Fr. Tomás Guillén, Parochial Vicar of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Temecula, graduated from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department chaplain program on Oct 4.
The ministry of police chaplain is just one of the many roles that Fr. Guillén has taken on since his ordination in 2016. On top of his duties as parochial vicar, the young priest is also the football chaplain for Aquinas High School, an instructor for the Diocese’s Continuing Ministry Formation Program (CMFP) and a Vicariate Vocations Director.
Fr. Guillén briefly served as a police chaplain for the Fontana Police Department in 2019 when he was assigned to St. John XIII in Fontana/Rialto. He was invited to become a chaplain by the Fontana police chief during a meeting between faith leaders and police.
“The chief shared that they had never had a Catholic priest as a chaplain and that it would be something that would be of benefit to the department ... Police chaplaincy is not something that I had considered before but it was a unique opportunity to serve in a ministry that is often overlooked,” said Fr. Guillén.
When Fr. Guillén was transferred to Temecula to serve at St. Catherine of Alexandria, he decided to apply to become a chaplain for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The department’s chaplain academy was delayed due to COVID, but eventually Fr. Guillén was able to begin the training program.
Students of the chaplain academy attended weekly sessions for several weeks, learning about how to best minister to law enforcement officers in their unique situation.
“Being a police chaplain is a challenge because the first thing is to establish a relationship with the officers and support staff of the station. It is a ministry of presence that requires more listening than speaking and it is very different from a parish setting,” said Fr. Guillén.
“There are some ministry needs that I never had to think about before starting this ministry, like getting fitted for an armored vest, finding a holder for my holy water for a duty belt and having a kit to carry for things that may be needed in an emergency callout,” said Fr. Guillén.
Fr. Guillén and his fellow Riverside County Sheriff’s Department chaplains will commit to serving ten hours a month. Their duties include visiting the station, ride-alongs with deputies, callouts when requested by deputies and ongoing training. Fr. Guillén has been assigned to the Southwest station in Temecula but may go out to other parts of the county from time to time.
“As a chaplain, you are often called to bring hope to situations that are traumatic and challenging ... I think that the blessing is that the deputies are able, in some way, to receive grace as they witness things that most people might not see in a lifetime. It is something that continuously challenges me to minister better,” said Fr. Guillén.