On Oct. 8, 1991, Congressman Robert T. Matsui of California addressed these words to the House of Representatives:
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today in great sadness to advise you that an outstanding citizen of Sacramento, California, Bishop Alphonse Gallegos, was tragically killed on Monday … in a vehicle accident…
“He worked tirelessly to steer Hispanic youth toward education and away from drugs and crime. Replacing such a beloved figure will not be easy. We will all mourn the loss of such a giving, dedicated, and exceptional man.”
This October marked 28 years since Gallegos’ passing on Oct. 6, 1991. To remember his life is to remember his missionary zeal.
Gallegos was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Feb. 20, 1931. When he was a child, his family moved to Watts, California. In 1950, he entered the Order of Augustinian Recollects in Kansas City, Kansas.
From a very young age, Gallegos was known for his piety; his classmates called him “el santito” (“the little saint”). He desired to follow Christ and serve him at a young age. He suffered with vision deficiency — myopia — all of his life, which presented many challenges for him.
Gallegos would spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament, contemplating Jesus. He slept very little, an average of four hours, and was awake by 4:30 a.m., in prayer, as he would say, “Me and my Lord.” He was up late when he loved to read Scripture in the silence of the night, listening to the word of God. This contemplative spirit guided his actions.
In 1972, his order assigned him to serve as pastor of San Miguel Church in Watts, the same parish where he’d been an altar server. Even more so than today, the situation in Watts was rife with poverty, gang violence, and unemployment.
Upon his arrival he organized the Parish Pastoral Council, wanting to get the entire parish involved in bringing the joy of Christ to the community. He would walk the dangerous streets at night in search of the “lost sheep,” the youth. He believed that education was key in order to stop the vicious cycle of poverty and violence in Watts.
Gallegos’ work in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not go unnoticed. In 1979 he was appointed as the first director of Hispanic Affairs for California’s bishops. There he coordinated with the state’s bishops and those of Baja California to advocate on behalf of the growing Hispanic population in California.
Gallegos was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Sacramento Nov. 4, 1981. As bishop, Gallegos continued to do what he loved most: be among his flock, smelling like sheep. He traveled up and down the Diocese of Sacramento: confirmations, funerals, visiting the sick, jails, migrant camps, cruising with the low riders.
Oct. 6, 1991, was a pretty typical day for Gallegos. That morning he spent time with the Guadalupanas in the parish hall of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Sacramento helping them make tamales. Later he went to a pro-life rally, visited a young man dying in the hospital of AIDS, and in the evening presided Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Gridley, where he confirmed 50 teenagers.
On his way back to Sacramento, his 1981 Volkswagen Jetta stalled on Highway 99, losing power and lights. He and his driver discussed who would push the car off the Highway. Gallegos decided he would push the car. A car struck him, killing him instantly.
His cause of canonization was opened Dec. 4, 2005, and he was declared venerable by Pope Francis July 8, 2016.
The above comes from an Oct. 31 story in the L.A. archdiocese Angelus News.