Paulist priest is known for love of learning, reading

By Amy Moraczewski


After years of ministering to young adults from coast to coast, Paulist Father Ruben Patiño returned to his Texas roots four years ago to minister to the faith community of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Horseshoe Bay. Though the parishioners may differ from the college students he had grown accustomed to, his mission remains the same: the growth of the Catholic Church.

Father Patiño spent his childhood in Corpus Christi before moving to San Antonio to attend college at St. Mary’s University. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in math and physics, he continued his studies at the University of Texas at Austin, pursuing a graduate degree in nuclear engineering. Frequenting the University Catholic Center during his time as a graduate student, Father Patiño was introduced to the Paulist Fathers, an encounter that would ultimately change the course of his life.

Father Patiño completed his master’s studies but then chose to enter the seminary before writing his thesis. During his year of discernment, Father Patiño taught high school in San Antonio, but ultimately it was his return to the University of Texas campus that solidified his path to the priesthood.

"Being back at UT, I wanted to do what they (the Paulists) were doing," Father Patiño said.

Since that defining moment, he has devoted much of his life to inspiring a passion for the Catholic faith among college students in Berkeley, Santa Barbara and eventually back in Austin. He recalls his first experience serving in campus ministry at the University of California, Berkeley with great awe. Appropriately named Holy Spirit Parish, nearly 1,000 students filled the church each Sunday night for the candlelit Mass at 10 p.m. Looking out from the altar into sheer darkness, he felt the presence of the young people through their enthusiastic participation.

"Their voices just resounded throughout the church," Father Patiño said, as if he could still hear them.

Living in the heart of academia for many years has fueled Father Patiño’s insatiable appetite for learning. Following his theology studies at Catholic University in Washington, Father Patiño was sent to New York City, where he studied clinical social work at Fordham University. At the same time, he was balancing the challenging, yet rewarding, demands of being a recently ordained priest.

One of his responsibilities while serving in Manhattan was taking communion to the elderly and homebound on the first Friday of each month. Roaming the streets of the neighborhood to locate each person on the list would consume his entire day. Upon realizing that five of the elderly women on the list lived in the same building, he proposed gathering in one apartment each month for a communion service. This group of Irish women had resided in the same building for years without ever meeting one another, but through their longing for the Eucharist and an energetic young priest from Texas, they were eventually bonded for the duration of their lives.

Now back in Texas, Father Patiño finds himself called to a different type of ministry than the work he did on the streets of Manhattan, where he would often wander the neighborhood until the early morning hours, seeking to reach out to those in need. While he continues to utilize his background in social work through pastoral counseling, the somewhat rural atmosphere of Horseshoe Bay is much more conducive to his lifestyle than the urban environment he thrived in as a 30 year old.

Though the pace of life may be slower in Horseshoe Bay than Manhattan, Father Patiño is quick to point out that the parish is extremely vibrant. A recent wave of young families moving to the area has confirmed the need for an expansion to the church, as well as the addition of a family life center.

"We’re hoping to foster the growth of the Catholic Church and be a source of comfort and refuge for Catholics who come into the area. It (the family life center) will add another dimension to our parish life that we haven’t had before," Father Patiño said.

His passion for building the spiritual community at St. Paul the Apostle Parish is foremost, but a long-established enthusiasm for the beauty of architecture ignited a passion for the construction of the family life center itself. While serving as director of Campus Ministry at the University of Texas Catholic Center, Father Patiño began pursuit of a master’s degree in architecture. Through a portfolio of work completed during his studies of interior design at the University of California in Santa Barbara, as well as the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Father Patiño gained acceptance into the program. Unfortunately, obligations at the University Catholic Center forced him to abandon the program after one year, but his interest in the field never diminished. He continues to read books on architecture to this day.

Across the country, years and college campuses, Father Patiño has studied a wide range of subjects and somehow manages to integrate each one into his ministry wherever he goes. He cites his best quality as, "a dedication to reading, understanding, exploring and asking questions. I read a lot of different books. I have various interests. I make use of my background in different ways."

In addition to serving his brothers and sisters in Christ at St. Paul the Apostle, Father Patiño returned to Texas to assist his brother and two sisters with the care of their aging father. The closer proximity now allows him to visit his family in Houston once or twice each month.

"I like Texas. I like being back home," Father Patiño said.

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