Exclusive: Father Eleazar Perez-Rodriguez opens first 24-hour Latino community spiritual assistance service through non-profit Spirit Mission
By H. Nelson Goodson
January 4, 2010
Milwaukee -On Wednesday, January 6, Father Eleazar Perez-Rodriguez, 50, will finally fulfill his dream in the New Year to provide a much needed 24-hour spiritual assistance service since leaving St. Adelberto Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Father Eleazar will officially open the non-profit Spirit Mission this Wednesday, with a Grand Opening ceremony at 1629 S. 21st St. starting at 5:00 P.M., according to Alex Preciado who is helping to spread the word for Father Eleazar. Preciado spent the day on Monday contacting long time supporters and followers of the charismatic Catholic Father Eleazar Perez-Rodriguez.
"Spirit Mission was able to rent with option to buy the building," Father Eleazar said Monday. Father Eleazar had put up his home for sale in order to acquire the building where Spirit Mission will be located.
Father Eleazar left St. Adalbert Catholic Church, 1923 W. Becher St. on October 28, after giving his last mass to his parishioners and members of the community who attended. Perez-Rodriguez, who is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico is best known and credited for reviving St. Adalbert's parishioner attendance. The St. Adalbert Polish church was having difficulties in attracting new parishioners and was on the verge of closing in 2003, according to other Catholic priests in the South side neighborhood.
Since Father Eleazar's departure, attendence at St. Adalbert Church has dwindle.
Last year, Perez-Rodriguez help created Spirit Mission a non-profit organization to provide spiritual assistance 24 hours - 7 days a week to people in need of service. Spirit Mission serves as a beacon of light providing support to the hospitalized and to those who fall into despair for whatever reason. He says, while at St. Adalbert, people came in for spiritual support and at times the parish office was closed or a priest wasn't available to help them. Once the parish office closed at night during the week, it would be very difficult for people to contact a priest in case of an emergency.
"Drugs and prostitution are available 24 hours a day, but people who are suffering from depression, a family crisis or trouble with police often don't have anyone to turn to," Father Perez-Rodriguez said. "If they call a church at night, they will probably get an answering machine because most churches are only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.," Perez-Rodriguez said. "People in this country have a lot of abundance, but there's a need for a richer spiritual life."
While in Milwaukee in 2005, he lost part of his left leg in a hit-and-run accident in front of his residence. An intoxicated driver lost control of his vehicle and hit Perez-Rodriguez while unloading groceries from his vehicle. The undocumented driver was later charged in the incident and was deported. Perez-Rodriguez forgave the driver while testifying in court.
Father Perez-Rodriguez said his Bishop Juan Guillermo Lopez Soto of Cuauhtémoc from the Archdiocese of Cutervo Maderas in Mexico had given his approval to continue to develop Spirit Mission in Milwaukee. The bishop granted Perez-Rodriguez permission to also go on a spiritual retreat from November to December. After the retreat, he returned to Milwaukee and continued to work for Spirit Mission.
Father Eleazar attracted and invited thousands of Catholic parishioners to attend the weekend mass services at St Adalberto, and there were at least 20 church groups composed of youth, men, women, married couples, and others. During Perez-Rodriguez stay at the church, the church basement and restrooms have been remodeled, including several Statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe have been erected inside and outside the church. In the rear church yard, where there was once dirt and mud there's now a plaza with a fountain and a mural, according to parishioners.
In a mass gathering before leaving St. Adalbert, "This all happened thanks to you and your work...I'm grateful for all we've done together...Si se puede" (Yes we can), Perez-Rodriguez said to those attending.
Spirit Mission held their festival of Unity in late May at the Wisconsin State Fair to raise funds for their organization. In 2008, volunteers from Spirit Mission helped St. Adalbert raise more than $80,000 in profit during its church festival. Afterwards, parishioners and volunteers became disappointed when church remodeling stalled.
In May, Father Luis Pacheco, pastor and administrator of St. Adalbert's. Pacheco said, Spirit Mission Inc. and its festival was separate from St. Adalbert’s church, which was held in July.
"No decision has been made on a possible replacement for Perez-Rodriguez," Julie Wolf, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said.
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