Father Federico Higuera remembered for helping parishioners in need

Father Federico Higuera, 77, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Anna, died Sept. 4 in Carbondale. He had been in failing health for some time. He was assigned to the pastorate of St. Mary Parish in Anna in 2009 and continued as the pastor of the Union County parish until his death. He was the face and presence of Hispanic ministry in the Cobden-Anna-Carbondale area for 35 years.

Lucy Perez de Klitzing, who was significantly involved with Father Federico in the area’s Hispanic ministry, said: “I truly believe that all of us who knew him, even if only for a few minutes, received a special gift from God in knowing him. I have been blessed to have had him in my life in a very special way for nearly 19 years.”
Lucy organized and directed the first full-fledged choir for the 12:15 Mass in Spanish at St. Francis Xavier Church in Carbondale, and sang his favorite Psalm 23 at his Sept. 8 Liturgy of Christian Burial.

Father Federico was born March 4, 1941, in Toluca, Mexico. He attended grade and high schools operated by the Salesians and a Jesuit preparatory school, before receiving Business and Electronics degrees from the Mexican university in Toluca.

In the early 1970s he came to the United States and took a job with the electronics department of Encore Manufacturing Co. in Cleveland, Ohio. He left that job to become a freelance artist.

He connected to the Diocese of Belleville through his friendship with and encouragement of Bishop William Cosgrove, completing his studies for the priesthood at Sacred Heart School of Theology at Hales Corners, Wis. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop John Wurm June 5, 1982.

After his ordination he celebrated his first Mass at St. Catherine Laboure in Cahokia, where he had served his diaconate internship. The following week he celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving with his family at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico. During his 36 years of priesthood he regularly celebrated the Eucharist with his family in Mexico.

His first assignment after ordination was as an associate at Holy Family Parish in Cahokia. A year later he began a full-time ministry to Hispanics in southern Illinois with residence at St. Mary Parish in Anna and later as an associate at St. Andrew Parish in Murphysboro, continuing his Hispanic ministry. For 35 years Hispanic ministry was Father Federico’s priority, although he was also a parish administrator and pastor for 30 of those years.

As the original director of the diocesan office of Hispanic Ministry Sister Cecilia Hellmann, ASC, said that in her first meeting with Father Federico “to listen and learn about the presence of Latino families” in southern Illinois “he was honest about his feelings, disappointments, hope and lack of hope for diocesan inclusion.” But in the years that followed that first conversation, “he supported every effort the Office of Hispanic Ministry made to respond to needs and to celebrate the life of Latinos in the diocesan family.”
In 1988, Father Federico was named initially the administrator and then the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Cobden.

“He was a person of deep faith, the faith of Job — even when hardships came his way, especially his health.” Father Robert Flannery said in his homily at the Mass of Christian Burial Sept. 8. He added: “He had a tremendous devotion to the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother, and to the Divine Mercy piety with its saying, “Jesus, I trust in Thee.” Father Federico was always interested in the individual person and did whatever he could to help his parishioners who were in need, whether Anglo or Hispanic.

“On occasion I experienced Father Federico’s great passion, even anger at times,” Father Flannery said. “He was traditional, both culturally from his Hispanic background, and also in his theology.”

In a lengthy commentary on Father Federico’s priesthood and ministry Lucy Perez uses Pope Francis’ Seven Pillars of Priesthood as a framework of witnessed examples of his pastoral and non-judgmental ministry.

An example of the pope’s fourth pillar “the importance of being merciful,” she notes that the night before he died he “met with a troubled man who had just gotten out of jail and whom he welcomed and ministered to.”

I know that this very holy priest was the epitome of what Pope Francis says holy priests should be, Lucy said.

Father Federico was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in Cobden where he had been the parish’s administrator for three years and the pastor for 18.