Steadfast servant: at 91, Deacon “Tacho” Perez inspires Wichita Falls parish with his dedication to God and others
“You’re not hungry.”
An odd remark to begin a conversation while you are eating your lunch.
Back in 1980, Juan Porras was a young man, fairly new to his job at Lone Star Gas Company in Wichita Falls. Anastasio “Tacho” Perez was well-established, having already put in two decades at the utility.
As the conversation continued, Porras soon realized that Perez wasn’t commenting on his appetite. Instead, Perez shared his observation: Porras showed no desire to advance in the company and performed only the minimum requirements of his job.
“He encouraged me to lift up my mind, to better myself each day,” said Porras, who said the lunchtime conversation began a 40-year friendship. “He taught me that all good things come through work.”
As their friendship grew, Perez invited Porras to come to church with him. Later, Perez encouraged him to become an altar server, which Porras still does today.
“I respect him as an elder, as a teacher. He helped bring me back to the Church,” said the Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioner.
Porras is on a different path than he was as a young man, “through him and through God,” he said gratefully.
Perez lived by his own advice.
Not only did he ascend from a ditch digger to a qualified welder during his 41-year career with Lone Star Gas, but he grew in his faith, eventually becoming a deacon, which was a daunting task for a working father of six who did not attend high school.
After sixth grade, Perez dropped out of school and worked in restaurants and sold newspapers to help earn money to support his family and his ailing mother. He later enrolled in a continuing education program at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls and earned a G.E.D.
He and his wife, Rosa, married and attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. There, Perez nurtured his faith with the sacraments, retreats, and lay ministry classes. He was in the first group of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion trained and installed by the church in 1975.
When he was in his late 50s, he accepted an invitation to enter the diaconate formation program.
The academic work soon became overwhelming. Perez recalled, “I struggled with it. I wasn’t too educated. I told my wife, the first six months we were there, ‘I think I’m going to drop out. I don’t think I’m going to make it.’
“But my wife said, ‘I’ve got faith you will make it. I’ll help you. You don’t worry about that.’
“She always helped me. She went with me. So we made it,” he said.
With his determination and hard work, his wife’s support, and the grace of God, he was ordained a deacon in 1995 and assigned to serve at his home parish.
Becoming a deacon was hard work, but being a deacon is pure joy, according to Dcn. Perez.
In January he will celebrate his 92nd birthday, and he’s still serving, which makes him the oldest active deacon in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
He has been central to the life of the parish, serving at weekend Masses, officiating at funerals and Rosary vigils, visiting the sick, providing counseling and marriage preparation, instructing RCIA candidates, and bringing Communion to the homebound.
During the initial period of the coronavirus pandemic, the parish limited his diaconate service to minimize his potential exposure to the virus. The restrictions frustrated Dcn. Perez, although he understood they were for his protection.
Currently, he serves at Sunday Mass, officiates at funerals and vigils, visits the sick, and attends a weekday spiritual group for seniors, having passed the leadership role to another member.
“When they call me, I’m always ready to go and serve. Whatever the priest wants me to do, I’ll do it,” he said.
Fluent in English and Spanish, he likes to preach when the pastor allows.
Eleazar Olguin, an acolyte at the parish, marveled that Dcn. Perez preaches with no notes, just from memory. “He has a lot of faith, and always teaches the love of God,” Olguin said.
Where he really shines, according to Olguin, is with funerals and visitations.
“When someone has lost a family member, a son, a wife, he always has the words to comfort them. They feel love from him that comes from the Lord,” he said.
Dcn. Perez has no plans to retire, because “I’m still pretty healthy. I can see good. I walk good. I enjoy it very much. The deacon is really a server, so that’s what I’m doing.”
“God still has a purpose for him,” said his daughter Christine Perez, who lives with her father and does most of the driving.
Deacon Brad Samuelson, who served with Dcn. Perez at Our Lady of Guadalupe after his 2020 ordination, called Dcn. Perez “The Guy.”
“Dcn. Tacho is everything to everybody and knows everyone. If you haven’t been touched by him, it means you just got there,” said Dcn. Samuelson, who now serves at St. Rita Parish in Fort Worth.
“He’s a true servant and a natural evangelist,” he added.
Dcn. Samuelson said that Dcn. Perez taught him the importance of being present. “His presence provides a comfort for the people,” he explained. “People love to see him up on the altar, proclaiming the Gospel.”
A deacon says the words of dismissal at Mass, such as, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
“He’s certainly done that,” said Dcn. Samuelson.