When Juan Lulio Blanchard emigrated from the Dominican Republic with his wife and four children in 1990, he left behind his job as a physics instructor at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. There, he’d overseen programs at the university’s School of Science and coordinated pedagogical programs for students.
When he arrived in New York, he became a dishwasher.
“My first job here was cleaning pots in a restaurant,” said Blanchard, DMin. “It was traumatic for me. But I did what I had to do as a father and a husband.”
Over the following decades, Blanchard gradually reestablished himself in academia—but he didn’t stop there. In February, 25 years after restarting his professional life, he achieved his doctorate in ministry on a full scholarship from Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education (GRE).
“I always dreamed of having a doctoral degree and Fordham gave me the opportunity to do that,” Blanchard said.
To get back into the classroom, Blanchard took a job teaching religious education at Christ the King Church in the Bronx, where he and his family attended church. He taught introductory Bible courses, and eventually became the parish organizer and taught community pastoral leadership.
From there, he landed a job with Catholic Charities. He then earned a master’s in religious education at GRE through the Fridays at Fordham program, which offered graduate classes to members of the local Latino community.
Then, in 2004, Edward Cardinal Egan selected Blanchard to direct the New York Archdiocese’s Office of Hispanic Ministry, making Blanchard the very first layperson and first Dominican to serve in the high-level position. Landing the job was no small feat—Blanchard became the point person for all issues concerning the Hispanic community in the second-largest diocese in the country.
“I got my job in the archdiocese because I had a master’s from Fordham,” Blanchard said. “For that reason, I’m grateful to the University.”
His work as director of Hispanic ministry caught the attention of both church and Fordham leadership. In 2008, he received the Papal Medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for distinguished service to the church—the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity by the pope. Two years later, GRE presented Blanchard with the Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, SJ Award for Service to the Hispanic Community.
Overseeing the needs of New York’s Catholic Hispanic community ultimately had an academic upside. Having noticed an increase in Dominican immigration to New York in recent decades, Blanchard focused his doctoral dissertation on the relationship between New York’s Catholic churches and those in the Dominican Republic (DR).
Through interviews with laypeople and clergy in both countries, Blanchard found that individual parishes in New York and in the DR have informally paired and formed strong, ongoing partnerships.
“Churches in New York often provide financial help to churches in the DR, and in turn, Dominican churches send well-prepared lay leaders and clergy to work in New York parishes,” Blanchard said. “The Dominican churches even send priests where there is a shortage.”
In September, Blanchard will return with his wife to the DR to begin teaching religious education at the Catholic University of Santo Domingo.
“My passion is teaching. I have been teaching all my life,” he said.