The Rev. Ricardo Palomares giving communion after being ordained, Maryland Church News, January 1985
By Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist
On January 23, 1983, the Rev. Alfredo Coye became the vicar of Church of the Holy Covenant, a mission congregation under the immediate supervision of the Bishop Coadjutor of Maryland, Theodore Eastman, and located on Broadway directly across from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Coye was a citizen of Belize in Central America and identified himself as “Black/Central American”. He had come to Maryland in November 1981, as a curate for St. James Church, Lafayette Square, from the Diocese of Southwest Florida, after earning a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from University of South Florida, and D. Min. from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1979. Ordained deacon in June of 1979, by the Bishop of Southwest Florida and priest by the Bishop of Panama in August of the same year, he had been Priest-in-charge of Church of the Transfiguration, Changuinola Panama from 1979 until 1981.
In a letter written in late 1982, asking for “expeditious processing and approval of Fr. Coye’s special immigrant visa”, Bishop David Leighton added, “while Fr. Coye’s primary language is English, he is also fluent in Spanish and will thus be very helpful to the Episcopal Church in beginning a ministry with Spanish speaking people in East Baltimore.” In the summer of 1983, Coye began a Spanish language program at Holy Covenant, aimed at the youth of the congregation, and was assisted in this program by Ricardo Palomares, a seminary summer intern.
Ricardo Palomares entered General Seminary from the Diocese of Maryland, sponsored by Grace & St. Peter’s Church, in the fall of 1981, continuing a family legacy – both his father and uncle having been Episcopal priests in Cuba. After escaping Cuba in 1961, as one of a group of children sponsored by the Episcopal Church, Palomares obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of the South in 1966, and was an instructor at Virginia Episcopal School, Lynchburg, VA from 1966-1969. He garnered a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina in 1973, coming to Baltimore to teach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the Modern Language and Linguistics Department.
In a 1983 scholarship application for Palomares, Bishop Leighton wrote, “This is our first Hispanic candidate. We hope to begin our first Spanish-speaking congregation in this port city as soon as Ricardo is ordained. He is eminently qualified, being a highly educated person.”
First Hispanic Ordination, Maryland Church News, January 1985
During the summer of 1983, Ricardo Palomares served as a summer intern at Holy Covenant, supervised by the Rev. Alfredo Coye, the newly appointed vicar. In his supervisory evaluation, Coye said, “Ricardo has worked hard to make contacts in areas where the work has been established. He has met with community leaders of various Latin nationalities. The Latino community needs him now.” Palomares reported to Bishop Leighton, “The process of reaching out to the Hispanic community was not always easy, but by the end of the summer I felt very enthusiastic about the possibilities for the Episcopal Church in Maryland. Presently there are about 6,000 Spanish-speaking persons within the city limits, mostly concentrated in the East Baltimore area, although there is no ‘barrio’ as such.”
All that summer, Palomares worked with the mayor’s office, cooperated with community leaders, preached, visited, and helped at the summer day camp sponsored by the parish. Although offered a job by the Bishop of Colorado, Palomares wrote to Bishop Leighton, “For the past ten years I have had a very good and rewarding experience in Maryland, and I would certainly like to begin my ministry among people and places which have influenced me greatly.” On May 9, 1984, Palomares was ordained deacon at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore; the ordination service, reading of the Gospel and blessing conducted in Spanish.
During the May 1984 Diocesan Convention, the Bishop Coadjutor, Theodore Eastman, included in his address the news of, “our first Diocesan mission in twenty years. The idea for a new mission to Spanish-speaking people has been in the research and planning stage for more than a year.” Three national church grants helped fund the establishment of the mission to Spanish-speaking people organized at Holy Covenant – La Mision Episcopal Hispana. A Diocesan Committee on Hispanic Ministries was also created that fall by Bishop Eastman. Early on, the committee focused on creating a functioning budget and supporting La Mision by acting as the Advisory Board, or vestry, of the mission.
December 19, 1984, at the Church of the Holy Covenant, was the day the Rev. Ricardo Palomares became the first Hispanic person to be ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Maryland.
Only a year later, in December of 1985, Holy Covenant’s vicar, Fr. Coye, was called to St. Luke’s Church in Washington, D.C., and Fr. Palomares took on a unique job. He became the part-time vicar of the Chapel of the Holy Evangelists on Potomac Street in Canton, an English-speaking mission, as well as part-time vicar of the Spanish-speaking La Mision Episcopal Hispana, which had moved its congregation to the facilities at Holy Evangelists. In the 1986 convention journal, the number of baptized members was reported as 61 for Holy Evangelists, and 21 for La Mision. In his annual report to Bishop Eastman, Fr. Palomares said, “My vision for La Mision Episcopal Hispana in Baltimore is that it would be an integral part of a program of evangelization and pastoral care of an existing congregation, and, indeed of the diocese of Maryland as a whole.”
