In its 100-year plus history, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Diego has been the place of worship for generations of Spanish-speaking Catholics across the country. It has also been a center for social and economic justice and the place from which many great Chicano leaders have emerged. Today, it continues to be a beacon of hope and refuge for many.
In 1968, at the height of the Chicano Movement, Father Richard H. Brown, S.J. started his 50-year ministry at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (OLG). When he arrived he joined forces with Father Jaime Rasura, S.J. who had arrived at OLG in the early 1950’s and was primarily focused on the elders, the students at Our Lady of Guadalupe school, and the young children of the Barrio. Fathers Brown and Rasura were a great team and were widely beloved. Jointly, they were at OLG for a combined total of close to 90 years and brought the Catholic faith to many. It is estimated that during their ministry they performed over 20,000 baptisms and thousands of weddings, funerals and quinceañeras.
Father Brown’s focus was always the youth, in particular teenagers. He was aware of the high dropout rates, low college enrollments and high incarceration of Mexican-Americans that created a workforce of low-paying jobs. He believed in collaboration and joined forces with Chicano and civic leaders to address these challenges and to begin breaking the cycle of poverty. At OLG he connected with the existing youth groups of Guadalupanos and Acción
Catolica, and introduced a new organization named Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). The OLG CYO grew to be one of the largest in the Diocese of San Diego, comprised of teenagers from both public and Catholic schools. It also included teenagers that joined the fight to save the land where Chicano Park is today.
In the 1970’s, Logan Heights and Golden Hills experienced a significant loss of housing due to the construction of the Coronado Bay Bridge and Highway 94. Both Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Angeles schools experienced steep declines in enrollment. Father Brown believed that Catholic education ranked among the best and it had to be available in the Barrio. He led the effort to merge the two schools into one which was named Our Lady’s School and spent the rest of his ministry making sure a Catholic education there continued to be affordable. Many individuals credit Father Brown for their success and are now community, business and government leaders.
Fr. Brown served on the Barrio Station Board for 40+ years. He worked closely with Rachael Ortiz, Executive Director, to address social issues, especially when it involved troubled teens. He also had a special relationship with the lowrider car clubs. He knew them personally and understood them. At every opportunity he made it a point for people to understand this wonderful culture of car enthusiasts who have a passion for their fine cars and who enjoy cruising. He started the blessing of the lowriders at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and the celebration grew so large it moved to Chicano Park and celebrated on Chicano Park Day. On June 25, 2022, the Brown Image Car Club granted Father Brown’s wish to be part of Chicano Park forever. His image and spirit are enshrined in their new mural.
Father Brown loved Chicanos and Chicano Park. He not only understood their chosen identity but the issues they address and why Chicano Park itself is so important. He made the church accessible and responsive to all, thus he was affectionately known as “El Padrecito del Barrio.” More than religion, he preached “love” and encouraged people to find common ground to work together. His teachings and good work continue today with all the leaders that he influenced.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Pillar Committee:
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Pillar Committee Artists & Contributing Members: