The community of Blessed Sacrament and the city of Tolleson it serves is now without a living piece of history.
Dcn. Antonio Chavez
Born: Nov. 9, 1930 in Phoenix
Married: to Vilma Portugal-Chavez
Ordained: May 29, 1976
Service in the Diocese of Phoenix
- Blessed Sacrament, Tolleson
Died: April 14, 2018
Dcn. Salvador Antonio Chavez, who grew up in Tolleson and intimately served his home parish as a deacon for nearly 42 years, died April 14. He was 87.
Dcn. Chavez was born in Phoenix Nov. 9, 1930 — just a year after Tolleson incorporated. It’s unclear whether Blessed Sacrament officially existed at the time. If it did, it certainly had “mission” status. Concrete history dates the community to earlier than 1948 with Blessed Sacrament officially becoming a parish in 1953. Dcn. Chavez was ordained May 29, 1976 and remained at the parish until his death.
“Dcn. Tony,” as he was fondly called, helped the community’s nearly 1,500 registered families live a sacramental life. A deacon is called to serve at the altar and in ministry. He was often the face parishioners remembered from their special days at church, be it a baptism, assisting at first communion, a quinceañera or presiding over a wedding.
“If he was a deacon at a wedding, most likely he knew the bride or the groom or both since they were little,” explained Vivian Martinez, a family friend and former catechism student of the deacon’s.
She asked those in the crowd at his funeral to raise their hand if the deacon was their godfather. The routine repeated itself for those who received various sacraments from him. Holy Cross Father Tom Lemos, who spent eight years working alongside the deacon at Blessed Sacrament, estimated “many, many thousands of baptisms.” Another estimated it at 4,000 minimum.
“Faithful servant” was a common label.
“Mostly when I think of Tony, I think of a faithful man that was a loyal servant and believed in Jesus Christ and life everlasting,” Martinez said.
The deacon, who spent a career as a yard foreman at local lumber yards and was an Army soldier, loved preaching homilies and taking Communion to the homebound. He even secured rides in the last year or so of life to continue visiting the sick when driving himself wasn’t an option. He comforted a longtime Tolleson family in their home grieving the loss of a family member just one week prior to his own death.
The end of life was something that the deacon learned to embrace all too early in his own life. His youngest daughter, Regina, was murdered at a young age.
“I’ve never seen people handle tragedy in such a dignified way,” Martinez told The Catholic Sun.
Fr. Lemos, C.S.C., who is now parochial vicar at neighboring St. John Vinney Parish in Goodyear, agreed. “So many people have loved him because of his gentle service and his perseverance through difficulties in his life.”
He ultimately lost his first wife, Ramona, as well and two sisters. Dcn. Chavez is survived by his current wife, Vilma Portugal-Chavez, two daughters, a son, four grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandson plus four sisters and four brothers.
Staff at the local funeral home, not even a half mile from the church, knew they could call on the deacon to lead a Rosary if the family requested one. It was his honor to visit parishioner homes to lead “novenarios” following the death of a loved one.
“We never know how a person’s actions or words will affect our lives,” Martinez said. For herself, his patient interaction with others, respect, centrality of faith yet the ability “to not take ourselves too seriously” made an impact on her.
So did his dry sense of humor, “the twinkle in his eyes when he told jokes, his love of life and people, his love for food and breaking bread with family, friends and people he would minister,” Martinez continued.