Immaculate Heartbreak

Three months after a fire gutted Phoenix's oldest Hispanic Catholic church, its pastor is feeling the heat and parishioners are steaming

To the rear of the room, a Virgin of Guadalupe statue is decorated with flowers, but none of the candles or family photographs that were essential parts of traditional devotion in the church. Nearby a few pictures chronicling the church's history end with a tragic shot, the blackened core of Immaculate Heart.

Some say the spirit of the church has also darkened.

"When you go to a Mass, you try to separate [Madrid] the man and all the things he's done from the idea that the voice of God is coming through him," says Lourdes Soto, an Immaculate Heart parishioner and member of the Christian Faithful. "But when he starts saying things that you don't believe, you start getting angry."

Madrid's close friend Martin Piña has been a 
consistent, and controversial, presence at both of the 
pastor's churches.
Madrid's close friend Martin Piña has been a consistent, and controversial, presence at both of the pastor's churches.
Julian Sodari, a south Phoenix neighborhood 
organizer, quit the St. Anthony Pastoral Council in 
disgust over Madrid's handling of the parish.
Paolo Vescia
Julian Sodari, a south Phoenix neighborhood organizer, quit the St. Anthony Pastoral Council in disgust over Madrid's handling of the parish.

Even supporters of Madrid acknowledge the underlying tension at the church. Armando Jenkins, who implores his fellow parishioners to have faith in Madrid, says since the fire, he cannot bring himself to attend Mass regularly. The fighting and bickering are just too much, he told a group at a recent church-restoration meeting.

"I am ashamed," Jenkins says. "I am sick and tired of the arguments, anger and accusations."

To Jenkins, such anger leads to hatred, and hatred can only lead to hell.


Saúl Madrid's rocky relationship with Immaculate Heart began in 1998, a full year before he was named pastor of the church.

At that time, Sotelo told parishioners that Madrid would come over from St. Anthony to deliver Mass for the next three weeks. He explained that it was part of an effort to build fellowship between St. Anthony and Immaculate Heart.

The first Sunday, Madrid barely made it in time for his noon Mass, parishioners say. The following week, Sotelo waited for Madrid to arrive before leaving the church. Madrid never came. He failed to show up the third week, too, church members say. Sotelo ended up celebrating the Masses.

Despite this discouraging omen, parishioners say it was not anti-Madrid sentiment that initially caused them to protest Bishop O'Brien's March 1999 announcement that Madrid would replace Sotelo, who was being assigned to prison ministry, as pastor at Immaculate Heart.

They say their resentment was directed more at the bishop, whom they felt had demeaned the parish's storied history by forcing it to share another church's pastor. About 1,200 parishioners attended Mass at St. Anthony every Sunday, and approximately 8,000 turned up at Immaculate Heart; the demands on any one pastor seemed overwhelming. But diocesan officials insisted that Phoenix's severe shortage of priests made the consolidation necessary.

Even such Madrid supporters as Jenkins, an Immaculate Heart parishioner for nearly 11 years, were concerned by what the move would mean to their parish.

"When we were bringing in Father Saúl, I told the bishop that there has been no recruitment effort by the diocese for priests, and that's why they have a shortage," Jenkins says. "I admire Father Saúl's efforts, but I think it's too much for one person to handle two parishes."

Shortly after the announcement was made, Immaculate Heart parishioners started hearing tales from St. Anthony that suggested Madrid was having a tough time handling even one parish.

Madrid had been named head pastor at St. Anthony in the summer of 1994. St. Anthony was the fourth church he had been assigned to in the Valley since being ordained on June 1, 1985. It was all part of what had been an impressive rise from humble beginnings in Mexico.

Although New Times was not able to verify Madrid's tale of his entry into the United States, he has told others he came here as an 18-year-old illegal immigrant from a small farming town in Chihuahua, Mexico. He talks of his father making the sign of the cross on Madrid's forehead and asking God to protect his son on his journey across the border. He says that he spent 32 hours walking across the desert in summer, praying for strength the entire time.

A 1999 profile of Madrid in the Arizona Republic says he labored as a Catholic school janitor and a landscape worker before he joined the priesthood. With legal status as a foreign student, the article says, he attended college through a diocesan program.

At the College of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Madrid studied criminal law and criminal justice. He attended from 1977 to 1980, according to the school, but records do not show he received a degree. Madrid told book author Kunkel that while there, he met with Dallas Police Department recruiters and almost decided to join the force (although this would have been impossible, police there say, because he was not yet a U.S. citizen). Instead, Kunkel writes, he heeded the call of the "Ultimate Career Counselor."

From there, Madrid went to Southern Indiana, where he attended the St. Meinrad School of Theology from 1981 to 1985, according to a school official.

Jenkins, now 27, met Madrid in the early '80s, before Madrid had been ordained as a priest and Jenkins was a young boy spending his summer at a Boy Scout camp near Payson. Madrid was chaplain of the camp.

"We went on the toughest hike in the camp, and he went along with our troop on our hike," Jenkins says. "We got along well, and I always had a lot of respect for him as a person."

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