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Monsignor Pedro Luis Perez, founding pastor of popular Hialeah parish, dead at 85

A viewing will be held Monday for retired Archdiocese of Miami Monsignor Pedro Luis Pérez, the founding pastor of the popular San Lazaro Catholic Church in Hialeah who died Friday. He was 85.

The viewing begins at noon at his beloved parish at 4400 W. 18th Ave. and continues until the start of a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Miami said.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Like Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman, who died in April, Pérez was among a large group of Cuban priests and nuns expelled and sent into exile in 1961 as Fidel Castro cemented his atheist government.

Pérez spent the next 50 years tending to the spiritual needs of Miami’s exile community. Recently, he had helped in the religious celebration in Miami to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery the statue of Our Lady of Charity — Cuba’s patron saint. Pope Benedict XVI visited the island in March for the event.

A copy of the Our Lady of Charity statue was smuggled out of Cuba in 1961 and today still draws exiles to La Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre shrine in Coconut Grove, where Pérez was a faithful caretaker.

In his early exile, Pérez went on to work with the Operation Pedro Pan children at the Cuban Boys Home through 1962 and at the Florida City camp from 1964 to 1965.

Simultaneously, he served as parochial vicar at Little Flower Parish in Coral Gables, St. John the Apostle in Hialeah and St. Francis de Sales in Miami Beach.

In the 1970s, he was appointed administrator of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Miami, and later of St. Cecilia Parish in Hialeah and St. Agatha Parish in Miami.

In January 1982 he became administrator — and later founding pastor — of San Lazaro in Hialeah.

In 2007, he was made a monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI. Two years later, Pérez retired.

“Another great priest has died, an exemplary man of God and of Cuba,” said a posting on the Facebook page of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami.

Burial for Pérez will take place after the funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery at 11411 NW 25th St. in Doral.