Deacon Medina: ‘This job has been a blessing’
After 13 years as regional assistant to San Fernando Region Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, Deacon Richard Medina is retiring, but not from ministry.
The 68-year-old former operations manager for an Anheuser-Busch distributor, who balanced full-time administrative duties at the region’s office in Mission Hills with his ministries as deacon at St. Philip the Apostle in Pasadena, is looking forward to a shorter commute from his home in Downey as he continues his diaconate ministries at St. Philip.
“This job has been a blessing,” said Medina, a married father of three with four grandchildren, who was ordained a permanent deacon in 1990. Busy back then with work and ministerial duties as a deacon at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Downey, he wasn’t looking for a new job in the late ’90s when he was approached by then-Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sartoris (for whom he occasionally served as liturgical master of ceremonies) about applying for the San Fernando regional assistant opening.
His first grandchild had just been born, and he missed his second interview for the position to visit his baby granddaughter in Seattle. “I came back, was interviewed again, and a week later they said I would be hired,” said Medina. His wife, Yolanda, postponed her retirement for ten years, continuing to work as a counseling support staff person at the Department of Rehabilitation’s office in Pasadena so her husband could take the regional assistant position, which came with a pay cut.
Medina left his old job on a Friday and attended an All Souls Memorial Mass for deacons with Bishop Wilkerson that Sunday in the chapel at Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills. The bishop gave him the keys to his then-office on the high school campus (the current office is adjacent to the school and behind the San Fernando Mission) and asked him to read a stack of papers he left on his desk so he would be prepared to make a parish visit on Monday.
He often worked weekends in his old job, but his new weekday routine took some time getting used to. “When I went to work for the archdiocese, things moved very slow,” compared to his former rapid work pace, said Medina. “Nobody knew me or what I did. My phone didn’t ring. I didn’t get any emails. I sat in my office wondering, ‘What am I going to do?’”
It took time to get to know, and visit, the region’s 55 parishes and six missions and to understand how the archdiocese worked administratively. “After people knew I was trying to help them, and they knew that was the reason I was there, I started getting phone calls and emails,” said Medina.
He was involved with many of the region’s revitalization projects, such as assisting with planning for the construction of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Santa Clarita and the expansion of St. Mary Church in Palmdale. He has also been involved in ongoing construction plans for Guardian Angel in Pacoima, Sacred Heart in Lancaster and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Santa Clarita as well as numerous smaller renovation projects in the region’s parishes.
“Richard became not only my right hand, but also my left hand serving our parishes and one million parishioners where we were pressed to meet all the needs of the region,” said Bishop Wilkerson.
“He was good not only helping with repairs and construction projects, he was really good with people and tireless in trying to do the best for parishioners and priests. He came up with creative ideas to help parishes and schools update their facilities and moved forward independently with the limited resources we have today.”
Noted Medina: “The bishop and I would sit down and try to work things out together --- he was very easy to work with. He gave me a lot of leeway to be creative in things that I needed to do.
“Building strong relationships in the region really was important for us and I think it helped us a lot to be able to minister and to support these parishes and schools. And,” he added with a knowing sigh, “the only way to do that is driving.” His round-trip commute averaged three hours. Sometimes he drove 200 miles in a day visiting sites. His Toyota Prius of five-and-a-half years has 140,000 miles on it.
“The job is demanding, but I loved it. The biggest reason I left was the drive,” explained Medina, who plans to take four months off, spending part of the time traveling in Brazil with his wife to visit the priest who married them 43 years ago. He has promised Bishop Wilkerson that he will act as MC for some confirmations when he returns.
Though he admits experiencing some challenging times in his ministry as regional assistant, interacting with people angered by the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and assisting parishes struggling to expand in the current economic downturn, his faith remains steady and undeterred.
He says he continues to be inspired by the people of God, such as those living in outlying areas like Castaic and Acton, where Sunday Mass is conducted in public facilities for lack of a church. “What faith these people have to continue to set up ‘church’ in a public high school every Sunday,” said Medina.
“As the bishop and I encountered parish communities, their faith strengthened us. This gave us a deeper commitment to what we were doing, and helped us to understand the broader sense of what we do and how we impact them and they impact us through the faith of Jesus Christ.”
While he describes the San Fernando Region as being in “great shape,” he wishes more Catholics knew the extent of their faith’s myriad ministries in outreach, education, health care and community-building.
“I believe we need to do a better job at helping Catholics understand that,” said Medina. “I think if there’s an awareness of that [social justice ministry], people who want to help would be more willing to be a part of it. There is so much good work being done in the Catholic Church, it’s amazing.”