Padre Fabian Moncada impacts the lives of many from the pulpit of Our Lady Of The Americas, the iconic Catholic church on the east side of Des Moines.
For decades, the parish has been considered a spiritual home for Latinos, and Padre Fabian, 49, has led the congregations since 2015.
My first memory of meeting Padre Fabian is when he “made me go to mass” at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in West Des Moines, where he was originally assigned when he moved to Iowa in 2013.
I remember that he delivered his sermon with humor and loving reprimand.
A native of Bogota, Colombia, Padre Fabian became the first Latino appointed as a pastor at Our Lady Of The Americas. After five years of serving at this mostly Latino church—where Spanish is the primary language spoken—he has become a staple and beloved leader in the Latino community.
Our Lady Of The Americas is known as an embassy parish because it is usually the first to receive and welcome migrants until they move into other churches in the area. The congregation has grown exponentially and now serves between 1,100 to 1,300 families.
Its growth is attributed to its leader’s passion for helping his own people.
This church does not have the resources others do, but Padre Fabian always thinks creatively to approach community issues. Fundraisers have included selling homemade Latino food, organizing festivals, and other ideas to help his ministry run the Our Lady Of The Americas.
Padre Fabian delivers sermons, but he also teaches parenting classes, visits families, baptizes babies, attends quinceañeras, and much more for the community he serves.
It is an interesting life for a man who did not set out to be a priest.
Padre Fabian was born the second of three brothers in Bogota. Although they were all brought up within their parent’s Catholic faith and attended Catholic schools, he did not feel the calling to become a priest until later in life.
In his youth, he had a keen interest in human sciences wishing to learn why people think the way they do and what happens in the mind. When the time to pick a field of study came, he chose philosophy.
“Philosophy created in my heart and my mind a very fruitful element to focus on the meaning of life,” Padre Fabian said.
He was a deep thinker and curious young man, full of questions about life and human behavior. To answer all those questions, he continued his education and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2000, and another bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2004. A year later, he received a master’s degree in psychology.
After practicing as a psychologist and working with at-risk women, he began to work for the Colombian government during the Alvaro Uribe Velez presidency. His role was helping those escaping the guerrilla groups get reincorporated into civilian life. This was known as the demobilization of military groups.
This work had an enormous impact on Padre Fabian. It was during this time the Lord began to move his heart to make a more definite move to serve Him and others.
The decision to become a priest was a surprise to his parents, they asked him: “Are you crazy?”
His mother called his oldest brother to speak with him and he told him, “Fabian, you don’t need to play around with God, this is not a joke, be serious about your decisions.”
Still, Fabian left everything behind and moved to the US to start his studies to become a priest. That decision was followed by another question, “what is God, who is God in my life, what happen with this transcendent reality of the human being?”
Fabian moved to Saginaw, Michigan, in 2008 to be part of an English as a Second language (ESL) program before moving to Minnesota’s Twin Cities to attend the University of Saint Thomas.
After completing the program there, he was sent by Bishop Richard Pates—Emeritus Bishop of Des Moines Diocese—to study theology at Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, also in the Twin Cities, and he graduated in 2013.
It was that same year that Padre Fabian was ordained as the first Latino priest for the Diocese of Des Moines. He was ordered to move to Des Moines given the increasing Latino catholic community in the diocese and desperate need of a Latino priest in the area.
“This was like a Pandora box in one hand and on the other hand, was the great adventure,” Padre Fabian said. “The last five years when I was in the seminary was a tremendously deep immersion in theology, academic discipline—less pastoral activities—and when you arrive to the real life, it is less academical duties versus pastoral approach and facing the reality of God in the world.”
Padre Fabian was assigned to Sacred Heart Church in West Des Moines, which came as a surprise to him since it did not have as many Latino congregants. After two years of serving in Sacred Heart, the membership grew and Latinos started to follow. He offered Spanish mass and sacraments too.
He was appointed to be an associate pastor in Corpus Christi Parish in Council Bluffs in 2015, which lasted a year. One day he received a call from Bishop Pates, “I am appointing you to become a pastor for Our Lady of the Americas in Des Moines, think about it please.”
Since then, Parde Fabian has been in Des Moines where he is loved and highly regarded. Part of that comes because he speaks the language of love and mercy and because of his approach to ministry: “I want to know people as they are, not as I assume they are.”
by Claudia Thrane