When the Rev. Dr. Antonio Gallardo was 25, he left his native Venezuela to study and work in Japan, whose government had identified him as an incipient global business leader. It turned out to be the beginning of his priesthood, as his inherited Roman Catholicism was leavened by friendships with Muslims, Buddhists, Shinto, Mormons, and secularists — all people committed to living good lives irrespective of belief and doctrine.

The Holy Spirit took her time as he accumulated three masters degrees and a doctorate. He worked in my home town of Detroit as a pioneer in workforce development, helping working people being left behind by globalization find secure niches in the middle class. After moving to Los Angeles, he worked with Cesar Chavez’s family and colleagues and eventually found himself distributing millions of dollars a year in program grants for a non-profit foundation.

Discernment partners at All Saints Episcopal Church Pasadena helped him see that everything he’d been doing for people all along was a sacrament and that he should be a priest of God not just by deed but by name and order. Since May, Antonio has served as the 13th rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Long Beach, a parish famous for outreach to migrants and its unhoused neighbors, a perfect match for his prophetic heart. The plow handle was relinquished by the Rev. Jane Gould, a brilliant and beloved priest who, with fellow parish leaders, ingeniously identified Antonio as her successor — St. Luke’s’ “rector emergent.”

On Saturday morning, with three of his six siblings in the first pew, it was my blessing to preside at a bilingual celebration of Antonio’s relatively new ministry. The Rt. Rev. Naudal Alves Gomes, the former primate of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, and I shared the celebration of Holy Eucharist, and I preached. The Rev. Steve Alder was deacon of the mass. Antonio’s area dean, the Very Rev. Jeanette Repp, headed a contingent of over a dozen deacons and priests who came to celebrate with Antonio, including the Rev. Dean Ferrar, retired rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Palos Verdes Estates, who assists at St. Luke’s.

The whole neighborhood was invited to the festive reception afterward, featuring more speeches, three kinds of tacos, two cakes, and a puppet show. Hektor Rivas, the St. Luke’s sexton and maintenance manager for 31 years and six rectors, stood to celebrate the appointment of the parish’s first Hispanic rector. Longtime lay leader Ann Burdette, who grew up at St. Luke’s, praised Antonio for empowering the laity, telling me that, in his oversight of her complex, busy parish, “he combines efficiency with grace.” In the years ahead, look for Antonio to leaven his priesthood with his business and organizational savvy, capitalizing on St. Luke’s’ leadership in activism and outreach for the people of Long Beach.