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Delfina Haydee Pereda Echeverria, leader in archdiocesan Hispanic council, dies at 99

Delfina Haydee Pereda Echeverria was a self-starter.

In 1962, at age 41, she moved to the United States for the second time, by herself, looking for a new beginning. When presented with two options, California or Maryland, she chose the latter and is remembered as being a bridge-builder for Baltimore’s Hispanic and Latino community, and for her part in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Hispanic Pastoral Council, which included a liturgical role in a papal Mass.

“She wanted to carve her own way; she was a stoic,” remembered Haydee Rodriguez, Pereda’s granddaughter.

Delfina Haydee Pereda Echeverria was a founding member of the Mayor’s Committee on Hispanic Affairs under then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer (right). (Courtesy photo)

Rodriguez was at her grandmother’s side July 4, when she died at Stella Maris in Timonium. Pereda had been a parishioner of St. Patrick in Upper Fells Point and Sacred Heart of Jesus/Sagrado Corazón de Jesús in Highlandtown, where Bishop-designate Bruce Lewandowski, the pastor, will offer a funeral Mass July 11.

Born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, in 1921, Pereda was married to a diplomat, and lived in New York City from 1952 to 1954. She later moved back to Guatemala City to be the director of a secretarial school, Instituto Moderno de Capacitación Comercial.

After her divorce in the early 1960s, Pereda decided it was time for a fresh start. “She saw the U.S. as an opportunity to expand her eagerness to be more,” said Rodriguez.

One year after her arrival in Baltimore, according to a biography prepared by her granddaughter, Pereda founded the Centro Social Hispano Americano (Hispanic American Social Center) for the rising number of Cubans and other Latin Americans settling in Baltimore.

A fierce Catholic, she joined the archdiocesan Hispanic Pastoral Council in the mid-1990s.

“She’s one of those people who gave her life to help the Hispanic community,” said Dr. Ivan Garcia, who worked alongside Pereda on the Hispanic Pastoral Council and served as its president. “She treated everyone, no matter which country they came from, equally.”

Delfina Haydee Pereda Echeverria offers a reading at the October 1995 Mass celebrated by St. John Paul II at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. (Youtube screen shot)

Pereda served as a link between church leadership and the growing Hispanic community. She helped increase the number of Spanish-language Masses offered throughout the archdiocese, and worked closely with the late Mercy Sister Mary Neil Corcoran, former director of what is now the Esperanza Center.

When St. John Paul II celebrated Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in October 1995, Pereda was selected to offer one of the readings.

Five years later, Pereda, who deeply valued her Guatemalan roots, was pivotal in bringing a replica of the Black Christ of Esquipulas to St. Patrick, later relocated to  Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazón. The original Black Christ of Esquipulas is housed in the cathedral basilica of the southeastern town of Esquipulas, Guatemala, a popular pilgrimage destination for Central American Catholics.

Pereda was a founding member of the Mayor’s Committee on Hispanic Affairs during the administration of former Mayor Donald Schaefer, and served on the same committee during the mayoral tenure of Kurt Schmoke, now the president of the University of Baltimore.

“She was an effective voice in bringing to the attention of public officials the growing impact of the Latino residents in our community,” Schmoke said in a statement. “I will miss her smile and gracious manner.”

Delfina Haydee Pereda Echeverria (left) was director of Baltimore’s Hispanic Festival when ethnic festivals were still part of the city’s festival of nations. She is shown with then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke and her granddaughter, Haydee Rodriguez. (Courtesy photo)

Pereda directed Baltimore’s Hispanic Festival for 10 years, and continued to stay active in expressions of Hispanic heritage and pride well into her old age.

“She could never turn down a social gathering,” said Rodriguez, her granddaughter. “She introduced me to the city.”

Although Pereda did not contract COVID-19, Rodriguez and her family attribute her passing to the secondary effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Before Stella Maris had to close its doors to visitors in March for the safety of its residents, at least one person from Pereda’s family would visit her every day. Once in lockdown and without visitors, Pereda’s health began to decline.

She is survived by two sons, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“She leaves a tremendous legacy of acceptance, of having an open heart, of helping the stranger,” said Rodriguez. “If anyone lived her faith, it was my grandmother. It’s a legacy of love.”

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