As the leader of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles during the 1980s, Father Luis Olivares brazenly defied local Catholic authorities and the federal government by publicly offering sanctuary to Central American migrants fleeing political violence and civil war, and later extending it to undocumented Mexican immigrants unable to legalize their status after the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Twenty-five years after the priest’s death, Mario T. García
has written the definitive account of Olivares’ life and the beginnings of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles.
In Father Luis Olivares, A Biography: Faith Politics and the Origins of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles
(UNC Press, 2018), García traces Olivares’ humble beginnings as a poor boy growing up in San Antonio’s west side barrio to his improbable rise as the “Gucci priest” of the Claretian order. After becoming involved with the Farmworker Movement, which led to an unexpected meeting with César Chávez in the mid-1970s, Olivares experienced a conversion that transformed him from the politically connected “GQ priest” to a community-centered cleric committed to achieving social justice for his barrio parishioners. Later, after assuming the leadership of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church (La Placita Church) in 1981, Olivares was transformed again, this time by Central American migrants seeking refuge from U.S. backed authoritarian regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Combining liberationist theology with Saul Alinsky-styled grassroots activism, Father Olivares shepherded La Placita Church and the City of Los Angeles into the center of U.S.-Central American geopolitics and the budding national Sanctuary Movement. In this in-depth and intimate portrait of Los Angeles’ Latino priest, Garcia has not only written a biography of an unquestionably important individual, but also of a community and movement that continues to transform American society and politics.
David-James Gonzales (DJ) is Assistant Professor of History at Brigham Young University. He is a historian of migration, urbanization, and social movements in the U.S., and specializes in Latina/o/x politics. Follow him on Twitter @djgonzoPhD.