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March 15, 2009

Service runs in the family

By Alicia Torres


Lord, what can I do for you for all the blessings you have given me?” This simple prayer lead Aldolfo Lopez to become an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church, later joined by his older brother Efrain. The Lopez brothers have served the church and Chicago in many ways, all fruit of a strong Catholic foundation laid by family.

The brothers and their family, originally from Puerto Rico, came to Chicago in 1950. Aldolfo recalled, “My mom and dad were very Catholic. My older brothers were great role models, always pushing us to get an education and go to church on Sundays.” The faith that Lopez and his siblings learned from their parents was the impetus for 16 family members to become Chicago police officers, and some to actively serve the church.

Efrain Lopez recalled how his older brother Jose Martinez was a pioneer in Hispanic ministry. He worked alongside Cardinal Stritch to develop Hispanic ministry here, particularly Mass in Spanish, nearly 50 years ago. Martinez was the liaison between the Hispanic community and the Catholic Church at a vital time.

Before serving as deacons, both Efrain and Aldolfo Lopez lived lives of service to their city. Aldolfo joined the CPD in 1972. Later, he became involved at his parish, St. Aloysius, 2300 W. Le Moyne St.

Lopez worked with the youth group there in the 1980s, encouraging the young people to stay off the streets and out of gangs. He also became involved in prison ministry.

As he became more involved in the church, Aldolfo Lopez asked God what more he could do. Within one month, three different people brought up the diaconate to him, and finally he was asked by his parish if he would like to enter formation. “The Good Lord was able to lead me into a shift at the police department that gave me the opportunity to go to the formation classes.”

Efrain Lopez spent 30 years on the police force, beginning in 1973, and his last 23 years were focused on gang-awareness programs. Lopez worked in 72 Chicago Public Schools in the 10th District. The goal was to keep the kids out of the gangs. “Fourteen students that I mentored would later join the police force,” he said.

In the 1990s, Aldolfo and Efrain took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was there that Efrain’s journey to the diaconate began. “In one of the churches I had an encounter with the Lord,” he said. “Because my encounter with God was at Mount Carmel, where the Lord took the Prophet Elijah, Elijah is my favorite saint. I am inspired by his example of serving the poor.”

When Efrain returned to Chicago from the Holy Land, he began to study the Bible and participate in more of the ministries at Resurrection Parish, including the food pantry. This lead him to answer the invitation God placed on his heart to become a deacon. Efrain joined his older brother when he was ordained by Cardinal George in 2008.

While Efrain became a deacon after retiring from the CPD, Aldolfo served actively with the police and as a deacon. “I can really identify with St. Paul. He is one of my favorite disciples because of all the suffering he went through. Jesus said ‘You will be persecuted in my name,’ and as a police officer and a deacon, I experienced that.”

Aldolfo remembers how his fellow officers could not understand the transformation that took place when he became a deacon. “They would often smirk or laugh when I said ‘God bless you’ or ‘Jesus loves you’ at the station. They asked what had happened to me. I told them I got washed with the best soap — the Scripture.”

His faithfulness lead Aldolfo to receive a great honor — he became the first Hispanic police chaplain in the City of Chicago, serving as a fulltime CPD chaplain in the late 1990s. Now retired, Lopez serves as a volunteer chaplain for the CPD while serving as deacon at St. Aloysius.