Immaculate Heartbreak

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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."

After ordination to the priesthood in 1985, Madrid served as associate pastor at Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral until 1989. He spent the next two years as associate pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe, and in 1991 became a head pastor for the first time, at St. Henry in Buckeye. (Persistent rumors have circulated that a small fire occurred at St. Henry while Madrid was pastor, but ATF special agent Thomas Gehlert says, "We looked into it and we believe that fire happened before Father Saúl went there.")

As Madrid moved up in local Catholic ranks, so did his public visibility. He's told others he's been exhausted by his ministerial obligations, yet he repeatedly manages time for television appearances and newspaper interviews. He's appeared in newspaper stories or on TV much more than any other Catholic priest, according to a database search of media libraries.

Much of the publicity has related to the fires at Madrid's churches -- including numerous inspirational accounts of the rebuilding of St. Anthony. But he's also been in the press for a variety of other reasons: He's been quoted regarding crimes, injustices or funerals for parish members, social issues important to the Hispanic community, and his visit to the bedside of Mary Rose Wilcox after she was shot three years ago.

He's opined on the popularity of the pope, whether President Clinton should be forgiven for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. And he's been named in society columns three times.

When Madrid transferred to St. Anthony in 1994, it looked like a perfect fit. Here was a Mexican immigrant being paired with a heavily Hispanic, working-class parish. But divisions quickly began to surface.

At the time, Sylvia Gomez operated a gift shop in one of three small houses behind the church. In the back room of her shop -- which sold religious items -- she provided boarding for a retired couple. The other two buildings each housed an elderly woman.

Gomez met Madrid shortly after his assignment to St. Anthony.

"He came in and I toured the church with him, and right away he said he didn't like saints," she recalls. "He also said he didn't like reading out of a Catholic Bible, because it wasn't accurate.

"I said, 'Father, please don't take the saints out, because all the viejitos [old men] are going to hang you, because they're very strict on things like that.' And he said he didn't give a damn, because it was his church and he could do whatever he wanted."

On Sunday, December 11, 1994 -- the day before the Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day-- fire broke out at St. Anthony.

The fire department got the call at 3:23 that afternoon. Workers in the basement of the church cooking in preparation for the feast noticed smoke coming through the ceiling. According to Phoenix Fire Department investigators, the volunteers fled the kitchen while one woman called the fire department and sent some children to the rectory to summon Madrid.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia
Laura Laughlin
Contact: Laura Laughlin