VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has advanced the sainthood cause of a U.S. bishop who ministered to California farm workers and the poor, and recognized the martyrdom of an Italian layman who died en route to a Nazi death camp after refusing to recite allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
In other moves on July 8, the pope recognized the martyrdom of seven Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who were killed during the Spanish Civil War and he recognized the miracle needed for the beatification of French Father Antoine-Rose Ormieres — founder of the Congregation of the Guardian Angel Sisters. He was born in Quillan, France, in 1809 and died in Gijon, Spain, in 1890.
The pope approved the decrees during an audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.
Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtues of the late Auxiliary Bishop Alphonse Gallegos of Sacramento, California, known as the “bishop of the barrio” because of his work with the marginalized and the “lowrider bishop” because of his support for members of local modified-car clubs.
He was particularly concerned about the poor, un-catechized young people, migrants and other people who lacked support from the community, and he often spent his summer vacations living with farmworkers in California’s Central Valley.
One of 11 children, he was born Feb. 20, 1931, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and grew up in the Watts area of Los Angeles. He did his seminary studies at the Tagaste Monastery in Suffern, New York, and was ordained a priest for the Augustinian Recollects religious order in 1958.
Gallegos served as pastor for the San Miguel and Cristo Rey parishes in the Los Angeles area and then moved to Sacramento in 1979 where he became the first director of the Division of Hispanic Affairs of the California Catholic Conference.
As founding director, he set in motion mobile pastoral teams for the state’s farm workers and a Spanish-language radio program to reach farm workers in California and Mexico.
In 1981, St. John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of Sacramento, where he lived until his death in an automobile accident near Yuba City Oct. 6, 1991.
While auxiliary bishop, he served as vicar general, vicar for the Hispanic apostolate and vicar for ethnic communities in the diocese. He served at both St. Rose Parish and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Sacramento. At the time, he had been the first Hispanic bishop in the California state capital since 1861.
Born with a severe myopic condition and nearly blind, Gallegos was said to have a warm and friendly personality.
It was not unusual to find him on Friday and Saturday nights on Franklin Boulevard in Sacramento talking to the drivers and owners of the area’s famed lowriders — cars with modified suspension systems — blessing their cars and helping them with their problems and concerns.
About 300 lowrider cars participated in a procession in his honor before his funeral Mass.
Pope Francis on July 8 also recognized the martyrdom of Italian husband and father Josef Mayr-Nusser. Born in Bolzano in 1910, he was the head of Catholic Action in the 1930s and secretly took part in an anti-Nazi movement lead by the diocesan secretary of the Catholic Youth.
Though he was forced to join the paramilitary Schutzstaffel, he told his Nazi superiors he could not take an oath to Hitler in the name of God because his faith did not allow it. He was prosecuted for treason and sentenced to death by firing squad at the Dachau concentration camp.
However, he died from dysentery aboard the train en route to the camp in 1945.
In other decrees, the pope recognized the heroic virtues of three priests, a Franciscan brother, and Sister Maria Pia Notari, founder of the Crucified Sisters of the Holy Eucharist.