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New Spanish Apostolate director understands joys, challenges of family life

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In his first “church job” as a case manager for Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Joel de Loera would sometimes pray with families as he helped them address housing or employment issues.


The mostly Hispanic families he worked with seemed to appreciate the prayers, but “one of my colleagues said to me once, ‘If you want to talk about Jesus, you need to go work for a parish.’ ” After praying about it and talking with his spiritual director, de Loera said, “I realized my calling was working in a parish setting — I felt like my passion was sharing the good news of Jesus” in a more direct way.


He worked in youth and family ministry for parishes in Oklahoma and Texas, then served as director of Family Life and Spirituality for the Diocese of San Jose in Northern California. He studied after hours to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology and pastoral theology, while he and his wife began raising their growing family.


All of that has paved the way for de Loera to step into his new position this month as director of the Spanish Apostolate for the Arlington diocese — the first layperson to serve in that role. The previous director, Father José Eugenio Hoyos, served in the office for 15 years.


“We are very excited,” said de Loera, a bilingual 34-year-old with an easy laugh and a calm, can-do demeanor. “It’s an awesome opportunity to do ministry and witness to Christ and to family life.” He said his family has always been involved in his ministry; they are featured prominently in his social media feeds. He also plays guitar and sings. His wife, Nora, and six children, ages 8 months to 11 years old, are still in California but will join him as soon as he can find a suitable home.


Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said he has tremendous confidence that de Loera is the right person for the job.


“As Bishop of Arlington, one of my key priorities has been to help integrate the Hispanic community into the larger Catholic family here in our diocese,” he said. “The Hispanic community is well known for vibrancy of faith and deep family bonds. Joel, as a loyal husband and devoted father, is a model of Catholic family life and has served the church in various types of ministry. As the first lay director of the Spanish Apostolate, I have absolute confidence that Joel will help me more effectively reach out to our Hispanic brothers and sisters and assist our pastors in their own outreach. I ask all in the diocese to pray for Joel and his family, as they begin this transition and as he embarks on a new journey here in the Diocese of Arlington.”


Father Kevin Walsh, pastor of Precious Blood Church in Culpeper, said the Hispanic Advisory Committee was impressed by de Loera’s “joyful witness,” as well as his many talents.


“He has worked with youth, religious education, family ministry and prayer groups. His strong presence on social media is just one of the ways that he evangelizes,” Father Walsh said. “As a happily married man and father of six children, he sets a wonderful example of living out the call to holiness in the sacrament of matrimony while being open to the gift of life.”


The cost of living in the Washington area doesn’t faze de Loera, and neither does the challenge of finding a home and moving his family cross-country during an ongoing pandemic.


He noted that he’s coming from Silicon Valley, “the most expensive place on earth,” and pointed out that California’s Santa Clara County has one of the most restrictive coronavirus protocols in the nation. Churches there mostly have been closed since last March, and when he got to Virginia, “it was such a relief being able to go to Mass inside a church,” he said.


His first priority in his new job will be “to reach out to all the clergy, meet them in person or via Zoom and listen to them, get to know them, and get to know their needs and struggles out in the field,” de Loera said. “Then I can begin to assess the options to engage with (the Hispanic community) and begin to slowly let them know how important it is to be part of their parish and begin to serve there.”


He can relate to the challenges of Hispanic parishioners, many of whom are immigrants raising their children in a very different culture than they grew up in. Although he was born in Oklahoma, his wife came from Mexico at age 16, and her parents insisted they take a chaperone on dates.


“They had strong values,” he said. “Now that I have four daughters, I understand.” 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021