Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Father Scott Santarosa
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Father Scott Santarosa

The priest who will become leader of Jesuits on the west coast made his first public appearance in Oregon last week, suggesting that people let Jesus find them where they least expect.

“Jesus really does work through other people, especially the poor,” said Father Scott Santarosa, who has spent his career working in inner city missions in California, including Dolores Mission in a part of Los Angeles plagued by gang violence.  

Speaking to educators from Jesuit schools, parents and workers in Jesuit-sponsored ministries, Father Santarosa said it’s among the poor that many people find God — and are surprised. He includes himself.

When he was walking back from a memorial for a youth gunned down in a park and a little girl ran to hug him, Jesus found him, he told the group, gathered at the Old Market Pub for a regular event called Pub Theology. He said the same for the parents who organized a peace march after gang violence surged, a girl who worried about her little brother as she walked him to school and a mother of a shooting victim who reconciled with the mother of the gunman.

“These people showed me what the resurrection looks like today,” Father Santarosa said. “I know I am a better man and a better Jesuit because Jesus found me in situations like these.”

The priest, who is fluent in Spanish, said people in low-income neighborhoods where he served want three things: immigration reform, jobs and safety from violent crime. He realizes that in the Northwest, Jesuits have not been able to staff parishes with many Spanish-speakers lately. He would like that to change and hopes to continue the Jesuit focus on solidarity with the poor, a charism being expressed by Pope Francis.  

“I would invite you to go to new places, especially among the marginalized and the poor,” Father Santarosa told the group. “I will tell you Jesus is there and he will find you.”

He wears a bracelet made by Dolores Mission school children. The students inscribed the words, “Si, se puede,” or “Yes, it’s possible.”

Father Santarosa says Northwest Jesuits have told him they feel humbler and more dependent on God after revelations of sex abuse by some of their confreres in decades past in Alaska. The Oregon Province entered bankruptcy in 2009 in order to provide compensation for hundreds of victims.   

Regarding the Catholic identity of Jesuit high schools and colleges, the future provincial says that often the Catholic character is enhanced when well-formed lay people take over leadership.

Father Santarosa, a Sacramento native and a 1988 graduate of Santa Clara University, will assume the post of provincial July 31 as the Oregon and California provinces of the Society of Jesus begin a consolidation.