Father Allan Figueroa Deck, a Jesuit priest in charge of the Hispanic ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, announced Wednesday that he will leave to return to teaching at a Jesuit school in Berkeley.
"I've been in Orange County nine years and I've liked it a lot, but I was trained for academic work," Deck said.
He will leave in June; no replacement has yet been named.
Deck helped start the ministry for the diocese in 1975. Since then, it has grown to oversee pastoral needs for about 350,000 Latino Catholics. The ministry does not provide direct services to parishioners but complements churches having substantial Spanish-speaking congregations with special programs for Latinos, including workshops on leadership, youth and education.
A 39-year-old Chicano, Deck occupied a pivotal role in the Latino community. While his views on liberalizing the U.S. immigration policy were controversial, he was in a position to influence politicians, community leaders and parishioners.
In a Times article last December, he said he believes the thousands of Mexicans who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in search of economic prosperity are entitled to legal rights because with their cheap labor they have become mainstays for major Southern California businesses.
Deck said he plans to study theology and culture at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome for a year. He then will join the teaching staff at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.