Auxiliary Bishop Rene A. Valero, who died this past week, was a significant figure in the life of the Church in Brooklyn and Queens. He was the first person of Hispanic heritage to be ordained as a Bishop for the diocese. He also performed pioneer service for Catholic Charities, the Office of Hispanic Ministry and the Catholic Migration Office.
Bishop Valero was ordained as a bishop in 1980 along with then-Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua and Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan. The three represented the contributions of the Irish, Italians and Hispanic populations the Brooklyn Diocese.
At Catholic Charities, Bishop Valero directed the Office of the Aging. As a professionally trained social worker, he diligently identified the older members of the community and eagerly helped establish senior citizens centers throughout Brooklyn and Queens. As the first Hispanic director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, he was able to bring his own Venezuelan heritage into play as he moved around the diocese to welcome and encourage the growing number of Hispanics flocking to the diocese. Up to that time, the Office had been run by heroic priests who ministered to the Hispanic but were not Hispanic by birth. Bishop Valero’s assignment to that position indicated a shift in how immigrants would be recognized in this diocese and in the Church worldwide.
He also coordinated diocesan hearings on racism and headed a committee on racism to ensure that every person had a seat at the table of the local Church.
Bishop Valero was a kind and unpretentious priest. He never flaunted the trappings of his office nor did he think of himself as any better than the people he served. He will be remembered as approachable and empathetic. Fluent in English and Spanish, he was popular with the people in the pews at every parish in the diocese.
For the past few years, Bishop Valero has suffered from illness and was pretty much out of the public’s sight. His inability to move around and communicate in the way that he was accustomed must have been a terrible burden to bear.
In one of his last public appearances, he was able to be vested and concelebrated at the funeral Mass in 2017 for Bishop Thomas V. Daily. At the final commendation, he slowly sprinkled holy water on Bishop Daily’s casket. It was a sign that even though he was feeble and barely able to move, he was still a priest and bishop called to serve his fellow Catholics.
Though his physical remains are leaving us, his persona and his priesthood will be remembered for a long time. As he entered the Heavenly Gates, this week, it’s easy to say that he was greeted with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”