Published July 11, 2019 | En Español
SUWANEE—Gonzalo P. Saldaña, former director of the archdiocesan Hispanic apostolate, died Sunday, June 16, surrounded by his family at his Suwanee home. He was 79 years old.
Saldaña, the only son of the late Felix and Ana (Marquez) Saldaña, was a native of Havana, Cuba, born on Jan. 10, 1940. He left Cuba the year after Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, arriving in the United States at the age of 20. Saldaña never returned to Cuba.
He married Grace Fernandez, and together they had two children, Annette and William, in Queens, New York.
Throughout his life he took on many roles with a courageous and generous heart—friend, husband, father, provider and community leader. He believed in equality, overcoming ignorance and the transformative nature of dialogue. His life’s work reflected these values.
After spending years in the shoe manufacturing business, he began working within the Archdiocese of Atlanta. With an important behind-the-scenes presence, he served the ever-growing Hispanic population.
Saldaña was director of the Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese from 1989-2002.
The late Father Joe Fahy, CP, once said, “Saldaña contributed to the growth of parish ministry through his leadership and efforts to dialogue. He has many accomplishments and one is the Spanish Masses in Georgia. His gentle, firm and kind leadership was appreciated by many people. He’s a consummate gentleman and always made a wonderful impression on others. He always desired to dialogue.”
Although Cuban by birth, Saldaña aimed to connect the many populations from around the Hispanic/Latin world that contribute to Atlanta’s rich diversity. He fulfilled this aim in 1985 when he founded the Hispanic Festival which ran for nine years and at one point drew over 10,000 people.
Saldaña used his voice to promote diversity, unity and Hispanic ministries nationally as well as locally.
As president of the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors of Hispanic Ministry (1998-2001), he initiated programs to create awareness between Hispanics and Catholics of other ethnic backgrounds. As director of the archdiocesan Hispanic apostolate, he advised several archbishops regarding the needs of the Hispanic community and conveyed the national vision for the ministry. During this time he launched the El Paso Project, a cultural immersion program for Atlanta seminarians on the Texas-Mexican border.
Saldaña built an extraordinary life of love, service and community based on the trials, victories and lessons learned from his exile. He is survived by his two children, Annette and William; his daughter-in-law, Bridget, and five grandchildren: Gabriel, Nicolas, Isabelle, Grace and Sophia.
Father Ruskin Piedra, CSSR, celebrated a Mass of Resurrection on Friday, June 28 at St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek. The family held private funeral services.
Memorial gifts in Gonzalo Saldaña’s memory can be made to the Juan Neumann Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. For information, visit jncenter.org.