Community service led Gonzalez to ordained ministry

By Jean Peerenboom | For The Compass | May 7, 2014

APPLETON — Ernesto Gonzalez, Jr.’s heart has always been with community and helping others. That journey has led him to ordination as a deacon for the Diocese of Green Bay. On May 10, he will join three other men in the ordination ceremony.

Ernesto Gonzalez
Ernesto Gonzalez

Reflecting on that journey, he said his paternal grandmother’s relationship with Christ made a lasting impression on him. Though he didn’t follow Christ as passionately as she did, he took part in faith formation and made the sacraments while growing up in southwest Texas. He married in 1972 and he and his wife, Ramona, moved to Wisconsin.

“I had just graduated from community college,” he said.

Gonzalez came to Wisconsin, where his brother was working in the cabbage fields in Shiocton. There were obstacles, including not making enough money to go back home. He enrolled at Fox Valley Technical College and, after a year, found a job with United Migrant Opportunity Services.

He worked in a local satellite office of this Milwaukee nonprofit helping agricultural migrants to relocate. That was the beginning of his community work.

Four men to be ordained deacons May 10

Bishop David Ricken will ordain four men to the diaconate on May 10, 10 a.m., at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. The men include John Bundra, Ernesto Gonzalez, Jr., Mark LeGreve and Mike Zebroski. Each candidate is profiled here.

In 1976, federal funding became scarce, so Gonzalez took a construction job. A year later, he became a printer in the graphics department at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, where he worked until his retirement in 2009.

“My passion was community,” he said, “and I kept involved in it as a volunteer all those years.” Following his retirement, he helped found Casa Hispanic, Inc., a Hispanic agency in the Fox Valley area, and continued to help out as a volunteer.

In the early 1980s, the Green Bay Diocese launched a campaign for the evangelization of Hispanics in the Fox Valley. He and Maria Ramos, Hispanic evangelization coordinator for the diocese, traveled around the area doing outreach, especially in the Wautoma and Waupaca areas. A Spanish Mass was started at St. Patrick Church, Menasha.

Meanwhile, he was attending St. Joseph and Sacred Heart churches in Appleton, where he lived. He helped out with the Spanish ministry, “but I didn’t really see this as my calling,” he said.

He heard that one of the Capuchin priests was saying a Spanish Mass at Monte Alverno in Appleton once a month and he joined them.

“I helped bring in some of the foreign students from Fox Valley Technical College, and we were joined by a handful of other Spanish-speaking people,” he said.

“We outgrew that pretty fast and had to find a new place to meet,” he added.

St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Neenah opened its doors to the Hispanic ministry on a temporary basis. He continued to help out. “That’s when I started to grasp that I had a calling,” said Gonzalez.

The ministry soon found a permanent home at St. Therese Parish, Appleton.

“My wife and I started helping with the pre-marriage classes and I coordinated the choir,” he said. “There was so much to do. The ministry was growing and there were other ministries we could get involved in. That’s when I started to feel God’s call much stronger. I really loved what I was doing.

“There is a lot of need that I could be part of in a parish,” he continued. “I heard about the diaconate program and I began my discernment to find my own purpose.”

He and Ramona were also involved in Cursillo. His true conversion started when he began classes for the diaconate. “That really solidified the call,” he said.

Gonzalez reflects on the growth of his faith since he began working with the evangelization program around 1982.

“I didn’t have a purpose,” he said. “A friend invited me to ‘be reborn.’ I thanked him for the invitation, but declined. I realized I didn’t know much about my Catholic faith. I began to discover more answers. God really fed my hunger, and it was in praising God that I answered yes.”

Ernesto and Ramona have two children and five grandchildren. Their daughter and her three girls live with them; their son and his family live across town in Appleton.

Following his May 10 ordination, he will serve as a deacon at St. Therese Parish, where he will continue coordinating choirs and helping with the sacraments. His parish involvement has included serving on the finance committee and parish council, the Hispanic committee and working with the Vision In Action team.

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