1922 – 2001 (October 7)
John Blethen was born December 14, 1922 in San Diego, California. He graduated from St. Augustine High School and attended San Diego State University for one year. He then joined the Augustinians making his Novitiate in New Hamburg, New York, and professing his first vows in 1943. He studied theology at Augustinian College in Washington, D.C. and received a Masters Degree from Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood February 2, 1949.
Father Blethen taught physics at St. Augustine High School, San Diego, from 1951 to 1956. He was then commissioned as a Navy chaplain, after which he became associate pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in San Diego, from 1958 to 1960. He served as pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ojai, Calif., from 1961 to 1968, during which time the church building was constructed and dedicated in 1963.
On May 19, 1968, Father Blethen was elected Commissary Provincial of the then Vice-Province of California. Within that year the foundation of the Province of St. Augustine was approved by the General Chapter meeting in Philadelphia, Pa., and he became the first Prior Provincial of the new Province. He ministered at that post until 1974. During his provincialate Fr. John displayed his openness and flexibility by spearheading new directions for the Province in the form of new ministries; many pointed toward helping the poor. One of the most prominent was a four-hundred unit housing project named Villa Nueva, opened in 1969 and located in San Ysidro, Calif., just north of the Mexican border. Fr. Blethen used his bilingual skills when he moved into an apartment with two other Augustinians, living there from 1974 to 1983. During the late 1960′s he led a group in assuming management of a rundown orphanage, Hogar Infantil la Gloria, south of Tijuana, and raised it up from a state of disrepair.
Fr. Blethen became known as the “Padrón” of Villa Nueva, the person who was able to respond to any resident seeking help. In 1984 he moved to the St. Augustine Monastery in San Diego, and later to St. Patrick’s, while continuing to be present at Villa Nueva to celebrate Mass and maintaining an office there.
In the early 1990′s his health began to decline with complications from Parkinson’s Disease, resulting in his death at Nazareth House, San Diego, on October 7, 2001.