Diocese's fourth bishop spent life learning - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Diocese's fourth bishop spent life learning

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Posted: Friday, June 5, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 9:04 am, Fri Feb 8, 2013.

Bishop Enrique San Pedro started his teaching career at age 12 as a boy in Cuba.

His passion for learning extended through nearly half a dozen countries, three continents and 56 years. His journey ended here in the Rio Grande Valley, where his love for learning is still talked about in the Catholic community. San Pedro was the Brownsville Diocese's fourth bishop, and although he passed away in 1994, his influence is still felt across the country.

San Pedro came into the world March 9, 1926, in Havana, Cuba. It wasn't long before he started teaching. At age 12, San Pedro was advanced in his studies, and teachers asked him to help tutor other students, said Lydia Pesina, who worked at the Diocese of Brownsville when San Pedro was bishop.

Pesina worked in the Catechesis office, which is dedicated to educating people about the Gospel. She says she would meet with the bishop occasionally when he traveled to Hidalgo County from Brownsville. She would often hear the story about how the bishop started teaching before he could drive, shave or reach things on high shelves.

And she believed it. San Pedro showed a passion for education in everything he did, Pesina said. When he waited for flights at the airport, he carried a book with him. In fact, when he waited for pretty much anything he carried a book with him.

"The things that meant most to him were his service to the church, to the people," Pesina said. She still works for the diocese as the director of the family life office. "As far as possessions, his biggest thing was his books."

After his first taste of academics, San Pedro was hooked. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1941. He was ordained as a priest in 1957. In the years between, he earned a master's degree in classical literature from St. Stanislaus College in Salamanca, Spain. He also received a licentiate degree in philosophy from the Pontifical University of Comillas in Santandar, Spain.

After he became a priest, he obtained a second licentiate degree, this time in in theology from Leopold-Franzens University in Innsbruck Austria. In 1965 he earned a doctorate in sacred theology from the same university.

And there's more still. On top of earning a doctorate, San Pedro did post-graduate work at the Franz-Joseph University in Vienna, Austria.

He taught at the university level for about two decades before being appointed auxiliary bishop at the Galveston-Houston Diocese. He was the first Hispanic to hold the post.

Aside from his distinguished education career, the diocese also remembers San Pedro as a man of the world. He was said to be fluent in as many as seven languages. Indeed, San Pedro boasts an impressive travel record. The Cuban native studied in two European countries. And from 1963 to 1975, he worked in Vietnam, serving as the liaison between the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Vietnamese clergy.

He came to the Valley in 1991 as a coadjutor bishop after his time in Houston. By the end of that year, San Pedro became the fourth bishop of the Brownsville Diocese. His tenure, while not as lengthy as some of his peers, is remembered as a progressive time that helped establish the church. San Pedro passed away in 1994.

As the dioceses workers remember San Pedro's near legendary thirst for education, the bishop continues to help another group of people in the Valley 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Bishop Enrique San Pedro Ozanam Center in Brownsville is dedicated to him. This center is aimed at helping the area's homeless and it never closes. Anyone can stay there for 30 days, receiving shelter, food and clothes. Workers also connect the people there with local social services agencies. Between 60 and 70 people each day seek help at the shelter, says Rosie Cortinas, interim director at the center.

And they all walk past the sign that bares the name of the late bishop. His last contribution in a lifetime of servitude.

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