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Philly Puerto Rican to become an ordained deacon by the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

Yesenia "Jessie" Alejandro has led the charity ministry Mother's Mission for 20 years, impacting the lives of the Christian faithful in North Philadelphia and Puerto Rico.

Jessie Alejandro, right, practices placing the vestment in preparation for her Saturday ordination with her mentor, the Rev. Deirdre Whitfield of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
Jessie Alejandro, right, practices placing the vestment in preparation for her Saturday ordination with her mentor, the Rev. Deirdre Whitfield of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

It’s been a seven-year journey for the Rev. Yesenia “Jessie” Alejandro.

The 48-year-old took classes on antiracism, church and child safety, read books about Anglicanism and Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, committed to memory the priest handbook, attended conferences, shadowed a priest, completed a psychiatric evaluation, and stayed helpfully fit — most people wouldn’t think of a minister job as physically demanding, but it is.

This, after serving 11 years as a pastor in a nondenominational church and 20 years leading the Mothers Mission ministry in Kensington. The Philly Puerto Rican from Barranquitas can now add deacon at St. John’s Episcopal Church to her accomplishments. Should she pursue the priesthood, which can happen within six months of her installment, she would become the first Latina priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

“She helps others because she sees herself in them,” said the Rev. JoseLuis Memba, a vicar for Christ & St. Ambrose Episcopal near Fairhill.

Her installment coincides with Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez’s mission to make the Episcopal Diocese more diverse and inclusive. He, in fact, reopened St. John’s Episcopal Church in 2017, which has a mostly Spanish-speaking congregation.

The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Dec. 21, at 23 E. Airy St. in Norristown.

What has been the most challenging part of this journey and how have you overcome it?

Oh, my God! To be quite honest, what hasn’t!? So many nights without sleep, traveling, reading books, taking tests, and all the time taken away from my kids (4) and my grandchildren (11). Also, deep inside, I know that this is what I’m called to be in life, but how does one tell [someone] the Almighty has called on you to do this work? It has been a very intense process, especially that interview, almost an interrogation. The guidance and encouragement of Father [JoseLuis] Memba and my mentor [Reverend Deirdre Whitfield] have kept me strong along the way.

How was that moment when you learned that you had been selected? What did it feel like?

I was driving on my way back home from Norristown, after a meeting with the Diocese’s Standing Committee, when I received a call from the Diocese office. I felt short of breath and stopped on the highway to thank God, and cried like una nena chiquita [a little girl]. When I received this message I cried this much because I had sacrificed so much to demonstrate that I have been sent to do this service. Still, today, I feel full of emotions, because they have recognized what I have known all my life.

What will happen with Mothers Mission?

Misión de Madre is going to continue, as other chapters have. I will step aside to give opportunity to more women interested in volunteering for the less fortunate in need of food, clothes, prayers and in bringing hope to our communities. I know that my husband, David [Cruz], will also continue to support the mission and causes in those moments when I find myself short of time.

What concerns do you have within Philly’s communities?

Kensington [and the greater] North Philadelphia have lots of needs and this general focusing on the opioids and the violence has taken our eyes away from our children, the schools being shutdown, and the lack of funds. It shouldn’t be considered a privilege for our kids to have an education. Right now, I feel strongly committed to empowering and educating our children so that their voices are also heard, and to keep working on social justice issues as I have for years now.

What vision do you plan on bringing to Norristown as a deacon for Pennsylvania’s Episcopal Diocese?

I see this as a way of breaking the glass ceiling, because I’m bringing the voice of people who look like me, of the people who speak the languages I can speak, of those who have struggled in life. I see this as an accomplishment that is not for me, but for those who come after me, and see in me a path, an example or a testimony. So, this is a privilege, and I need to keep working with the women of Kensington, to fulfill my responsibilities sharing the gospel with our communities in Norristown and continue my path to priesthood.