Tragically, Ricardo Dominguez Palomares, died on November 13, 1986, from complications associated with AIDS. His funeral was held in the same cathedral where he had been ordained only two years before, the building filled with people, including a procession of 82 clergy. Buried at Old St. Paul’s Cemetery, many feared that the commitment to Hispanic ministry in the diocese would be buried with him, but the Committee on Hispanic Ministry, which had been formed in 1984, along with the support of Bishop Eastman, determined to continue the work in some form.
By the end of 1987 the Rev Miguel Vilar had been appointed the part-time Hispanic Missioner by Bishop Eastman to head up the flagging Hispanic missionary work in the diocese. Originally from the Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico, Padre Vilar had been ordained in 1968, and had served in Guatemala as well as Puerto Rico. He wrote, “Our first statement is that La Mision Hispana sees itself as an advocate and enabler of the poor and oppressed Hispanic community, which the Episcopal Church is called to serve.” His duties included the following: “celebrate the Eucharist and preach the Gospel in Spanish; take the sacrament to the sick and shut-ins of the Hispanic community; provide for Christian education in Spanish when requested; develop active lay leadership for this ministry; meet with the committee on Hispanic Ministry of the diocese.”
The diocese launched a large fund-raising and mission initiative at a special convention in November of 1987, which was named Cross+Roads. One of the priorities was renewed mission work centered around social ministry in the diocese, and a fund became available to help with specific projects. In 1991, Miguel Vilar applied for funds to begin a Hispanic Help Line Ministry called “Ayudame”. “It is the purpose of this program to ameliorate the fear of Spanish-speaking persons by providing a Spanish speaking information and referral system for questions regarding issues such as health, legal, housing, food and education rights and services…”. Quoting the 1989 statement of the Committee on Hispanic Ministry, he wrote, “Our mission is to provide pastoral ministry among Hispanic believers and in this fertile mission field to offer compassionate social ministry to link powerless, frightened people with sources of help.”
The Rev. Carol Cole Flanigan was hired as vicar of the Chapel of the Holy Evangelists, still a small, struggling Anglo mission, beginning work in February 1990. Miguel Vilar, as Hispanic Missioner, used the facilities of Holy Evangelists as the base for his Hispanic ministry. In September of 1991, Bishop Eastman wrote that the “diocesan ministry will be referred to as Ministerio Episcopal Hispana…and the name La Mision Hispana will be retired. The Hispanic congregational ministry at Holy Evangelists’ will be called La Iglesia Episcopal de los Santos Evangelistas.” The Right Rev. Claro Huerta-Ramos, the Bishop of Southeastern Mexico visited the chapel on September 23, confirming 13 people, both teenagers and adults.
In his 1992 annual report to Bishop Eastman, Padre Vilar, who was now employed full-time, outlined the various programs and responsibilities he was responsible for, including, prison ministry, work with undocumented persons, English classes, assistance for migrant workers, pastoral care, board memberships, summer camp for Hispanic children, and the Ayudame program. He concluded, “Thanks to God and to your unconditional support, the Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese is extensive, successful and with great potential. I ask for your patience and trust, because we may be creating a new model of evangelism and a new model of a community of faith that cannot be measured by the traditional Anglo standards.”
Peter H. Rosa-Herrans, a Lutheran seminarian, assisted Padre Vilar from September 1991 until September 1992 by running the Ayudame program with Cross+Roads funding and some money from the Lutheran Brotherhood. He also wrote a Hispanic Ministry Needs Assessment which included an idea for further joint Lutheran-Episcopal efforts. Miguel Vilar continued his varied ministry, which included in 1993 a Summer Camp for 43 children, with 9 counselors, held at St. John’s Church in Glyndon.
Church attendance on Sunday averaged about 40 weekly, and English classes, health programs, housing assistance, prison ministry, and legal aid continued.
But in 1995, Bishop Charles Longest, the Bishop-in-Charge wrote, “In April of 1995 the Mission Church of Holy Evangelists in East Baltimore worshipped together for the last time on 2 Easter, April 23. This sad closing, precipitated by a number of factors, was due in large part to a decision made at the end of 1994 to significantly cut diocesan financial support. The Mission, while a lively worshipping community, could not sustain itself financially, and was thus forced to make the painful decision to close.” Bishop Longest, appointed Miguel Vilar as Hispanic Missioner, to continue his work, using the Holy Evangelists’ building as his base. But as of September of that year, Miguel Vilar resigned and returned to Puerto Rico at the end of December 1995.
The Rev. Miguel Vilar receives state Hispanic award, East Baltimore GUIDE, May 28, 1992