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Helping to revive dignity in Juarez

Posted on April 26, 2022, by Loretto Community

A house in need of repair in Juarez, Mexico.
Photo by Daniel Lopez

What if we were to do away with misery in Juarez? We think this can be done.

The Rev. Peter Urban, a priest of the Denver Archdiocese, Loretto co-member and founder of Miguel Pro Mission. The mission focuses on two fundamental needs in Juarez, Mexico: furnishing educational scholarships for children and adults, and providing resources to build and repair homes.
The Rev. Peter Urban CoL
Photo by Christina Manweller

“Poverty does not have to equal misery.” This is Father Peter Urban CoL’s fervent belief, rising out of his own background, and a phrase that frequently crosses his lips. It is the undergirding principle for Miguel Pro Mission, the organization he founded in 1999. His enthusiasm and the great hopes he has for the mission and for the people of Juarez, Mexico, are palpable. (Click here for a short video of Father Peter talking about the mission.)

Juarez hosts hundreds of maquiladora, or factories, most of which are owned by U.S. corporations. These jobs pay such low wages —Father Peter says an average of $50 a week— that people are unable to improve their lives. Again, he says, “This is misery, not poverty.”

He has been working for more than 20 years to help lift citizens of Juarez out of misery, having been inspired to take up the work after meeting Father Stan Martinka, who founded the San Alfonso Mission in Juarez. Miguel Pro Mission brings dignity to the lives of many poor in Juarez, primarily by providing access to education and the means to secure decent housing.

Born in 1929, Father Peter Urban’s childhood experience of poverty imprinted itself on his mind and heart. He was born in Kansas the year of the Wall Street Crash, the year before the dry summer that marked the beginning of the Dust Bowl years. By the time 1935 rolled around, the seemingly never ending drought was forcing many families, including Peter’s, to migrate from the Great Plains region. The exodus, often referred to as the Dust Bowl Migration, sent many families westward. The Urbans, near starvation, left Kansas for Denver, where Peter’s parents and the older children kept the family going with a cow, pig, chickens and a garden. Peter’s father began receiving $3 a month from the Works Progress Administration, which, as Peter says, “was a lot of money back then,” enabling the family to get by.

A mother stands behind her seated son, her arms on his shoulders. The son wears a protective mask and has a patch over one eye.
Jesús, at right, was diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago. His mother cares for him while struggling with her own hypertension and diabetes.
Photo by Daniel Lopez

Peter’s sister Cora, a young woman of strong faith, often spoke to her two brothers about becoming priests. Peter resisted at first, but her persistence paid off, and he and his brother Leonard headed for seminary in Denver. Father Peter now serves the mostly Spanish-speaking parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Denver, saying Mass twice a week and hearing confessions, while continuing his commitments
as Miguel Pro Mission’s president. At 92 years old, he is going strong, taking care to keep up with his physical therapy exercises, but he feels the diminishment that comes with age, his walker standing within reach at all times.

Peter and his brother are Loretto co-members, having joined the Community in 1976. Peter says they were influenced by Elizabeth Dyer SL, who generously shared her love for the Community. “I really believe in our Loretto,” he says. He speaks passionately of the school in Pakistan — “It’s a glorious thing that we are doing.” He names St. Mary’s Academy in Denver, Loretto Academy in El Paso and Nerinx Hall in St. Louis as wonderful institutions offering excellent educations in the Loretto tradition.

… whenever we seek the path of privilege or the benefit of a few to the detriment of the common good, sooner or later life in society becomes a fertile ground for corruption, drug trafficking, exclusion of different cultures, violence and even human trafficking, kidnapping and death, causing suffering and hampering development.

Pope Francis, during a 2016 visit to Juarez

Mission named for priest steeped in love of Christ

Miguel Pro Mission’s namesake is Jesuit priest the Rev. José Ramón Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, known familiarly as Miguel Pro.

Born in Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1891, Miguel Pro was, like Father Peter Urban, influenced by a devout sister who inspired him to recognize his own religious vocation after she entered the convent. At that time, religious activities in Mexico were punished under an anti-clerical law and a ruthless president, and he risked his life providing the sacraments. Miguel Pro would disguise himself to hold Mass in private homes. He was executed by firing squad in 1927, beatified in 1988. He is revered as a joy-filled, faithful servant of God who went to his death praising Christ. Father Peter Urban, his eyes shining with love for his vocation and for the people of Juarez, was inspired to name his organization for this courageous, joy-buoyed priest. The commitment and joy of his own calling to bring dignity to Juarez resonates in his voice as he says, “We can do this!”

This is how lives are changed.

Gaining access to education and safe, decent housing

A woman in a stocking cap and pink bathrobe looks into the camera.
Angelica has a debilitating form of cancer that was diagnosed six years ago. Father Peter Urban says, ‘Juarez is plagued by illness, alcoholism and drug addiction.’ The suffering is immense. ‘So many people feel forgotten and worthless.’
Photo by Daniel Lopez


In Mexico, free education ends after sixth grade, leaving many without means to continue the education that could help improve their lives. Many Mexicans do not have the opportunity to complete even the sixth grade.

Father Peter believes education offers a real opportunity to rise from misery and achieve the hopes and dreams common to us all. Educated employees might approach the maquiladora heads and negotiate higher wages, he says. They may locate better work opportunities, even start their own businesses. They could join together to improve their communities.

Miguel Pro Mission sends about $8,000 a month to Juarez for 300 students. Two hundred attend a Catholic school, and the remaining go to public school. Forty students are adults who didn’t have a chance to go to school as children.

“If those 300 students graduate from university,” Father Peter says, “then that could be a force for good. Then they could work together in a community setting. They could change the city of Juarez.” This is Father Peter’s hope and dream.


“We started with 12 houses and those are finished now,” Father Peter explains. The plan going forward is to offer to 10-12 families at a time the materials to build their own homes. In Juarez, homes often do not provide dignity and basic safety, and money for new construction and epairs is lacking due to the relentless poverty and low wages. A woman currently is gaining an education in carpentry, plumbing and electrical wiring; she will teach others to construct and repair their own homes. Many Mexicans are adept at this work, Father Peter says; given the opportunity, they are able to realize homes that offer dignity and a greater sense of security.

A man and woman stand arm-in-arm in front of their concrete block home. Tires sit on the roof.
Photo by Daniel Lopez

Each house costs $1,000-$2,000 to build. Father Peter’s hope is to do this for 10 to 15 years, thereby making a significant difference. By that time, he says, perhaps there would be 50 to 100 communities made up of the new houses. He says that these small communities might then approach the authorities and improve conditions in Juarez.

Violence is pervasive in the city. “If people could learn how to protect each other in communal life — I could just imagine this could be done, not with arms, but with peace.” His vision is that within the communities, citizens would be able to stick together, look out for one another.

Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts … open to his call heard in the suffering faces of countless men and women. No more death! No more exploitation! There is always time to change, always a way out … always the time to implore the mercy of God.’

Pope Francis, Juarez, 2016

Food bank

Las Alas (Wings) is a food bank that Miguel Pro helps support. During the years of the coronavirus, which hit those living in poverty especially hard, Miguel Pro has increased donations for food and other basic necessities.

What if …
we were to do away with misery in Juarez?
We think this can be done.
Are there people who would like to help us?

Please visit MiguelProMission.com.

Read or download the entire Spring 2022 issue of Loretto Magazine here.


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