IT'S MY PARTY, I CAN SPLURGE IF I WANT TO

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH FROWNS ON PRETENTIOUS COMING--OUT PARTIES FOR LATINA GIRLS. BUT YOU ONLY TURN 15 ONCE.

Over the years, Fatima has existed on pocket change, surviving both the construction of nearby project housing and the misfortune of being caught in the armpit of interstates 10 and 17. Each resulted in parishioners moving out of the area, but still they come back, and now their children's children are showing up at Sunday Mass.

Father Peacock found a home, and whenever it came time to rotate again, he'd lay low. "He was hoping the bishop wouldn't notice he was still there," laughs Rita Ruiz, a longtime parishioner. She figures he's safe now. But Fatima has neither a business office nor a pastor's residence, so Father Peacock lives at St. Thomas the Apostle, at 24th Street and Campbell, and commutes to work.

He finds it difficult to say no to anyone, which is why all the families who want single quincea§eras come to him. He has probably baptized more children than anyone else in Arizona, and baptism is the one prerequisite he demands of his quincea§eras. He believes he can attract more flies with honey than vinegar, and he figures his honey gets maybe one in 20 families back in the church habit. That's good enough for him.

"If you want people to have religion, it has to be attractive," he says. "You can use that whole fear thing, but that doesn't work anymore. People today aren't that much afraid of God like they used to be."
Father Peacock is a brat. He tries not to be, really, but carefree zest has always ruled his personality and he likes to spread it around. He looks like Jack Lemmon with a Dick Tracy jaw, and his words come casually with spurts of raised volume, like he's telling a story around a campfire and wants to make sure everyone in the back hears. He'd rather tell a story than sermonize, anyway, and if the stories he tells aren't true, they should be: He was born in a Santa Barbara cemetery (his dad was caretaker). He joined the Franciscans at age 13 and got kicked out six years later for questioning the logic and morality of the Crusades in his history class.

"A lot of priests already say, 'Go to Father Peacock. He'll do anything.'" But the scolding from the diocese, he says, stopped long ago. Besides, he, Bishop O'Brien and Father Sotelo are all good friends.

And he adds: "The bishop will probably read that, have another laugh and get his secretary to send me another letter."

He says all the teeth-gnashing over the lavishness of quincea§eras is troubling, especially given the amounts other people blow on some weddings.

"I find that a little bit insulting," he says. "They don't do that with other classes of Catholics. We have the right to spend money on whatever gives us the most pleasure. It's insulting, and it's immoral, to say to somebody, 'You're poor, and you shouldn't be spending so much money.'

"They want a quincea§era. They want it to be private. They want the funny car club to attend. They want to get a bank loan of $3,000, or $5,000. I try to get them back to a practice of religion that's enjoyable. And it works, a little bit."
@rule:
@body:Traditionally, 14 young couples precede the quincea§era into the church, one for each of the first 14 years of her life, plus herself and her escort. But due to pregnancies, cash shortages and other circumstances, Brandy Mendez's entourage is down to ten couples.

As her escort, she has chosen her 17-year-old brother, Juan Jr., part teddy bear, part rogue. He goes by J.J., but the family just calls him "J."

The night of the rehearsal, a Thursday, brings humid, patience-testing weather. Several damas who attended Greenfield Elementary School with Brandy are outside Our Lady of Fatima, minutes away from rehearsal time.

"I just wanted one because everyone else is having one," says Rita Abril, 15, now a freshman at Carl Hayden High School. "But my mother doesn't believe in quincea§eras. She doesn't believe in spending that much money."
Rita is sitting on a concrete planter in front of the church with fellow ex-Greenfield classmates Norma Olivas and April Perez. April is nodding her head. "Too expensive," she says.

Rachel Mendez, Brandy's cousin, chirps in from the curb. "I have better things to do with my money than have a quincea§era."

April laughs. "Buy a car."
"Yeah, a car. Go to summer school. Save it for when I have a real wedding."
It's 7:30. Brandy appears from inside. "All the girls, come with me," she says.

They line up outside, boys on the left, girls on the right, Mary Mendez going down the line to make sure everyone will be color-coordinated for the real thing.

J.J. shows up in a blue Dickies tee shirt, long blue shorts and reverse baseball cap. "Where's the Budweiser?" he laughs.

J.J. is larger than 17, a kid in a man's body. He'll walk around his house shirtless, displaying both his gut and his "tats," as he calls them--tattoos of a woman's face, others reading "Mendez" and "Sandra," the name of his girlfriend, "my future wife."

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