By Fr. Ronald Gonzales, SJ
Deacon Carmelo Rivera Martinez has been serving the Parroquia San Ignacio community in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for more than 60 years. Starting at age 24, Deacon Carmelo – as he is known throughout the island – worked for the Jesuit community at San Ignacio serving food. Realizing the fulfillment that these simple acts brought him, he took his experience in food service to the broader parish community, eventually being asked to become sacristan. He considered the invitation a great honor; he still feels privileged to serve in this way.
Deacon Carmelo’s work as a sacristan expanded to cleaning the parish when San Ignacio moved to the current church building after its construction. Planting and maintaining the outside gardens became a joyful responsibility for Deacon Carmelo, who wants the church to look its best as a part of the Archdiocese of San Juan de Puerto Rico.
At 84 years old, Deacon Carmelo (who has been married to his wife, Luisa, for nearly six decades) continues to serve the San Ignacio community, now assisting the sacristan. He still cleans the church, empties the trash, blows leaves from the walkway and helps count the weekly collection.
I have never met a man like Deacon Carmelo before. He lives each day to serve and loves his life and God’s many blessings. He is truly a servant of the servants.
Humility, gentleness, and service continue to be the hallmarks of Deacon Carmelo’s faith into his old age.
A postscript to this story: In 2019, Deacon Carmelo received the “Carta de Hermandad” (Letter of Brotherhood) from the Society of Jesus. This equates to being named a “Province Founder,” an honor first established by St. Ignatius Loyola himself:
“Although in the Catholic Church, as the well-cohesive and structured Mystical Body of Christ, its members communicate to one another all their goods and works, it seems reasonable, however, that this communication should be all the more copious and abundant the more solid and profound are the bonds of love. Therefore, desiring to correspond to your charity in an affective and effective way, WE GRANT YOU A SINGULAR COMMUNICATION from the most intimate part of the heart of each and every one of the spiritual goods that in the future will be achieved in our Company (the Society of Jesus) by grace of divine goodness, namely, prayers, masses, preaching of the word of God, sacred lessons, fasts, holy pilgrimages, and, finally, any exercises of the soul as well as of the body. And at the same time we pray to God that, after having made you partaker and filled you with blessings in this life, he reward you at last with the crown of glory.” – St. Ignatius Loyola