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Mission Dolores couple pillars of Our Lady veneration

December 17, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

One of the signature moments in the Mission Dolores celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is when rose petals fall from the dome of the basilica during the reenactment of St. Juan Diego opening his tilma to show the bishop of Mexico City the roses from Our Lady.

“It is now tradition,” said San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice, who was pastor in 2007 when Gloria DeLeon and Catalina Huerta of the Mission Dolores Guadalupe Society were inspired by the rose petals strewing the ground as they stripped thorns from the dozens of roses used to bedeck the altar.

Men walk along the inside of the dome on a little walkway invisible to those below, dropping the buckets of petals. The tilma is hand painted with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe – one that Catalina Huerta asked a talented priest friend to paint around the time Guadalupe celebration began in 1972.

The Guadalupe Mass, a 4:30 a.m. dawn Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an outgrowth of the Spanish language Mass – and Robert and Catalina Huerta, a couple now in their 80s, were instrumental in developing both. At the Dec. 12 celebration they were both involved, Bob Huerta in his Knights of Columbus role, Catalina Huerta preparing the roses the day before, stapling the programs for the event at her dining room table, and selecting the Guadalupe key chains the Guadalupe Society gave to those who came.

The Guadalupe Society raised the money for the statue. “We bought it in Mexico and we had to get a plane ticket because she took up a seat,” said Bob Huerta, a Southern California twang in his voice.

DeLeon and the Huertas were “the heart of getting the Spanish Mass and the Guadalupe Mass,” said Bishop Justice. He said Catalina’s organizing talent – “she was really the mother hen”– and Bob’s calm presence have been a staple of the parish’s life for decades. Bob Huerta taught RCIA and catechism, and is a fourth degree Knight of Columbus. Catalina taught first Communion classes in Spanish. She was an organizer of the pope’s Mass at Candlestick Park.

Bob Huerta was a Navy sailor and cook on shore patrol when he met Catalina in the 1950s at the California State Fair. They moved to San Francisco after Bob Huerta retired from the Navy.

The couple was instrumental in convincing Bishop Merlin Guilfoyle to begin a Spanish language Mass in 1966. The Huertas “took our kids with us, knocking on doors,” to get signatures.

They raised three daughters and a son in the parish. Their daughter in Louisiana returned to marry at the basilica, brought her two children to be baptized at Mission Dolores and now, Catalina said, the grandchildren tell her: “When we marry we have to go to Mission Dolores.”

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