May 2008 - Fr. Harold Rahm, S.J.

Last month we had a very special priest visit us – Fr. Harold Rahm, S.J. Fr. Rahm, who is 89 years old, was the original founder of Our Lady’s Youth Center back in 1953. He started the organization to work with the gang members in South El Paso. Along with a talented team of volunteers and social workers, Fr. Rahm started many different types of activities for the children and teens who lived in the surrounding neighborhood. The Youth Center sponsored cultural activities, games, sports, and a summer camp for the youth, to name a few. At its peak they handled some 600 underprivileged teens and pre-teens on a daily basis.

In 1964 Fr. Rahm was chosen by his Jesuit superiors to go to Brazil to do missionary work. He has been in Brazil ever since, continuing his apostolate to the poor and marginalized people there. He has founded numerous centers and programs through the years and is especially known for his work with drug addicts, street children, and women in the red light district.

While in El Paso raising funds for his ministries in Brazil, Fr. Rahm celebrated Mass and visited with us. He wrote in his autobiography and also shared with us the following:

[In 1964] my superior asked me to go to Brazil because my charism is “first beginnings.” I plant seeds. Others take over. My superior told me that I could ask any priest in the Province to take my place in El Paso. If the chosen priest agreed, he would assign the priest as director of Our Lady’s Youth Center.

Immediately I thought of Richard Thomas, S.J., a former student of mine in Tampa. Richard had all the necessary qualities to work in South El Paso. He was popular, a good teacher with an attractive, dry sense of humor, and above all, a spiritual man. I asked him to take my place. He flew to El Paso to have a look at what we were doing. As we were getting ready to drive around South El Paso, he said he wanted to stand in the back of the pick-up to get a better view of things. So I drove him around and we conversed through the window. At the end he told me, “Okay, I’ll come.”

Under my direction the Center had become nationally famous. Father Thomas placed the center on an international level. He did not follow my outline. He turned the Youth Center into a locale where prayer was of primary importance. He changed the focus from the gangs to the destitute in El Paso and in Juarez, Mexico. Father Thomas remained with his poor. Slowly, the other side of town realized that this mendicant priest was a saint. I laid the foundation. Richard sanctified the edifice.
Fr. Thomas went on to direct and expand the ministries of Our Lady’s Youth Center for 42 years, until his death in 2006.

It was a delight for all of us to meet Fr. Rahm and to experience his love and joy firsthand.

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