image image image
Diocese plans celebration for 50th Anniversary of Charismatic Movement This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement. Read the Full Story
Month of Mary SAN JUAN – Once a year each May, young Catholic students across the United States honor Mary the Mother of Jesus with reverence, prayer and joyful celebration. Read the Full Story
Four-year 'encuentro' process begins in U.S. WASHINGTON — In Spanish, the word "encuentro" means encounter and in the modern church in the U.S., it refers to a series of meetings that will take place over the next four years aimed at getting to know Latinos and producing more involvement in the church of its second largest and fastest growing community. Read the Full Story

Against his parents' wishes, Father Richard Lifrak

Raised Jewish; priest shares conversion story

The Valley Catholic

EDINBURG — “I am a 26-year-old Catholic, but my body is older than that,” said Father Richard Lifrak, 60, of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Church in Edinburg.

Father Lifrak was born into a Conservative Jewish family in Fall River, Mass., and in college he became an adherent of Zen Buddhism for 10 years. 

Father Lifrak said that the long and winding road to Catholicism was all part of the journey to fulfill God’s purpose for his life. “God had to find the way to get me through all the barriers,” he said. “It seems impossible that a Jewish person, raised as I was, could become Catholic, much less a religious. It’s stupendously impossible.” 

Father Lifrak said he had a conventional Jewish upbringing that included religious training, a Bar Mitzvah at age 13 and later, Confirmation, a Jewish rite of passage. 

“The normal expectation was that I would always be Jewish,” he said.

But by age 12, Father Lifrak was already searching.

“I had an insight that my life was very poor,” he said. “I didn’t have wisdom and I didn’t have love. I remember that I started to say a prayer, a desperation prayer about the poverty within me. I prayed, ‘please God, help me and if you do, I will do anything.’ And I forgot it until the age of 35 when I entered the Church. I’d say that was a key moment.”

By the time he went to college, Father Lifrak had developed a strong passion for science, earning a master’s degree in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

 “I was not that interested in religion because I didn’t find any use for it,” he said. “And second of all, I was very focused on truth, on what can be true.”

A sociology course started him down the path of Zen Buddhism.

“I started getting serious about Buddhism,” Father Lifrak said. “Buddhism questioned a deeper place than science did. It became my passion. I was a very zealous Zen Buddhist.”

He moved to Rochester, N.Y. for the purpose of realizing his goals as a Buddhist.

A relationship with a woman brought out the power of what he thought was love – and also the power of being betrayed by sin.

“I gave myself to the experience but I was discarded,” Father Lifrak said. “The experience gave me foundation to question Buddhism. How did Buddhism help you address the whole question of love?”

The experience gave way for a new spiritual path. One day, he saw a picture in a magazine of a Celtic cross.

“There was something in me that said, ‘I have to have a Celtic cross,’” Father Lifrak said.

He went to a Catholic store to purchase a Celtic cross and the clerk told him he needed to have a priest bless it. In the process of having his cross blessed, he met a religious brother and a priest, who were both from his hometown of Fall River, Mass., a city more than 400 miles away from Rochester.

For Father Lifrak, it was no coincidence.

“I think it was God’s design that I ended up at that church,” Father Lifrak said, holding back tears. “I felt invited there by God. It was the place where I had my first experience with Christianity and with my first Mass. The only Mass I had been to prior was for a wedding and that Mass made no impression whatsoever. There was a world of difference between those two Masses, a world of difference.”

Father Lifrak also recalled the moment when he knew, with complete certainty, that he was finally in the right place.

“I was at St. Peter’s Soup Kitchen in Rochester, New York, sweeping the floor, when I had this feeling: you’re home,” he said. “Logically it makes no sense but in my heart of hearts, my heart told me, ‘this is your home, what you’re doing right this minute, which is serving for the purpose of a greater purpose, which is both mystical and social, you’re home.”

Two years after entering the Church, Father Lifrak began the formation process with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He took his first vows in 1988, his final vows in 1991 and was ordained a priest on June 16, 1995.

Father Lifrak’s parents, however, did not accept his chosen spiritual path.

“With Buddhism, they thought it was a phase,” he said. “Christianity was too threatening. There was a tenfold increase in the level of opposition from my parents. So I struggled with my parents, but I how could I say no to God?”

Father Lifrak said it was agonizing to be at odds with his parents.

“I didn’t like being disloyal to my parents, I didn’t like bringing them unhappiness, which I did,” he said. “They let me know it and I saw it. My father actually physically tried to resist my leaving him when I was going to be ordained. He stood in the doorway and said, ‘you’re not leaving.’

“I had to run out the back door. It got very messy.”

Father Lifrak’s father died the same year he was ordained a priest. Ultimately, there was some reconciliation between them, Father Lifrak said. His mother died some years later.

“I got her into a Jewish nursing home and I was her guardian until she died,” Father Lifrak said. “But she was never accepting of the course that I took. She loved me as a mother but she did not in any way approve of what I was doing.” 

