Father Luis Olivares, a Biography

Faith Politics and the Origins of the Sanctuary Movement in Los Angeles

By Mario T. García

560 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 25 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6927-4
    Published: February 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4331-1
    Published: October 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4332-8
    Published: August 2018

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, Best Biography Book Award, International Latino Book Awards

This is the amazing untold story of the Los Angeles sanctuary movement's champion, Father Luis Olivares (1934–1993), a Catholic priest and a charismatic, faith-driven leader for social justice. Beginning in 1980 and continuing for most of the decade, hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees made the hazardous journey to the United States, seeking asylum from political repression and violence in their home states. Instead of being welcomed by the "country of immigrants," they were rebuffed by the Reagan administration, which supported the governments from which they fled. To counter this policy, a powerful sanctuary movement rose up to provide safe havens in churches and synagogues for thousands of Central American refugees.

Based on previously unexplored archives and over ninety oral histories, this compelling biography traces the life of a complex and constantly evolving individual, from Olivares’s humble beginnings in San Antonio, Texas, to his close friendship with legendary civil rights leader César Chávez and his historic leadership of the United Neighborhoods Organization and the sanctuary movement.

About the Author

Mario T. García is distinguished professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies and history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of The Latino Generation: Voices of the New America.
For more information about Mario T. García, visit the Author Page.


“Professor García brings us the inspiring story of a liberationist priest who established a sanctuary for the unwanted in the 1980s, a light to shine on the traumatic times we live in today.”

--Rubén Martínez, Loyola Marymount University

“Like any good biography, Father Luis Olivares teaches us not only about the personality of an individual but also demonstrates how a life is woven into a wider tapestry of history and community. . . . A fascinating story.”--American Catholic Studies

"A major contribution. Father Luis Olivares's story is a significant one, and in García’s hands, it is very well told."--Gilberto Hinojosa, University of the Incarnate Word

"Beautifully written and impeccably sourced. With grace and a storyteller's heart, García has done an exceptional job in bringing the incredible story of Father Luis Olivares to life."--Felipe Hinojosa, Texas A&M University

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