A joyful journey: Monsignor Juan Rivero reflects on 50 years as a priest

North Texas Catholic
(Dec 22, 2022) Local

Monsignor Juan Rivero

Monsignor Juan Rivero creates a welcoming atmosphere at Mass. In this photo, he stands at the doors of St. Joseph Church in Cleburne. (NTC/Ben Torres)

Although Monsignor Juan Rivero is nearing a milestone anniversary, he claims to have given “no thought” to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination. 

Family may come to celebrate, he said, or they may postpone the celebration by a month or more.

His priesthood is profoundly important to him, but not the festivities. He was ordained on Dec. 24, 1972 — an “awkward date” for gathering, he said, explaining that families have plans and clergy are busy celebrating Christmas Vigil Masses.

Msgr. Rivero entered the Legionaries of Christ in 1963 in his native Mexico. His seminary studies took him to Ireland for two years, where he perfected his English, as well as to Spain and Italy. 

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1972 at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

After serving as a priest in Mexico and Miami, Msgr. Rivero learned of the great need for bilingual priests in the Diocese of Fort Worth, and he sent then Bishop Joseph Delaney a letter of interest. He came to the diocese in 1982 and was incardinated as a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Fort Worth in 1985.

In his 40 years in the diocese, Msgr. Rivero has served in eight parishes and held several administrative positions, including vicar for priests, vicar general, and the first director of Hispanic Ministry.

Now retired, the former pastor said he grew attached to the communities where he served and still misses the people of the parishes. “It’s hard to say goodbye. It’s a joy to be around them,” he remembered.

Celebrating the sacraments and parish life have been the highlights of his priesthood. “It’s a joy to journey with [the people] in their successes and failures and challenges,” he said.

He continues to celebrate Mass when a parish priest is unavailable, and he receives requests to marry or baptize the second or third generation of faithful from his prior parishes.


Warm welcome

In parishes where he served, from Immaculate Conception in Denton to Holy Angels in Clifton, Msgr. Rivero wanted to know the parishioners, which requires intentional effort, especially in larger churches. His habit was to prepare for Mass early and then visit with parishioners in the pews before Mass so they would be relaxed and feel welcome.

“People hate grouchy priests,” he said, pointing out that in his homilies and in the confessional, he “welcomes [parishioners] where they are” and tries to reflect that “God is not judgmental. This happy God is not a grouchy God.” 

His longest assignment — from 2000 until his retirement in 2015 — was as pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Granbury and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Glen Rose.

During some of those years, he also served as vicar for priests, dean of the South Deanery, and parochial administrator of Holy Angels and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Morgan.

He managed his varied responsibilities well because he “always found really good people, willing to help” at each parish and apostolate throughout the diocese. “I don’t like to micromanage; I like to delegate. You want to include people as much as you can, make them feel they are part of the community,” he said.


Serving the diocese

Msgr. Rivero helped lay the groundwork for important ministries that still thrive in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The year he arrived in Fort Worth, he was asked by Bishop Delaney to lead the Cursillo Movement, which was established in the diocese but met in Dallas. The bishop had purchased a former Baptist church in north Fort Worth that Msgr. Rivero helped renovate to become the Cursillo Center (now the Diocesan Formation Center). 

At its height, Msgr. Rivero was hosting programs 48 weekends a year at the Cursillo Center, offering retreats in English, in Spanish, for youth, for adults, and for families. He recalled, “On Mondays, you end up looking like talcum powder, but that was OK because it was worth it.”

During that time, he was asked to launch the Office of Hispanic Ministry.

He pointed out the “Office of Hispanic Ministry” didn’t have an office; instead, it operated from “wherever you were.” 

He deferred credit for establishing the ministry, saying he found “people of tremendous faith” in established groups within parishes, and he merely coordinated them. 

He said, “It wasn’t me; because it’s in the people.”

He has observed that he hears more Spanish as he conducts his day-to-day activities in the region and suggested the need for Hispanic Ministry is even more important today. 

March 27, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI conferred the ecclesiastical title of honor of “Monsignor, Chaplain to His Holiness” on Msgr. Rivero at the request of then Bishop Kevin Vann.

Bishop Vann commended the priest for his overall dedication, for helping the bishop develop a spiritual program for priests, and for directing the Cursillo Movement and Office of Hispanic Ministry. 

The retired pastor demurred that the honor reflected any special accomplishments. 

“I’m still a priest,” he said, stating that the title demonstrated the “generous, grateful nature” of Bishop Vann.


Happy home

When not serving as a supply priest, Msgr. Rivero appreciates a “peaceful life” at his home near Cleburne, with horses and llamas for neighbors. He takes pleasure in the company of his two labradoodles, and he grows onions, tomatoes, herbs, and cucumbers, enjoying “what the crickets don’t eat.”

As he grows older, he’s curtailed his grand camping adventures, but he camps at a nearby lake from time to time. 

Looking back on his vocation, which began in Mexico City and led to Fort Worth, he said, “You never know where the Lord will lead you, guide you, or the different circumstances you will face in your ministry. It’s so diverse.

“God is good. The fact that I am here is the proof in the pudding.”

Monsignor Juan Rivero, Diocese of Fort Worth, vocation, priesthood, anniversary, trending-english