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Adios, Padre

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Father Rodolfo moving into next chapter of his life

By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

From the time he was five years old, Rodolfo Godinez  was wise beyond his years. It was at that tender age that he knew he was destined for the priesthood. And in the 45 plus years since, he never looked back once the decision was made.

Father Rudolfo, the priest at Holy Family Catholic Church in Williston, is leaving the parish next week to accept a position in Crescent City.

This will be his third post since coming to the United States in 1995, and his second since becoming an American citizen in 2005.  

It is a bittersweet time for the priest who is leaving a place he has come to love and the people who have come to love him.

Although now fluent in English, he makes no bones about saying he didn’t  know one word when he came to the Diocese of St. Augustine and the Parish of San Jose in Jacksonville.

The fervor to learn a new language in his adopted home is one in a long line of goals and promises he has fulfilled.

 Born in the small town San Gregorio, Michoacan, Mexico to farmer parents, he was the second of seven children.

“My brother was very sick,” he said, remembering how he answered the call to the priesthood, “and we had few resources.” 

But his mother had faith and  asked for intercession through the Virgin to Saint Guadalupe. She promised that if her son was healed, she would dedicate him to the priesthood.

Within 30 minutes, the miracle happened, Father Rodolfo said.

But his brother had no interest in fulfilling his mother’s promise.

“You know priests must be celibate,” he said. “Well, my brother has green eyes and he is whiter than me. He told my mama that he would be a father–to his many children.”

That’s when young Rodolfo stepped forward.

“I will pay for you,” he volunteered, He was five years old.

At 15 he entered seminary and  for the next 15 years led  the rigorous life of training for his ordination.

On June 21, 1991 he was ordained and three months later was sent to Cuba.

An elementary teacher, he spent his time growing the parish and improving the environment. Along the way he also embraced the new Caribbean culture.

“It is freer,” he said. “There’s more hugging and more kissing.” Habits he later found beneficial when he moved to Florida.

After three years, he took a vacation back to Mexico and discovered that the Cuban government would not let him return.

For the next year he was a principal and at last asked his superior if he could come to the United States.

The young priest, fluent in Latin, Italian and Spanish, started learning English and for the next nine years worked tirelessly to enrich the largely Hispanic parish.

“People came from miles around to hear the Mass,” he said. When he first started, the parish numbered 50 and by the time he left nine years later had grown to over 1,000.

“In 2005, Bishop Galeone sent Father Rudolfo for a very well deserved vacation,” he likes to tell, “in Williston, Florida.”

“I love Williston,” he said. “It reminds me of  where I am from.”

For over seven years, the priest and his parish have worked side by side to improve the community and their church. Mortgages have been paid, improvements have been made and Father Rudolfo gives thanks to God and to his parish for their extreme faith.

He says the willingness of the people here to step forward and help one another is inspiring and one of the big attractions to the area.

Father Rodolfo is also part of the Charismatic Renewal Movement,  the belief that Christians may be "filled with" or "baptized in" the Holy Spirit as a second experience subsequent to salvation and that it will be evidenced by manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

“It’s not unusual to hear him ask for an ‘Amen’ during Mass,” said Cathy Robinson, a member of his parish.

Because of this,  he attends many meetings at the Diocese in Jacksonville, and being in Crescent City will afford him less drive time.

On his decision to become a U.S. citizen, the priest said it was the right thing to do.

“I belong to this nation,” he said, “this culture. I want to work for the common good. In order to do that, be more effective and help my nation, I needed to be a citizen.”

In his spare time, Father Rodolfo enjoys fishing, farming, watching movies and studying history.

Much of the landscape around Holy Family has benefitted from his green thumb and he has become a champion grower of African violets. When he moved here seven years ago, he brought two of the delicate flowers with him and soon his home was teeming with more than 600, which he sold as a fund-raiser for the church.

“His babies” as he calls them, now number about 100.

And while he’s making the transition to a new parish, there’s no doubt he will return to Williston–after all, it’s where he was sent before for a vacation.

A party honoring Father Rodolfo will be held this Sunday at the church following Mass.