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Western Dominican Province
5890 Birch Court
Oakland, CA 94618-1626
Our Dominican School
The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA offers Masters and other degree and certificate programs rooted in the tradition of the Dominican order and our brother, St. Thomas Aquinas. Faithful to the teaching of Holy Mother, the Church, our school prepares not only young men studying for the priesthood, but also other men and women who will be the leaders of local communities of faith. Please do join in supporting this essential ministry of the Western Dominican Province.
Fr. Joseph Louis Asturias, OP
Joseph Asturias, "Fr. Joe," was born in 1908 in Guatemala City, Guatemala, into a family with Spanish aristocratic lines that go back into the 11th Century. His family owned sizable coffee plantations in and around Antiqua and Guatemala City, and his father, Manuel Asturias, traveled to the United States in 1891 to study business at Healds Business College in San Francisco, better to manage the family's estate. In 1904, after he returned to Guatemala, he married Rosa Coblentz Braun, from Alsace. They had four children and lived in beautiful surroundings, in an imposing mansion that presently houses the headquarters of Alliance Francaise.
During one of the many internal political squabbles, the reigning dictator attacked some of the principle families, and Fr. Joe's father, for his own safety and that of his family, left the country. Little Joseph became a refugee at the tender age of two, in 1910. They came to live in San Jose, California.
He grew up in San Jose, and attended Catholic schools. When 19 years old, in 1927, Joseph Louis Asturias entered the Dominicans and studied in the apostolic school at Benicia. He took simple vows in 1931, was ordained in 1937 by Archbishop John J. Mitty at St. Mary's Cathedral, and in 1939 began his first assignment for five years at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle. He came back to San Francisco, to St. Dominic's, where he was assistant pastor, and also held various positions in the community. In 1950 he returned to Seattle as pastor and prior. In 1953, he was assistant pastor in Vallejo, and in 1955 he was back in San Francisco on the mission band.
The Province record has him in Alaska in 1959, on the DEW line, the string of early warning radar stations designed to detect nuclear attack. The men lived in perpetual darkness in huts buried in snow most of the year. According to Fr. Joe he was there close to 3 years.
He, along with Fr. Vincent Foerstler and Bro. Raymond Bertheaux, was part of the first team that went to the Western Province's mission in Mexico; and since Fr. Joe was the only one who spoke Spanish fluently, at first the main work of organizing and meeting the people fell squarely on his shoulders. When he undertook the task, in 1963, he was 55 years old. He stayed six years until his health would no longer stand up to the harsh conditions of life in the mission.
In 1974, he became the director of the Mission Foundation, an appointment which occupied him for the last 21 years of his life. Throughout that time he published a monthly newsletter detailing the progress of mission work in Chiapas, and commenting on the struggles of the indigenous people for a dignified life in the face of pressure from wealthy landowners and large corporations exploring for oil.
Regarding his time in Chiapas, Joseph considered that he was very successful in helping the indigenous people and land owners to coexist without violence. He became an accomplished diplomat and convinced the possessive townspeople that the missionaries were also called to serve the Indians in their far-off villages. He strove to be the bridge that allowed some communication between these two very different world views. Fr. Joe was perhaps ideally suited to the task. Having himself come from the very wealthy class in Guatemala, he knew about status and power. But with his family's fall from grace, he was aware how political power can be used arbitrarily, so he took the side of the oppressed Indians in Chiapas.
Joe's great love was the hospital in Altamirano, where the Presentation Sisters of California were the first nurses and administrators. One told me that Fr. Joe was a key figure in mollifying the local doctors who saw the hospital as a form of competition for their paying customers. The sisters stayed on about 10 years before they were replaced by a Mexican congregation, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul.
Even after the Western Province turned the Chiapas mission over to the Dominicans of the Mexican Province of Santiago in 1981, the Mission Foundation continued to be the main financial support for the mission hospital and for the Mexican priests and sisters who served in the mission and the hospital. Fr. Joe sent down the latest hospital equipment, and today it is considered one of the best equipped hospitals in Mexico.
A final project occupied Fr. Joe to the last: he wanted to restore the intricate bronze sanctuary lamp that hung from the ceiling at St. Dominic's in San Francisco until the last '60s, when it was taken down to reduce danger in earthquakes. In his last weeks, Fr. Joe made a design for a stand to support the lamp - and raised the money to construct it. The lamp will be the first memorial to this great preacher, a small flame that reminds us of his love for the Lord he served so faithfully. May his prayers from heaven inspire many others to follow him in the steps of Dominic.
Fr. Timothy Conlan, O.P.
Date of Birth
Date of Profession
Date of Ordination
Date of Death
May 18, 1908
September 16, 1932
May 22, 1937
November 15, 1995