During his formation, Father Lifrak was sent to Cuernavaca, Mexico to study Spanish. While in Mexico, he went on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Then things became possible,” Father Lifrak said.” I didn’t have my earthen mother’s blessing, but I had Our Lady’s blessing.”



Photo by The Valley Catholic

Weekly Update

May 23, 2017


Save the date
Diocese plans celebration for 50th Anniversary of Charismatic Movement
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, the largest approved ecclesial movement of the Catholic Church. Estimated to have reached at least 120 million Catholics throughout the world, the movement is fully Catholic and also fully charismatic. The movement emphasizes a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus and the charismas and gifts of the Holy Spirit as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, including the gift of tongues, healing and prophecy.

A diocesan celebration on Pentecost Sunday will bring all parish charismatic groups from throughout the diocese together, ending with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel E. Flores at 5:30 p.m. June 4. The diocesan event begins at 1 p.m. and continues through 7 p.m. at Weslaco East High School.

All priests and deacons are invited to concelebrate; please bring red stole.

Martin Valverde in Concert July 18 in McAllen
International Catholic musician Martin Valverde will perform at 6:15 p.m. July 18 at the McAllen Convention Center. Valverde has been involved in the Charismatic Renewal movement since 1979. Tickets for “The Concert of Mercy,” sponsored by Holy Rosary Church in Mission, are $10-$25 at Ticketmaster, or call (956) 617-0444 or (956) 581-2183.

Bulletin announcement
Help the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville Reach 10,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook
Did you know the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville has a Facebook page?

Our goal is to reach 10,000 “likes” on Facebook by the end of the summer. If you are a Facebook user and have not “liked” us yet, please do so at

Liking us on Facebook is a great way to stay connected to the bishop and be informed about diocesan news, events and services through updates, photos, live broadcasts and videos.

For more information about our social media presence, email Rose Ybarra at or call (956) 784-5009.

Join Our Communications Team
If you enjoy taking photos and video, we invite you to share your talents. We are looking for a videographer to help us cover different events in the Diocese of Brownsville and provide training for our mobile journalists. Our next big event, which we plan to stream live, is the ordination of two new priests scheduled on Saturday, June 10.

Please email Brenda Nettles Riojas at or call Paul Binz at (956) 784-5055.

Turn in Your Rice Bowl Donations
As you finalize your Lenten alms and collection, please make sure to route all CRS Rice Bowl offerings through Diocesan Accounting with Joel Ruiz at 1910 W. University Blvd., Brownsville, TX 78520. Please send one check per parish payable to Catholic Diocese of Brownsville. Remember that 75 percent of CRS Rice Bowl collections is sent to CRS and 25 percent stays here to help the poor and vulnerable locally through Catholic Charities.

Queen of Peace Parish Offers CD of Local Religious Music
The Music Ministry at Queen of Peace Parish in Harlingen would like to invite you to enjoy a CD of original and traditional liturgical music, in English and Spanish, recorded and produced here in the Valley. Many of the selections were composed and written by our music coordinator, Nez Marcelo. Some of the songs can be previewed on YouTube by searching for “Come & Rejoice” and “A Pesar de Todo.” The CD is available by contacting Nez Marcelo at (956) 423-6341.

Join Us for TVC Live Every Tuesday at Noon
The communications team for the Diocese of Brownsville is bringing you the latest news from around the diocese during TVC Live, a 15-minute program featured on the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville Facebook page, @CatholicRGV, every Tuesday at noon. The show features stories, interviews and highlights. For more information, call (956) 784-5009.

Protecting God’s Children Announcement
The diocesan plan is for all people who work with children to have viewed the safety awareness DVD: “Protecting God’s Children,” to submit to a DPS background check, and sign the code of ethics. This now needs to be refreshed/redone every five years. Second, religious education leaders are to plan and present a “Touching Safety” lesson during both the fall and spring to all children from kindergarten to 12th grade. Finally, parishes will present safety awareness material to all parents who have their children in either the First Communion or Confirmation classes. If you have questions or need material, please contact Walter Lukaszek at (956) 457-0010 or at

Protecting God’s Children 3.0 is now available in both DVD and a flash drive. The price for either is $35. It has both the English and Spanish programs. If you need the teaching notes, email

Keeping the Promise Alive has an updated DVD that reinforces PGC 3.0. Using the original DVD still has the important information that we wish to share with parents and is used as an annual refresher for Religious Education teachers and volunteers. It has both the English and Spanish programs. The price is $15. If you need the teaching notes, email

Touching Safety is still in the original DVD format, five-minute “ice breakers” for lessons 1 to 8. It has both the English and Spanish programs. The price is $15. If you need complete copies of the lesson plans from K-12, email Walter (

Religious Education staff may now download the touching safety lessons from the CDOB web site:

Programming Note: Diocese Insight Airs on Sunday Mornings
Diocese Insight, a half-hour interview program hosted by Brenda Nettles Riojas, Diocesan Relations Director and editor of The Valley Catholic, airs at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays on Channel 38.1 or Cable Channel 10. For more information on Diocese Insight, call (956) 784-5008.

