other community organizers. Libreria del Pueblo is a community-based nonprofit organization that educates, empowers, informs and protects the immigrant community.
On the group's 25th anniversary, Guillen reflected on his life and work.
“I realize how my entire life as a child with my migrant parents, my years of poverty, hunger and homelessness and deaths have provided me with compassion, patience and love for those whom we daily serve,” said Guillen then. “The opportunities I have had to educate myself and the desire and the need to continue learning has helped me not to fall into that dreaded routine that leads to a conservatism that destroys the spirit of creativity and freedom that we need as wings to always look ahead and beyond, not only backwards where we have been."
According to a biography written by Cal State San Bernardino Professor Enrique Murillo in 2016 when Guillen served as the Latino Education and Advocacy Days (LEAD) Summit Padrino de Honor, Guillen was born in 1929 in Bellflower. He was the eighth child out of 10 children born to Patricio Guillen Zendejas and Juana Santoya Castorena, both Mexican immigrants.
“Just 8 months after he was born, the Great Depression of 1929 shook the economy and his family soon lost both their dry farm and family home in Bellflower. To make matters worse, the Long Beach earthquake of 1932 hit the area badly and they spent several days living outdoors until the aftershocks lessened in intensity and finally stopped completely,” wrote Murillo.
From 1932 on, Guillen’s family became one of the thousands of migrant Mexican American farm working families barely earning enough for food and lodging, added Murillo.
The CSUSB professor mourned the passing of whom he considers a “community giant” and “pillar who has contributed in the fields of education, civil rights, justice for human rights, preserving the arts, journalism, youth leadership development and political awareness."
Guillen graduated from Chino High School in 1948, attended La Verne College and Immaculate Heart Major Seminary and graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor’s degree.
During the 1950s and 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement was emerging, Guillen wrote, “There was too little time to focus on the social issues that we are facing."
Guillen knew then he had to get involved. According to Murillo, two of the most significant experiences were supporting the "campesinos" under iconic activist Cesar Chavez and the founding of PADRES, the National Association of Chicano Priests.
According to Guillen’s 2011 essay, he began his mission to protect and defend immigrants' rights after his ordination in the St. Joseph’ Cathedral.
“Little did he know then what lay ahead in his five-year priestly ministry as an associate pastor, two years as a Catholic chaplain of narcotic rehabilitation center, and three years of post graduate studies, diocesan ministries and pastor of four different parishes,” wrote Murillo.
Immediately after his death, social sites such as Facebook and Twitter were inundated with comments praising Guillen’s life and work.
Reyna Gonzalez, a community organizer who worked closely with Guillen, said that his passing is “a great loss for our community."
“You were my second father, my teacher, my friend and warrior of social justice. You taught and touched many of us in life and will live in our memory and our hearts forever," said Gonzalez.
Jesse Valenzuela, a long-time community activist, said that Guillen was a “mentor” and “friend."
"Father Guillen was a leader in addressing social justice in our communities," Valenzuela said.
A viewing will be held on Jan. 27 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. (with a rosary at 7 p.m.) at Guadalupe Catholic Church, 5048 D Street in Chino. On Jan. 28, Eucharist will be from 10 a.m. to noon at Our Lady Queen of Peace, 4824 Jones Street in Riverside. From there he will be transported to Montecito Cemetery, Our Lady Queen of Peace, 3520 E. Washington in Colton.