ON SUNDAY, PASTOR BAKER -- WHO DECLINED TO be interviewed -- who along with Father Gustavo Lara now runs Our Lady, told his flock that Hernandez came to his parish in January of 1997. He worked there until last week.
Though retired, Hernandez was very active in the neighborhood. My mother's neighbors often recall Hernandez visiting them, and telling them how much he loved working with youths, for whom he would buy clothes.
Some residents in the Rose Hill projects remember Hernandez's compassion the day one of the neighborhood's teenagers was gravely shot. "Padre Stephen," as parishioners called him, rushed to the young man's aid, putting pressure on his bullet wounds with his own shirt -- probably saving his life.
A well-spoken and fiery preacher, Hernandez -- who had been a literature professor -- often lashed out against religious hypocrisy, while he extolled churchgoers to love youths like the ones he ministered in jail. I sensed many of his honest and hard-working parishioners, themselves the victims of young street predators, found his homilies hard to swallow.
"If you cannot love everyone -- I mean everyone-- you cannot call yourself a Catholic," Hernandez told the faithful during a Sunday mass a week before his apparent suicide attempt.
On Sunday, most of the often-ebullient parishioners were ashen-faced, despite the beautiful, whispery rondallas played by a Mexican trio. Father Lara, a retired priest who also works in Our Lady, did not mention Hernandez, but told churchgoers that despite the bad times, they must remain faithful to the Church.
"Even if they laugh at us or mock us, we must have faith," Lara said. "Even if we have caused scandal, let this not impede us from following in the way of God."