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Father Ernest Montoya

Archdiocese of Santa Fe

Father Ernie, as he came to be known much later in life, was born on September 30, 1926 in Bernalillo, New Mexico. At age eighteen, he enlisted in the US Navy, and was en route to Japan aboard the destroyer, USS O’Brien, when World War II ended, one of many fortuitous events influencing the direction of his life’s journey. Seaman Montoya completed his naval service, returned to Bernalillo and, on June 2, 1948, married the love of his life, Amy Padilla. Shortly thereafter, young Ernie was elected to the office of county clerk for Sandoval County, New Mexico and served a full term before deciding that politics wasn’t for him. He then embarked on a 34-year career as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service.

Meanwhile Ernie and Amy were having babies: Ernie’s namesake who came along in 1949. Son Rick, now a sergeant with the Long Beach Police Department, was born in 1952, followed by John in 1955, Raymond in 1957 and Mary Alice in 1964. In 1956, the family moved to Long Beach. During those years Ernie served as a letter carrier in the Wrigley District, Belmont Heights and Naples. He also ran a lawn service business and moonlighted as a barber.

In 1977, when their youngest child was still a teenager, Amy was diagnosed with cancer. Through several years of treatment, Ernie and Amy continued their practice of attending daily Mass. They prayed for a cure, a miracle, but most of all, for God’s will to be accomplished. In 1983 Ernie retired from his work as a letter carrier to pursue his two great loves: spending time with Amy and devoting time to God. In June, 1985, surrounded by family and friends, he was ordained a deacon and assigned to assist at Our Lady of Refuge Parish.

During the final stages of her illness, Amy and Deacon Ernie discussed what he would do without her. By the time of her death in 1986, Amy knew that her husband would pursue a vocation to the priesthood. In 1987, Deacon Ernie entered Sacred Heart Seminary at Hales Corner, Wisconsin. He completed his studies at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas. On his 63rd birthday, September 30, 1989, at Our Lady of Refuge Church, Father Ernie was ordained a priest forever by the Most Reverend Robert Sanchez, Archbishop of Santa Fe New, Mexico.

In the early years of his new ministry, Father Ernie served as Associate at Queen of Heaven, Holy Ghost and Our Lady of Guadalupe parishes in the Santa Fe archdiocese, followed by three years as pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Clayton, New Mexico.

At the age of 70, Father Ernie once again “retired” and came home to stay at Our Lady of Refuge, much to the delight of parishioners. In his active retirement he served as Chaplain at Bay Harbor Hospital and as Chaplain for the Long Beach Police Department, in addition to his regular parish duties of celebrating daily and Sunday Masses, presiding at weddings, hearing confessions and conducting baptisms and funerals.

The people of Our Lady of Refuge treasure Father Ernie’s ministry in the parish. He loved going out for breakfast with parishioners after daily Mass, and going out to dinner just about anytime. He loved sharing stories about his family and God’s work in his life. He loved lobster and popcorn and red wine and Chinese food. He loved handing out pens that said “Smile, God loves you.” He loved Amy, his children and grandchildren. He loved good jokes. He loved urging us to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. He loved ministering to people who were suffering or grieving, no matter how long it took, no matter how far he had to go. He loved God. He loved us.

One of the best things the people of Our Lady of Refuge can say about Father Ernie was that he was a “real person”, and that’s also one of the best things we can say about Jesus.

Father Ernie died of cancer on Thanksgiving morning – November 22, 2001. This story has been adapted from the eulogy at the Mass of Resurrection.