Father Mendoza, Reader of Hearts

The following article originally appeared in Catholic Online of May 2010.  The writer of the story, Michael  Brandon owns the copyright and therefore we are able to print it in its entirety here:

Some of our encounters with ordinary heroes are brief, but their effects can be life changing. This particular encounter had a gift that kept giving. And years later, this ordinary hero reached out and touched me again, 6 years after his death.

This is St. Jude’s Chapel in Dallas Texas, where Father Santo Mendoza ministered to many of the faithful.

When I was fairly young in my personal faith experience with the Lord, I had reason to travel with a friend, a Catholic Evangelist, Deacon Chuck Stillwell to Dallas, Texas, from our homes in London Ontario. I thought I had to go to a computer conference there, which I did attend, while he was to meet with some friends in Fort Worth, and preach at a mission, which in fact did not occur.

Chuck drove an old Toyota RV conversion called “The Holy Spirit Shuttle”, and we planned to drive pretty much over night to get to Dallas one particular weekend. So, we set out on a shared journey. It is helpful to know a detail or two about our journey to grasp my encounters with Father Mendosa later.

As we prepared to leave on a Saturday morning, we attended morning prayer, as we usually did, at our then Parish church, St. Joseph’s. This particular morning, our mutual friend Wayne Zimmer delivered a singing prophecy, that struck me as unusual at the time. The prophecy, in essence said, that Chuck and I were to make our way to Dallas. Since I knew we were heading for Dallas already, as did everyone else, this did not seem like much of a prophecy to me.

We left mid afternoon, and drove almost all night. In the morning, we were in Hollywood, Arkansas, where we stopped to get a coffee. When we returned to the shuttle, it wouldn’t start. Chuck was able to bypass the alternator, and make the electrical connection direct from the battery, so the vehicle would start, and run, (until the battery ran out of charge). Hollywood, AK is no bigger than a minute, so we had no choice but to get on the interstate and head towards Dallas. If you have ever blown a fan belt as I have, you know that you can only get a few miles on battery power.

As we got back on the highway, the prophecy started to make sense, and I explained to Chuck that God had instructed us to go to Dallas, not somewhere else, and so when Chuck had just said that he planned to drive until the shuttle stopped, he was right. He looked at me like I was an idiot, and had just figured out something that he knew all along.

We drove for hours, stopped for gas, and finally reached Dallas, about 250 miles away, as planned. I drove part of the way, and the needle on the charge indicator for the battery never moved below normal. As we were entering Dallas about 4:30 pm, with me at the wheel, Chuck suddenly told me to take the next right, a few hundred yards in front of me. As I turned off, there was a Target Auto Parts store right in front of us. We got a new alternator, which Chuck installed and we were on our way again before the store closed at 5.

Saint Jude Chapel in downtown Dallas
Saint Jude Chapel in downtown Dallas

A day or so later, we went to meet a friend of Chuck’s in downtown Dallas at St. Jude Chapel. Father Santos Mendosa was the priest in charge of the chapel, where he ministered to Catholic faithful near their places of work. We met him in his office and there was something special about him that I could not put my finger on. Chuck told me he was a mystic, but I did not really know then or even now what that meant. I do not recall the conversation, just the man.

As things go, Chuck left his pen in Father Mendosa’s office that day, and so the next day we returned to pick it up. Father Mendosa was hearing confessions, and the receptionist sent Chuck to his office to find the pen. I stood outside the chapel windows looking in, waiting. I had been thinking that I wanted to go to Confession, but had not expressed it to Chuck, and we had somewhere to get to.

A moment later, Chuck came up behind me and asked me if I was going to confession or not. That seemed strange to me, as I had not mentioned my desire to him. He basically pushed me in the door of the Chapel, and I headed for the confessional.

As there was no one in line, I entered, and confessed what I thought were my sins. Then, I SAW Father Mendosa reach into my chest, take my heart out right in front of my eyes, and show it to me. It didn’t hurt; it was really just a vision, but it sure was real to me at the moment, and as I ponder it even now. He said simply: “What about impatience and irritability?” I sputtered: “Those too.” Moments later I was on the outside of the confessional, shriven like never before, and dazed as well.

I have never forgotten going to confession to Father Mendosa. Would you have? And now, about 23 years later, I have learned to be patient and not to be irritable, almost all the time. Coming to an awareness of the need to operate in patience and calm daily has been a long process for me, but it started that day, and will continue while I inhabit this earth.

I did not know that he was to become one of two spiritual directors of the Institute of Divine Mercy in East Dallas some years later, or that he passed away in 2004. I never saw him again. But, his devotion to the Divine Mercy reached out to me recently, and again he, though now deceased, had touched my life.

At some time, many years ago, he taught my friend Chuck, who a few years ago taught my friend Deacon George Sebok, who taught me a short while ago, the most important prayer that I have prayed in my life for those I find it difficult to pray for. The profoundness of the prayer, and the simplicity of its words of trust, and surrender to the Divine Mercy of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ makes so much sense to me in these troubled times we live in.

The prayer is as follows:

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in your love for __________ (10X)

Sacred Heart of Jesus, fill me with your blood.

Repeat 3 times

In the weeks that I have been praying this prayer, I have prayed it for my extended family members and those of my wife. I have prayed for your President Obama, and Speaker Pelosi, as well as our Canadian Prime Minister Harper. I have prayed for people who have an aversion to Christianity and Christians, that I have been connected to through the internet.

Mainly, praying this way has changed my heart for those I felt irritation (there’s that word again) towards. It has changed my attitude towards family members and in laws as well. As a result, I am seeing changes not only in me, but I think also in those I have been challenged to love and accept as they are. The changes might be only in the way that I look at them, as loved by Our Saviour, no matter who they are or what they do.

This is the legacy of Father Santos Mendoza, and is the essence of Ordinary Heroes. I sat down with him one time, went to Confession one time, and yet the legacy of his touch on my life animates my faith still.