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Next stop: MEXICO BROWNSVILLE — Bishop Daniel E. Flores is one of two bishops asked to represent the U.S. bishops during Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Mexico Feb. 12-17. Read the Full Story
OSV names Sister Norma Pimentel a Catholic of the Year SAN JUAN — It all started with a “Yes,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, and a string of yeses followed that reflect the kindness and generosity of the people in the Rio Grande Valley. Read the Full Story
Journalism workshop, challenge Feb. 5-6 The Valley Catholic newspaper is partnering up with local media professionals and hosting a Mobile Journalism Workshop and Challenge in February. Read the Full Story
World Marriage Day 2016 Celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary in 2016? A Mass will be celebrated in honor of World Marriage Day at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13 at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine. Read the Full Story
Our history Faith in the Valley, a graphic novel about the history of the Diocese of Brownsville, was produced in honor of the Golden Anniversary of the diocese. 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

January 27, 2016


Spirit Awards Banquet Kicks Off Catholic Schools Week
The 19th Annual Spirit Awards banquet is set for 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 29 at Msgr. Ralph Hall at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in McAllen.

Sponsored by the Catholic Schools Office of the diocese, the event honors outstanding individuals whose dedication, generosity and service have made an impact in the 13 Catholic schools in the Rio Grande Valley. An honoree or honorees from each of the schools will be recognized at the event. Bishop Daniel E. Flores will be recognized as the diocesan honoree.

“Bishop Flores has certainly made his presence known in all our schools,” said Sister Cynthia Mello of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, superintendent of schools for the diocese. “He celebrates Mass with the students, is present to faculty and staff, attends school events where you can find him relaxing and interacting with the children.

“We honor him and thank him for his continued support to Catholic education.”

Proceeds from the event benefit the diocese’s tuition assistance program, which is dedicated to making Catholic education accessible to all families.

The Spirit Awards banquet kicks off the annual observance of Catholic Schools Week, which in 2016 is Jan. 31 – Feb. 6. The theme for the National Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

For more information on the event or for sponsorship opportunities, contact the Catholic Schools Office at (956) 784-5051.

Latest priests’ appointments:
Effective November 11, 2015
▪ Rev. Jose M. Villalon, Jr., appointed Pastor of Saint Theresa Parish in San Benito, Texas

Effective December 15, 2015
▪ Rev. Gustavo Obando, returned to the Diocese of Granada, Colombia

Effective December 28, 2015
▪ Rev. Msgr. Patrick J. Doherty, appointed Confessor of the Capuchin Poor Clare Nuns of Saint Joseph and Saint Rita Monastery in Alamo, Texas

Effective January 15, 2016
▪ Rev. Rigobert Poulang Mot, returned to the Archdiocese of Bertoua, Cameroon

Effective January 19, 2016
▪ Rev. Andres E. Gutierrez, appointed Parish Administrator of Saint Helen Parish in Rio Hondo, Texas and its mission Saint Vincent de Paul in Lozano and Chaplain for the Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, Texas while continuing as Vice-Chancellor for the Diocese of Brownsville and Chaplain for the Serra Club in Brownsville, relieved of his responsibilities as Parochial Vicar at Saint Luke Parish in Brownsville

Mother-Daughter Program Celebrates God’s Special Gifts
The Mother-Daughter Program, which explores God’s special gift of human fertility and the wonder of growing up and becoming a woman, is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 31.

The event begins at 2:30 p.m. at the Bishop Adolf Marx Conference Center, 700 N. Virgen de San Juan Blvd. in San Juan.

The program, which is designed for mothers and their daughters, ages 10-12, will encourage girls to appreciate their femininity, as well as their changing bodies and personalities. The presentations emphasize respect and appreciation for God’s gifts.

Topics include the physical and emotional changes in a young woman’s body in preparation for motherhood, the sacredness of human life and the virtue of chastity.

The presenters will also emphasize that each girl is precious and unique, and that every girl changes and develops at different times and in different ways.

For more information, call the Family Life Office at (956) 784-5012.

Medical Guild Sponsors Lenten Retreat
There will be a Lenten Retreat, sponsored by Our Lady of San Juan del Valle Medical Guild on Friday, Feb. 12 from 6:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 13 from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Bishop Adolf Marx Auditorium in San Juan. The retreat will be led by Father Ed Hauf of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who will give a talk on Friday evening entitled:" Healing the Whole Person: The Physician and God's Mission to Heal His People." Saturday morning he will continue the retreat with a talk entitled:" Yielding Ourselves to the Merciful Healing of Jesus." There is no fee for the retreat, but donations are welcome to help cover the costs. For more information, please contact Dr. Stephen Robinson at (956) 970-9327 or

Programming Note: Diocese Insight to Air 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, call (956) 784-5055.

Faithful Encouraged to be Witnesses for Life at March on Jan. 30
The diocesan Respect Life Apostolate is organizing a peaceful and prayerful march on Saturday, Jan. 30 in McAllen to spread the message of life in our community.

The event will begin at 9 a.m. with opening prayers and remarks by Bishop Daniel E. Flores at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, 900 S. 23rd St. After the prayer service, a procession will depart the church and file into downtown. Throughout the procession, the Rosary will be prayed and hymns will be sung.

The procession will pass by the local abortion facility and end at Sacred Heart Parish, 306
S. 15th St. with closing prayers. All are invited to give witness to life. Prayer groups, church groups, Catholic schools, families and individuals are welcomed and encouraged to attend.

The march is held in reparation for the more than 57 million babies who have been killed in the United States since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling on Jan. 22, 1973 that legalized abortion. Pro-life advocates across the nation are observing the anniversary with events of prayer and action.

Pasa “Una tarde con Jesús”
La Movimiento de la Renovación Carismática de la Diócesis de Brownsville los invita a participar a la Asamblea Carismática – Kerygmatica “Una tarde con Jesús” a las 3 de la tarde, el 31 de enero el La Iglesia San José Obrero, 900 Calle 23 Sur en McAllen. Tema por Enrique de la Cruz, música por Roberto Mora de Edinbug. Para más información llame al (956) 371-3923 (Enrique De la Cruz); (956) 330-1419 (Diacono Alex Gamboa) o (956) 624-2728 (Joe López).

Open House, Entrance Exam Planned for Juan Diego Academy
Juan Diego Academy will be having its annual open house on Sunday, Jan. 31, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The entrance exam for prospective students will be administered on Saturday, February 6 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information, call (956) 583-2752.

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