Holy Land Pilgrimage, “Walk with Jesus” Scheduled for May 29-June 7
Join the Holy Land Pilgrimage, “Walk with Jesus,” May 29-June 7 (10 days). Price of $3,030 includes taxes and three meals daily, 4-star hotels, guides, A/C bus. Daily Eucharist and hosted by Spiritual Companions, Sisters Therese Ann Ridge (956-342-8881) and Emma Marie Stillman (956-342-1399). Call or email

Trip to Fatima and the Holy Land
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s appearance in Fatima, Portugal. Father Artemio Jacob of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in McAllen will be leading a tour group to Fatima and the Holy Land this June. The tour, which leaves from McAllen, runs from June 5-16 and will cost $4,095.

For more information, call Father Artemio at (956) 437-1703.

Marian Sanctuaries Pilgrimage Scheduled July 3-8
Our Lady, Queen of Angels Catholic Church in La Joya, under the spiritual direction of Father Jesse Garza, is organizing a pilgrimage to some of the most important Marian Shrines in Mexico from July 3-8. The pilgrimage includes airfare from Reynosa. We will visit Guadalupe, San Juan de Los Lagos, Cristo Rey, San Miguel Allende, Convento de la Santa Cruz, Schoenstatt, etc. Price is $850. A passport is required.

For more information, call the parish office at (956) 585-5223 or Aida at (956) 227-8192.

Road to Mercy Pilgrimage includes visits to Poland, Czech Republic & Germany
Father Gregory Labus, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Edinburg, is leading a 10-day Road to Mercy pilgrimage from July 10-20 that will include visits to Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. The trip price of $3,795 includes flights from McAllen, four-star hotels, breakfast and dinner included and deluxe motor coach transportation.

For more information, call (956) 383-3728 or email

Getting to Know Peru in October
Father Francisco J. Solis, pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Weslaco, will be leading a pilgrimage to Peru Oct. 8-19. Visit the land of St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres, with Mass every day and stops in Lima, Arequipa, Colca, Cusco, Valle Sagrado and Machu Picchu. Includes airfare from Reynosa to Lima, ground transportation, hotels and all meals except on the days of departure and return, plus train fare and entry to Machu Picchu. Cost is $3,800 per person, double occupancy. For more information, call Ms. Briones at (956) 369-6797.

Job Openings
• Middle School social studies teacher – St. Anthony Catholic School, Harlingen. Must hold valid credentials. Interested qualified candidates may email résumés to Kathy Stapleton, principal at
• Elementary School self-contained classroom teacher – St. Anthony Catholic School, Harlingen. Must hold valid credentials. Interested qualified candidates may email résumés to Kathy Stapleton, principal at
• Maintenance Person - El Rosario Homes is accepting employment applications for a full-time maintenance person. Contact Raquel Turrubiates at (956) 585-5051.
• Multi-parish Accountant - Parish/School Accounting, San Juan Office. Interested qualified candidates may email résumés to Genie Treviño at
• Middle School language arts teacher – Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, McAllen. Applications may be obtained at the school office, 1100 Gumwood Ave. in McAllen.
• Elementary School self-contained classroom teacher – Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, McAllen. Applications may be obtained at the school office, 1100 Gumwood Ave. in McAllen.
• Maintenance Person - La Merced housing development is accepting employment applications for a full-time (40-hour) maintenance person for carpentry, electrical, plumbing and general repairs. To apply, contact Irma Arriaga at La Merced Homes by email at or call (956) 565-2622; fax: 956-565-4185.
• Multi-parish Pastoral Associate - The Diocese of Brownsville is accepting employment applications for two full-time multi-parish pastoral associates — one to serve the Upper and another the Lower Valley. Both positions will be based out of the San Juan Pastoral Center. Satellite offices at parishes may also be available. Applications will be accepted until June 15. Positions are available as of July 1. Interested candidates may send in their applications/resumes to
• Middle School social studies teacher – St. Joseph Catholic School, Edinburg. Bilingual endorsement required. Must have 18 hours content in social studies. Turn in résumé and college degree transcript with application, which may be picked up at the school, 119 W. Fay St. in Edinburg.
• Parish Catechetical Leader – Mary, Mother of the Church is seeking a full-time Parish Catechetical Leader with strong knowledge and practice of the Catholic faith. Please come by the parish office for a job description and an application. St. Mary’s office hours at 1914 Barnard Road in Brownsville are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday or call for more information at (956) 546-3800.
• School Secretary – St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Edinburg needs a school secretary. Experience preferred. Applications can be picked up at the school, 119 W. Fay St. in Edinburg.

Calendar of Events
• May 25 – Oratory Athenaeum commencement
• May 26 – Juan Diego Academy commencement
• May 29 – Diocesan offices are closed on Monday for the Memorial Day holiday.
• May 31 – St. Joseph Academy commencement

Submit information to be included in the Weekly Update to Brenda Nettles Riojas, Director of Diocesan Relations, by e-mail at or by fax to (956) 784-5082.