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Mourning nonviolence change maker Father Louis Vitale OFM, who championed Cesar Chavez and the farm workers’ cause

As a Franciscan priest and past provincial or head of the St. Barbara Province of the Franciscan Catholic order, Father Louis Vitale OFM over a long career converted lessons from the 13th Century saint into daily practice by selflessly championing hallmark social justice and peace movements, including Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. He passed away in Oakland on September 6 at age 91.

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, he co-founded Nevada Desert Experience, an organization successfully working to end U.S. nuclear weapons testing; went to prison for opposing the wars in Vietnam, Central America, Iraq, and Afghanistan; was longtime pastor of St. Boniface Catholic Church in a poor San Francisco neighborhood where he labored against poverty and policies harassing the poor and homeless; and co-founded Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, fostering justice and peace through nonviolent change.

Among the ministries Father Vitale embraced during the 1960s and 1970s was Cesar Chavez and the UFW. By the late ‘70s he was superior of the Franciscan province in the west. He marched and fasted with Cesar Chavez and was close to the civil rights and farm labor leader despite opposition from some inside the order.

In the early 1980s, the UFW lost a civil lawsuit filed by an Imperial County vegetable grower seeking to recover losses from a successful 1979 farm worker strike. The judge’s wife, it turned out, worked as a strikebreaker for the same grower during the same strike. In order to appeal, the union had to post a bond in the amount of the multi-million-dollar judgment. Father Vitale loaned Cesar and the UFW the money. After losing the appeal, it took Cesar some years to pay back the loan, but the union did.

A Mass of the Resurrection will be held at 11 a.m. on September 23, 2023, at Old Mission San Luis Rey, 4050 Mission Ave., Oceanside, CA 92057. A Memorial Mass takes place at 3 p.m. on October 6, at St. Boniface Catholic Church, 133 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco 94102.