When Fr. Sal De George, OMI, was a scholastic at the International Roman Scholasticate the other Missionary Oblate seminarians used to call him “Salvatore salva tutti” (Salvatore saves everyone!).
While he would be the first to admit that he cannot save everyone, Fr. Sal has spent 57 years as a priest trying to fulfill the instructions of the Oblate founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, to help people “act like human beings, first of all, and then like Christians, and, finally, we must help them to become saints.”
Father Sal was born into an Italian American family in Houston in 1939. He also had relatives in New Orleans who were pillars of Oblate-staffed parishes there. The family also owned and operated the famous Napoleon House Bar in the French Quarter.
In 1952, after graduating from eighth grade, Fr. Sal enrolled at the Oblates’ St. Anthony’s High School Seminary in San Antonio. In 1958 he entered the Oblates’ St. Peter’s Novitiate in Mission, Texas.
After his first profession of vows, his superior assumed that as the grandson of Italian immigrants, he would do well studying at the Oblate International Scholasticate in Rome. So he spent seven years there being educated in philosophy and theology by the Dominicans at the Angelicum.
One of Fr. Sal’s most memorable times in Europe was during the summer of 1963 while studying Spanish at the University of Madrid. One July weekend, he took some time off with friends to attend the Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona which includes the Running of the Bulls. Since money was hard to come by, he and his friends chose to run with the bulls to gain free entry into the bullfight.
Father Sal was ordained in Rome in 1965 as Vatican II was ending. While he had expressed his desire to go to the African mission of Chad, his first assignment took him back to St. Anthony’s Seminary where he taught for seven years. He then headed up the college-level Oblate formation programs in Texas.
The next stop was parish ministry, first at St. Thomas the Apostle in Huntsville, Texas, which had a university as well as a prison mission attached to it. He then was sent to Holy Family and then the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Brownsville, Texas. Eventually he returned to St. Anthony Seminary where he served as rector of six years.
In between two stints as pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Houston, Fr. Sal served as Vicar Provincial of the Oblates former Southern Provinces and then, in the newly formed United States Province, he held the title of “Area Councilor” for six years.
In 2012, the Oblate provinces of Italy and Spain were being combined and an assembly was convened near Rome to work out the details. Father Sal, because of his ability to speak both Italian and Spanish, was asked to serve as moderator.
“I repeatedly told the organizers I was not their man. I hadn’t really spoken Italian in 46 years,” said Fr. Sal, who agreed to accept the assignment because nobody else volunteered.
Today, Fr. Sal lives at Immaculate Conception Church in Houston, a parish where the Oblates have served since 1911. He is always on the go helping people, whether they be at Immaculate Conception, other Spanish speaking parishes, or local charities.
Of the places that he serves, one of his favorites is the Catholic Worker House where Casa Juan Diego is located. It is a last hope ministry for immigrants and refugees who have no other place to turn to for help. Before the pandemic, he celebrated Mass weekly and cooked for people who land there without papers or insurance. Some of the residents are paraplegic. They are the forgotten, but not to Fr. Sal.
Salvatore salva tutti – Salvatore
Information for this article originally appeared in OMI USA, the newsletter
of the United States Province of the Missionary Oblates.