Listening has always been an essential element of ministry for Rev. Hugo Medellin, C.M. ’05C. “There has always been such a need—especially for the Hispanic population,” Fr. Medellin stressed. “These people put a lot of trust in the priest, and that is what I focus on: just listening to people.”
He recently arrived on the Queens, NY, campus of St. John’s University to begin his tenure as University Chaplain. “Service to the poor,” emphasized Fr. Medellin, was what attracted him to the Vincentians (also known as the Congregation of the Mission).
A native of Mexico, Fr. Medellin comes from a small town known as Colonia Agrícola Militar Veinte Noviembre. His great-grandfather was a sergeant in Gen. Pancho Villa’s army, and was wounded during the Mexican Revolution. The Mexican government granted several of the general’s men and their descendants’ parcels of land for farming in perpetuity—which is how Fr. Medellin’s town was founded.
The majority of Mexico’s population is Catholic, and his family was steeped in their faith traditions, especially his mother. Festivals like Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as holidays like Christmas and Easter, are integral to the culture, Fr. Medellin noted. Around age 11 he started taking Bible classes at the local parish, which piqued his interest in faith.
Fr. Medellin later moved to the US with his brothers and was invited to join the order at age 19 after meeting Rev. Vincent Finnerty, C.M., then Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Charlotte, NC, at Holy Infant Church in Reidsville, NC, in 1996. During that time, Fr. Medellin lived at the Vincentian discernment house in Charlotte, learned English, and took courses for his general equivalency diploma.
“The pastor, who was a Vincentian, asked me to perform some tasks that really got my attention,” he recalled.
Fr. Medellin was entrusted with transporting a young Spanish man suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder to a local hospital. “We were waiting for several hours. He was getting anxious, and wanted to leave.” Fr. Medellin agreed to stay with the man after he was admitted and translate for him.
Months later, the man, apparently suicidal, called Fr. Medellin late at night, threatening to jump out of a window. “I didn’t know what to do,” he recalled. “I didn’t have any training, but I tried to calm him down and give him some hope.” After 90 minutes, the man assured Fr. Medellin he would not hurt himself, asserting that he knew he was loved.
“Instances like that led me to really consider the priesthood,” he said. “This was a way to help people in desperate need. This is what the Vincentians do.”
After four years at the discernment house, Fr. Medellin moved to a Vincentian house of formation in Oyster Bay, NY, and began his academic career at St. John’s and later the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, NY. He was ordained in 2010.
“After 10 years of study I was ready,” he stressed.
“I had a good experience at St. John’s. There was so much emphasis on Catholic social teaching, and I really liked that.”
During that time, Fr. Medellin began working with the Spanish-speaking population—a ministry that has been the central focus of his priesthood to this point. “We used to bring coffee and donuts to the day laborers on Long Island who waited on corners for work,” he said. “On very cold days they would come out not simply for the work, but because they knew we were coming.”
Upon ordination, Fr. Medellin began working with the Hispanic Ministry organized by the Vincentians on the eastern end of Long Island. Recently turned over to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY, the ministry, which operated out of seven local parishes, served as a voice for a population that often went unheard. When asked what the population’s most crucial need was, Fr. Medellin simply responded, “Survival.”
After his time on Long Island, Fr. Medellin was assigned to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Charlotte, NC, where he continued ministering to the Hispanic population. Parishioners would often bring their problems to him; while he always offered spiritual guidance, he was quick to refer them to professionals if the need was beyond his training.
“Eventually, I developed a real confidence in what I was doing, and the word was passed around,” he said. “People were bringing life-changing decisions to me, and it was really overwhelming at first. I was humbled by it. I did a lot of listening in those six years.”
Offering solutions, Fr. Medellin stressed, is not as important as making sure a person feels heard. “I listen to their suffering and they feel understood. Often people come to the solution on their own. You have to be a calming presence while they talk. This is what I do.”
As Fr. Medellin’s tenure approached its end, he felt a change was in order. “While it was a great blessing, it takes a lot out of you,” he said.
The Provincial for the Vincentians of the Eastern Province told Fr. Medellin that St. John’s University requested a new Chaplain; he viewed this position as a homecoming of sorts. “This assignment would be completely different from what I was doing,” he said.
As Chaplain, Fr. Medellin is responsible for the smooth running of Masses and events at St. Thomas More Church. He expects not just to offer sacraments, but serve as a supportive presence to students. Fr. Medellin will also attend a host of events on campus, offering blessings and supporting the Vincentian Mission in any way he can.
“I will have office hours so students can come to talk if they need it,” he said. “Listening is an art. How do I put that knowledge and understanding of the human person into practice in a totally new setting? After so many years of listening, I’m ready for a new challenge.”