Deacon celebrates 20 years in Catholic service
By BY JENNIFER PREYSS - JLPREYSS@VICAD.COM
June 13, 2014 at 1:13 a.m.
In November, Alonzo Calzada, 81, will celebrate 20 years in Catholic ministry at Our Lady of the Gulf church in Port Lavaca.
But Calzada admits he wasn't always a follower of God, and he spent more than five decades of his life running from the church and a relationship with God.
A near-death experience in 1983 and a visit from a priest at the hospital changed Calzada's heart, which beget a spiritual transformation that pushed him into permanent church leadership.
The Advocate caught up with one of the Crossroads' favorite deacons to discuss how he came to live the previous two decades of his life serving the church and leading the unchurched back to God.
Q: What was your spiritual life like before you became a deacon?
A: I don't think I ever realized how far away I was from God. I was going to church when I felt like it, but I had a lot of vices that kept me away. I went when there was an obligation, like when one of the kids was getting baptized or confirmed. But I didn't go to confession.
Q: So what happened to bring you back to church?
A: In October of 1983, I had a stroke. I was at a concert when it happened. I was sitting there, and I tried to get up, and I couldn't. I thought I was telling my son clearly, "Hey, listen, I can't get up," but he told me later I was slurring my words. He tried to pick me up, and he couldn't. But he threw me in the truck and took me to the hospital. My left side was paralyzed. A priest came to see me in the hospital, and when I saw him, I started to cry. I wasn't a crying man, but I started crying because I thought I was going to die and go to hell. The priest asked why I was crying, and I told him, "I know I'm going to die and go to hell." And that's when he told me that's not how God is. He said, "He loves you and has already forgiven you. He has blessed you."
Q: How did that visit affect you?
A: The priest gave me a copy of the prayer of abandonment, and for someone who had been away from church for so long, it was a tough prayer to read. It basically said, "I give myself to you, God, and you do with me what you want to do."
Q: What happened after the hospital?
A: My wife took me to Victoria to have me checked out, and I remember coming out of the surgery and the doctors telling me that the blockage in my veins that was there isn't there anymore. I had full movement of my arms and body. It was a miracle to me.
Q: So how soon after your stroke did you start living a righteous life?
A: After that, without even wanting it, I lost all desire to smoke and drink. And I used to drink quite a bit. I wasn't an alcoholic, but I was mighty close. After that stroke, I wanted God, and I wanted to serve him for the rest of my life. I never miss drinking. I drink beer like a Coke these days, every now and then.
Q: What did people think of your change?
A: I really rediscovered my faith. And I started out going to Mass every time I could. I was a supervisor at Alcoa, and the people at work recognized a lot of changes. I'm still amazed by what God did for me.
Q: Do you use your past to help others who don't go to church as often?
A: I do use my story to console people. A lot of people know me and know my past, and they come to me because of that. But I use it to prove that God can change people's lives and show them he has a plan for you. And when it comes time for that plan to happen, you have to leave yourself open for that. I offer the same prayer to people that the priest who visited me in the hospital gave me.
Q: So how did you decide you wanted to be a deacon?
A: I went to visit the priest when he was in a rest home for the elderly. And he remembered me. He told me I was going to have to take care of my people. I didn't know how to take it at first. But I thought it meant that was my calling - that I was needed to help my Hispanic brothers and sisters, and that was to be my ministry.
Q: And how did you move forward with your calling?
A: I started doing a lot of things for the church, and people started asking me to consider being a deacon. I didn't really know what a deacon was then. But I signed an application, and it was determined I was qualified. It takes four years of formation after that, and I had to attend classes two days a week and learn a lot of theology and parts of the Bible. We learned how to preach and a lot about marriage and how marriage was supposed to be. We had to write papers at the college level. It was great. We had a wonderful professor.
Q: And you were one of the first deacons with the Diocese of Victoria?
A: Well, there were deacons before our class, but they all came from different dioceses. Our class was the first class of deacons to be ordained for the Victoria Diocese.
Q: What do you think about your previous two decades in ministry?
A: It's all God; he's the one who gives me strength. Everything seemed to fall in place for me. I feel like I did what I was called to do. I don't think I'm anyone special. I just did it as best as I can. I know if God can change a person like me, like who I was, I believe he can change anyone.