Blessed Sacrament Parish Honors Bishop Valero

by Marie Elena Giossi
Parishioners greet Bishop Valero following Mass. Photos © Marie Elena Giossi

Blessed Sacrament parish welcomed an old friend back home last Sunday, Sept. 30. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Rene A. Valero, former pastor, returned to Jackson Heights for the noon Mass and dedication of the parish hall in his honor.

“Well Bishop Valero, welcome back to Jackson Heights. Good to have you home,” Father Patrick Burns, pastor, said as he officially welcomed the bishop to the parish he served for the better part of three decades.

Arriving as pastor in 1979, then-Father Valero helped Spanish-speaking immigrants become part of the largely English-speaking church community. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop the following year and remained at the parish. Three years ago, declining health necessitated a move to Bishop Mugavero Residence for Retired Priests, Douglaston.

Father Lawrence Hinch, a retired priest who also resides at Bishop Mugavero Residence, was the main celebrant of the Mass. Father Burns, and Father Richard Hoare, parochial vicar, concelebrated.

Bishop Valero participated in the liturgy from a seat in the sanctuary. His family sat nearby in the first pew. Children from the religious education program, parents and longtime parishioners rounded out the congregation.

“For 30 years, Bishop Valero has been a priest and a bishop in this parish,” noted Father Hinch.

When he told the bishop that he celebrates Mass at Blessed Sacrament on Sundays, he related that the bishop said, “I gave my life to that parish.”

“We want you to see that we recognize that,” Father Hinch said, addressing the bishop. “They haven’t forgotten about you here.”

Assisted by Father Burns, Bishop Valero gave the final blessing over the congregation. Parishioners then moved to the newly refurbished hall for the rededication and to greet the bishop.

The hall – two adjoining rooms in the church basement – had fallen into disarray. Over the last few months, the parish’s Mexican community donated its time and labor to install new porcelain floor tiles and wood wall panels, and put fresh paint on the walls.

Near a sign, which read, “Welcome to Bishop Valero Hall,” an alcove held some of the bishop’s belongings, including vestments, a miter and crosier, a photo album, tennis racket and a banner with his episcopal motto, “That All May Be One.”
Bishop Valero’s friends and admirers spent nearly an hour lavishing him with hugs, handshakes and words of love. And he responded in kind; his face brightening as he received each well wisher.

“He’s always his best when he’s with his congregation here,” said Mary Purtell, his niece. She brought the bishop to Mass along with her husband Gerry, and their daughter and son-in-law.

“This was always home for the bishop,” Gerry said. “It’s amazing how good his memory is for his parishioners. He seems to recognize each one of them.”

Tears came to the eyes of Diana Ochoa-Fonseca when she saw the man she’s admired since her childhood. Her family joined the parish two years before he became pastor in 1979 and his arrival, she said, was significant for local Spanish-speaking families.

“He was the first, if not the only bilingual priest we had at that time,” she said. She recalled how honored she felt as a teenager having him confirm her in the faith. “He was an authentic Latino priest coming into a predominantly English-speaking parish. He met the needs of Spanish speakers,” she said.

Last Sunday, Ochoa-Fonseca humbly stood before the bishop as he made the Sign of the Cross over her and bestowed a special blessing.

Father Burns said he was proud to bless the hall and dedicate it in honor of one of the most beloved members of the Blessed Sacrament family. “He’s contributed so much to the parish and the diocese, especially the Latino community,” noted Father Burns. “His legacy needs to continue.”

One thought on “Blessed Sacrament Parish Honors Bishop Valero

  1. I have received all my sacraments at BLESSED SACRAMENT baptized Aug. 6 1946. To wedding May 24 1969. A few years before my wedding the church was painted. Before the renovation there was a mural in the front behind the alter. Do you have a colored picture of this beautiful mural? I would so love a copy of even email me a picture. I was telling my child, grandchild and great grandchildren about this moral. People of all nationality, employment, religious, and homemaker as a very young child I would wonder if these were faced of real people and if they were in heaven. As they were all painted facing the tabernacle. It seemed only right to a three year old to wonder. Yes I was BLESSED with a curiosity that brought me closer to GOD and the BLESSED MOTHER. Went to Monday novena to Immaculate Mary. She sent me my husband. Thank you Carol