Father Gallegos remembered

By Maxine McCue, MS,OPA

gallegosFather Larry Gallegos was a short man and slightly rotund most of his life, not that his daily duties centered around food. But when you lived a rather austere life as one of 12 kids, like he had, he kept his remarks and thoughts to himself. No, he wasn’t a big talker. He kept things inside.

Father Larry was born in Anton Chico, a small place, barely on the map, about an hour and a half drive southeast of Santa Fe, on April 9, 1939, according to his closest sister in age, Josephine Madril.

The family moved to Denver when Gallegos was eight years old so his father could work on the railroad at a steady job. Here in the growing city of Denver, he was able to attend Sacred Heart Catholic School where Catholic children were given opportunities usually not available to them. He and his sister, Josie, were only 11 months apart so they were raised as almost twins, forming a close bond with each other.

Growing up in the busy city, Gallegos was exposed to many new jobs and careers, yet like most young men, he struggled to learn who he was. What was going to be his place in this big world?  He prayed and pondered on the heavy question. “He would say, ’I don’t know what I want,’” said his sister.  Then in the summer of 1959 , he told his religious parents that he wanted to be a priest. So, at the age of 18, he joined the seminary at St. Andrews run by a small religious order of men founded by St. Cajetan in Italy.

Gallegos loved the Theatine order.  Spanish was his first language as was his culture and devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1964 he did his year in the novitiate under the direction of Father Jaime Probens, C.R., professing as a Theatine brother for the first time on August 29, 1965. He continued his studies at the seminary. On May 31, 1969 he was ordained a priest by Archbishop James Vincent Casey of Denver. What a day that was for his deeply religious parents, Julian and Eloise Gallegos.

Then, the student became the teacher. Father Larry had done religious education studies, earning the appropriate degree, and also in English, Spanish and other grammar literature. Years later, it was one of his previous students who replaced him during his terminal illness. But back then, Gallegos was director of St. Andrews for a few years and taught Doug Hunt English and Spanish at the age of 15.

Over the years the Theatine order became his first family. He developed various tasks, serving two terms as provincial consultant and provincial, prefect of studies at St. Andrew’s seminary and “member participant in several General Chapters”  where the leaders of the Theatine order were elected. In 1986 Father Larry was sent to be pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Durango, where he stayed off and on for the next 30 years. In fact, this was his choice for retirement which never came.

During his early years as pastor Father Larry became fond of “Peanuts and Snoopy” in the Sunday comic strips. He was able to translate the Gospel into every day normal life finding the wisdom “Lucy sold for five cents” and shared it with his parishioners in his sermons. In fact, when parishioners came to him with problems or a misunderstanding, Father Larry did not pontificate; he never gave answers, but always a story. “He was a very wise man, and always had a deep faith,” said Father Doug Hunt, his successor.  “ He was very meditative, too. He would be in church or chapel before anyone else, early in the morning before prayers were scheduled to begin.”

Father Larry did not play golf on Mondays as his predecessor had, but he was not all work and no play; for he loved to fish. Whenever he got the chance, he stole away to a cabin at Electra Lake for a short break.

He never drove a new car; none of the panels even matched on his old jalopy.  But it got him around to the five Churches of the Montelores Catholic Community. When Father Larry started the Tuesday Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, he told those who questioned why his decision  had not gone through the Liturgy Committee, he said, “When they came to me, they wanted to pray. So, what was I supposed to do? Tell them no?”

Father Larry remodeled the convent building used for religious education in Cortez. Daily he pounded nails, and ran a table saw as he made rooms, common area, kitchen, etc. for the new aspirants for the Theatine order. He said, he probably used $10,000 on that job, but the previous rectory or house of the priest had been sold since it only had two bedrooms.  In fact, at Father Gallegos’ farewell party there in Cortez in 2010, the parishioners gave him a new power saw.

Father Larry said his last Mass on Palm Sunday, 2017 in Durango. He had ignored the symptoms for a long time, but now the pain would not let him rest at all. A physician saw Father Larry at Mercy Hospital in Durango and gave him the news straight. “Father, you have a cancer and about six months to live.” He had just begun his 49th year as a Theatine religious priest.

When his parishioners in Durango heard the diagnosis, they rallied around him. There were five or six registered nurses in the community who were willing to care for him without pay, but he did not want to be a burden on the community he loved and had served so faithfully. Many of his siblings still lived in the Denver area, so he went up there to share the news. Finally, he went back to the seminary where it had all begun, so many years before, but this time in one of the little apartments around the infirmary where the professionals could care of him and he could tell his families “good-bye.”

Six weeks later, Father Larry breathed his last and went to sleep. A memorial service was held for him at Sacred Heart Church on  June 15, followed by burial in the Theatine plot at Mount Olivet cemetery near Wheat Ridge.

As Father Vincenzo Cosenza, C.R., prefect provincial of the Theatines in Italy said, “I thank the Lord for having known him. May he join our saints to obtain holy and constructive men from the Spirit. We need this. Requiescat! May he rest in peace!”