Local Church mourns loss of Hispanic leader, immigrant advocate

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José Robles, who served as director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Phoenix, died last month. He is remembered for his tireless service to the Hispanic community. (CATHOLIC SUN FILE PHOTO)
José Robles, who served as director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Phoenix, died last month. He is remembered for his tireless service to the Hispanic community. (CATHOLIC SUN FILE PHOTO)

José Robles, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Phoenix who championed the rights of immigrants, died May 26.

Robles worked tirelessly on behalf of both the documented and undocumented immigrant populations in Arizona for nearly two decades.

His work in immigration reform not only had him responding to the effects of a particular problem, but the cause of it.

Ignacio Rodriguez, associate director of Ethnic Ministries, has been a friend and colleague for the past 14 years.

“He was good at his job because he was a good listener, and he wanted to provide a solution to whatever issue or problem was being presented,” Rodriguez said.

“He wanted to find a way to help and make things better; be it at a parish community or at the diocese, or whatever issue was before him, he’d listen first and then found ways to resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Rodriguez said Robles worked with the poor and disadvantaged living on the margins of life, navigating the immigration system and networking to find necessary assistance.

He was connected to about 95 percent of the Hispanic population in the diocese, keeping those parishes and pastors up-to-date on current issues and providing support.

His work also sent him to the northern areas of the diocese, to places like Williams, Ashfork and Seligman because of the migrant populations.

These communities endeared themselves to Robles, who collected Christmas gifts for the families each year.

Armando Contreras, former executive director of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona, said a scholarship has been renamed in his honor.

Managed by the Catholic Community Foundation, but funded through individual donors, the Dream Scholarship Fund established in 2010 by Jim Labelle and his family, is now the José Robles Dream Scholarship Fund in loving memory of Robles, who served both on the scholarship committee and as an advocate for Hispanic immigrants.

The scholarship provides financial assistance for immigrant students who may otherwise be denied their dream to attend a college or university. Monies defray the cost of tuition, registration, class/lab fees and/or books.

Contreras has known Robles for the past 14 years, and collaborated with him on capacity-building workshops for parishes.

He said he remembers being inspired by his spirit of dedication to the underserved in Arizona. When they first were introduced, Robles was coordinating a campaign for an undocumented immigrant in dire need of a bone marrow transplant.

“Through his efforts, today that young lady lives,” Contreras said. “José went above and beyond who he was. When you speak about a call to serve, he exemplified it.”

Friends and colleagues said Robles was a humble man who grounded himself in Gospel values.

“He welcomed the stranger among us, which we are all called to do,” Contreras said.

Rodriguez said Robles was more than a coworker, he was his “hermano.”

“That’s how we saw each other, as brothers in the work we were doing,” he said. “I hope there’s a way to honor the work he did here in the diocese because there is a hole to fill.”

The visitation was June 7 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe, followed by the funeral Mass the next morning.

Burial will be in his hometown of Douglas.

Robles is survived by his son José Philip Robles, his brother David Robles, and sister-in-law Pat Robles. He is also survived by two nieces, two nephews, three grandnephews and a grandniece.

José Robles Dream Scholarship Fund

For more information about the José Robles Dream Scholarship Fund, visit: dreamscholarshipfund.com

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