Father Kevin Collins, O.M.I. is not only a cradle Catholic – he’s a cradle Missionary Oblate.
Just a few days after his birth in 1955 in Biloxi, Mississippi Kevin was already being influenced by the Oblates. Members of the Collins family were friends with several Oblate priests and seminarians at the nearby Our Lady of the Snows Scholasticate.
“My mom told me that Fr. John Taylor, O.M.I. was the first person to give me a blessing as a baby,” said Fr. Kevin. “Father Taylor was the rector of the seminary. He eventually became the Bishop of Stockholm, Sweden. So I was in good Oblate hands from the very beginning.”
When he was about seven years old Kevin began serving Mass for the Oblates. As a teenager he attended the Oblates’ St. Anthony Prep Seminary in San Antonio, Texas. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1982.
“My father was very big on vocations. He had gone to the seminary and really enjoyed it, but came to understand his call was to married life,” said Fr. Kevin. “Being the father of eight boys, he encouraged us to have a seminary education.”
One of the characteristics of the Oblates that has always impressed Fr. Kevin is their willingness to stand up for the poor and oppressed, even if that is not the popular thing to do. Today, as Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Houston, Fr. Kevin has become an advocate for a highly emotional issue that affects most of his parishioners – immigration.
“At Immaculate Conception we serve over 3,000 families, and the great majority of them are first generation Spanish-speaking Catholics,” said Fr. Kevin. “They come to Houston because they want to work. They don’t come here for a handout or to take advantage of any government program.”
Father Kevin serves as co-chair of The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), a broad-based coalition designed to give voice to people who are usually excluded from major government decisions. Immigration reform has been a priority of TMO in recent years.
Through TMO Fr. Kevin has mentored numerous high school students in the Houston area, most of them Hispanic. Father Kevin instills in them the message that, through hard work and a good education, they can achieve the American Dream.
“Near the end of the school year we have a dinner, and as I watch the students I wonder if they will fulfill their dream of obtaining a good education, being productive members of society and becoming proud American citizens,” said Fr. Kevin. “I would hate for them to wake up one morning and realize that all of our statements of encouragement and support were just empty words and that the American Dream was not available to them, no matter how hard they had worked.”
In recent years Fr. Kevin has become one of the more prominent Catholic advocates for immigrants in Texas. In 2007 he addressed the state legislature, strongly denouncing proposed laws that would have violated the basic human rights of immigrants. He reminded the legislators that Jesus Christ was a migrant.
“Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected,” Fr. Kevin told the Texas legislature. “We should not be looking for ways to deny them the same rights and future that we afford those of us whose ancestors migrated here long ago.”
Last year Fr. Kevin helped get a law passed in Texas to prevent wage theft. The law closed a loophole that allowed employers to escape prosecution if they had paid employees only a portion of the wages that they actually owed. His efforts on behalf of victims of wage theft garnered national attention, including a story in the New York Times.
As the debate over immigration is sure to intensify in the upcoming election season, Fr. Kevin said people need to put their political preferences aside and remember that immigrants built America into a great nation – and are still doing so today.
On a personal note, he explained that after Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown of Biloxi, it was mostly migrant laborers who came to rebuild his old neighborhood. Migrant workers put a new roof on his brother’s house, and rebuilt his mother’s home.
“In many ways these people and their families became part of my family,” said Fr. Kevin. “We owe them respect and gratitude.”