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Father Luis Olivares had it made. As treasurer of the Claretians, a congregation of Catholic missionaries, he was wined and dined by the titans of Wall Street. They flew him to New York first class, put him up in five-star hotels, took him to the best restaurants and treated him to Broadway shows.“He even played up the part in the way that he dressed,” said Mario T. García, a UC Santa Barbara professor of Chicano and Chicana Studies. Velvet suits, French cuffs, Gucci shoes — Olivares cut a fine figure. “In fact, some people began to refer to him as ‘the Gucci priest.’ ”
And then he walked away from the titans of finance to serve the poor and the unwelcome — and never looked back.
Olivares’ journey from a darling of Wall Street to the champion of Central American refugees and undocumented Mexican immigrants is chronicled in García’s “Father Luis Olivares — A Biography: Faith Politics and the Origins of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles” (University of North Carolina Press, 2018).
The first full biography of the celebrated priest, the book comes at a time when the U.S. again grapples with new arrivals from Central America and Mexico. García said we can learn from Olivares.
“People need to know that in the not-too-far past people were working on the same issues,” he said, “and that they were successful in helping these people, and giving them hope, and standing up and saying, ‘No, this cannot happen. We as Americans do not accept the way these people are being treated. This is not who we are. This is not what American is, to treat people in this inhumane and demeaning way. They are human beings; they are children of God and they need to be treated as such.’ ”
Born in 1934 in San Antonio, Texas, to political refugees from Mexico, Olivares grew up …