“God wanted me ordained without her being there…”

As part of her master’s project at Iowa State University, Eloisa Perez-Lozano documented the immigrant experience of three families in Marshalltown, Iowa.  One of those families included Deacon Felix Hernandez, whose wife ended up being deported in a raid shortly before his ordination in 2009.

As the National Catholic Reporter tells it:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked her up during a raid at her workplace, the former Swift & Company, a meat processing plant in Marshalltown, for working without documentation.  She was deported to Mexico and has been there since.

Originally from Guerrero, Mexico, Felix came to the United States in 1986.  He now has permanent U.S. residency and lives in Marshalltown with their four children, ages 16, 14, 8 and 6.

The poignant video below tells part of his story and, I think, shows beautifully what it means to be a deacon.  You can see and read more here.


  1. So why doesn’t this man go back and be with his wife?

  2. An interesting question. He has four children, a home, a job, he’s an ordained minister, and he has a lot of long-standing connections in our community. Why doesnt INS relent and permit his wife to return? Wouldn’t one say that it’s a matter of morality that a family should stay together? Why does this immoral federal policy continue to be allowed? Where are the resisters?

  3. Deacon Jose A. Munoz says:

    As Deacons know…the family come first than the church, he has to take care his family first…he has to work very hard with the US Goverment agencies that deal with his probkemst…he only ones who are to served GOD ALWAYS is the priest and religious persons…He coul ask for help in th ofice of Catholic Charities, there the ones also they can help him specialy been an ordained clergy…We Pray for him…

  4. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Daisy …

    I imagine he had good reasons for coming to this country, and now has even better reasons to stay: to support his children and give them a better life. The NCR article (which, unfortunately, is not online) reports that immigration lawyers say it could take up to 10 years to bring his wife back here. He’s supporting his family working for a construction company and has filed for Cynthia to get a religious visa, which would enable her to return. The application is still pending.

    Dcn. G.

  5. Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, (1967) states: “11. Older [married] men … are not to be admitted [to the diaconate] unless there is certainty … about the wife’s … blameless Christian life and those qualities which will neither impede nor bring dishonor on the husband’s ministry.” The phrasing here indisputably places the burden on ecclesiastical authority to verify that nothing about the wife’s situation can “impede or dishonor” her husband’s ministry.

    Now, unless one take the view that US immigration law is morally indefensible, or that it was morally wrong not to make an exception for this particular case, (I’m open to either claim, frankly, but I think such claims must be proven, and not simply assumed), it’s hard to see how a diaconal candidate’s spouse’s illegal status under US law could not have raised red flags for his diaconal formators per SDO above. Or did they not know about it?

    This is not just a married clergy issue: similar canonical concerns for familial stability are found in regard to those preparing for marriage (c. 1071.1); if nothing else, this distressing story underscores the need for diaconal formation programs to take cognizance of the complications that problems in candidates’ and spouses’ legal situations (not just immigration, either) can provoke for them and the Church.

  6. That makes sense to me, too. Whatever led to the present mess, there are kids here now, and they have rights (and for that matter, needs) that must be considered with priority.

  7. naturgesetz says:

    Does anyone claim that his wife’s deportation, or earlier undocumented status, “impede[s] or dishonor[s] his ministry?” I think it is a proposition, if anyone makes it, in at least as much need of proof as that the law or its application in her case is immoral.

  8. Deportation, no, for, strictly speaking that is just a consequence of an “earlier undocumented status”. But beware of relying on a euphemism like “eus” for what is, in law, one’s entry into a sovereign nation illegally. Do check out c. 1071 for a parallel example of the need of the Church to proceed more cautiously (for many, many reasons) when Catholics attempt to exercise ecclesiastical rights in face of civil obstacles.

  9. I’m not sure what I think of this- 14 years ago my husband was going to be ordained to the diaconate when our bishop was in a horrible car accident and a friend of my husband’s was killed. Our bishop (travelling 2000 miles- it’s a big diocese!) was going to ask another bishop to stand in for the ordination- but we postponed it for 9 months until a better time. Perhaps this deacon should have waited. As a married man, his marriage vocation is a part of him and he shouldn’t cast it off when bad things happen.

  10. It seems that some if not all four of the children are United States citizens. It is not right that their mother was taken from her workplace by the government and sent away. It is an inhuman practice. I pray that this mother will soon be able to come back to her children and husband. We made a profit off the cheap labor of undocumented immigrants and looked the other way for many decades in order to make that profit – now that it has become a political issue we snatch them and deport them away? This offends my Catholic conscience.

  11. Deacon Steve says:

    I know of a case where the background checks were not done until just a few months prior to the ordination of a class of permanent deacons. Several came back as having entered the US illegally and so they were not ordained. It is a very touchy issue, but the Church could not ordain those men since part of their ministry is to be able to witness marriages for the state, and since they had no legal standing in the US they could not carry out that aspect of their ministry. We also cannot witness the marriage of couples that are here illegally since they are not able to marry according to civil law. Canon law works in cooperation with civil as much as possible.

  12. Deacon Steve,
    I am very surprised that the Church can’t marry people who are here illegally and that no one has tried to get an exception to this law. It doesnt seem right to deny a sacrement solely on the basis of immigration status.

  13. Job or not. Children or not. Unless he’s at war if my husband was a thousand miles away I’d be with him. Everything else would have to fall in behind him.

  14. I’d be realllllly careful about “immigration law is unjust, so the heck with immigration law” arguments. A lot of people argue that property is unjust, or money is unjust. Are we going to ordain guys who steal the collection?

    Unless we’re going whole hog and rejecting the authority of the government, or the government is persecuting Catholicism on a large scale and we’re all underground, a deacon or priest or bishop is supposed to be a citizen who is solid and trustworthy, not a man who’s a fugitive from the law. And the same goes for a married deacon’s wife, or a married priest’s. I don’t care how holy Robin Hood and Maid Marion are; they shouldn’t be joining the diaconate while they’re still living off the king’s deer in Sherwood Forest. (Let’s not even get into Friar Tuck.)

  15. ron chandonia says:

    I had not heard about undocumented immigrants being denied the right to marry in the United States, and I am particularly concerned by Deacon Steve’s comment above. The right to marry is a fundamental human right. I do not believe that all the states deny marriage licenses to undocumented immigrants, but in those states or jurisdictions that do, what does the Church say to couples seeking sacramental marriage?

  16. I hadn’t heard about that, either. I know that all people who are married civilly are not necessarily considered sacramentally married in the eyes of the Church. So it never works the other way around? Some people criticize Latino immigrants for not crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s in the Church as far as their marriage situations go. Maybe this is part of the reason.

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