SAN DIEGO — To say Ruperto “Bob” Condes was a volunteer with the Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center would be an understatement.
For 17 years, he was an integral part of its ministry, which consists of extending hospitality and pastoral care on behalf of the Diocese of San Diego to those who make their livelihoods on the world’s oceans.
Were it not for recent health problems — he underwent two emergency brain surgeries last March — and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 88-year-old might still be volunteering today. And the diocese couldn’t let him sail off into retirement without expressing its gratitude.
“I can’t sing the praises of Bob enough,” said Father Jim Boyd, port chaplain, who recalled that Condes not only assisted at the 10th Street Terminal, but essentially oversaw pastoral care at the 24th Street Terminal singlehandedly.
“I always considered Bob the ‘most valuable player’ we had,” shared Joe Bartel, who retired early last year after a decade as director of the Seafarer’s Center. “He was always available to the seafarers.”
Among his duties, Condes would visit the various commercial vessels that dock at the Port of San Diego and arrange for Masses to be celebrated on board by Father Boyd; if Mass was unavailable, he would conduct a Communion service. He also provided seafarers with transportation to and from their ships.
“I would take them to the stores or to the malls, so they could go shopping,” said Condes. “I would get magazines for them to read (and) provide them with calling cards” so that they could call loved ones back home.
Father Boyd said Condes also helped with the Christmas celebrations that were held annually aboard some of the visiting ships in pre-pandemic years, bringing holiday cheer to crew members who were separated from their families for most of the year.
Born in Looc, Romblon, Philippines, Condes served in the U.S. Navy from 1954 through 1976. He subsequently worked for the Navy as a civilian for about 22 years and began volunteering at the Seafarer’s Center in 2004.
“Bob really related so well to the sailors,” said Father Boyd, noting that he shared with them a common cultural background. The majority of those served by the center also are from the Philippines.
Bartel suggested that Condes’ Navy background was also a boon.
Following his two surgeries last year, Condes has finally stepped down from ministry.
“I am now home with my loving family and glad I am still alive,” said Condes, who will turn 89 in March.
“Bob is the kind of guy who always puts the service of others ahead of himself,” said Bartel, identifying his former colleague as “a true example of Christian service.”
Father Boyd said his prayer is that the Seafarer’s Center will attract “more people like Bob,” although he admits this is a tall order.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get somebody to replace Bob.”
The Stella Maris Seafarer’s Center needs volunteers and financial donations. To learn more about how you can assist this ministry, contact Manny Aguilar at (858) 490-8294 or email@example.com.