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Journalist-turned-Dominican friar has multifaceted life story

Father Armando Ibanez also a professor, filmmaker, poet

KINGSVILLE, Texas – Armando Ibanez remembers donning a cape on his shoulders when he was boy growing up in the small South Texas town of San Diego.

But he wasn’t playing Superman.

Ibanez said he envisioned a 1946 movie classic.

“I still had a picture of Bing Crosby in ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s,’ he said.

But instead of becoming a priest when he grew up, Ibanez sought out journalism.

Ibanez covered the area he knew best, working for the Alice Echo-News and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times until he received “the calling.”

It came as no surprise to other reporters.

“We knew that he was a pious and religious person,” Manuel Flores, a journalism professor at Texas A&M Kingsville who worked with Ibanez at the Caller-Times, said. “He was an excellent reporter.”

Although reporters must remain objective, Flores said, “Armando was the type of man who feels what he writes and feels for the people he’s talking to.”

Flores said it’s a quality that served Ibanez well when he came across the story of a lifetime in 1988, his last before being ordained as a Dominican friar.  

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In the pile of police reports he routinely checked, Ibanez read about a woman in San Diego.

“The report says she was gang raped by at least 19 men,” Ibanez said.

Ibanez said he and his editors were stunned. The rape victim was a mother of two who had gone to a cockfight with her husband.

He said the multiple convictions that resulted were because only one person -- a 12-year-old boy -- was willing to testify.

Ibanez wrote about the trauma the woman and boy experienced, their persecution by many townspeople and how the church and others in the community offered them support and refuge.

“Then I entered the order. Up to the very last, filing pieces,” Ibanez said. “I still wonder about them.”

Flores said the story became national news. He said with Ibanez as its lead reporter, the newspaper’s coverage earned a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize that year.

But even after Ibanez began the transition as a Dominican friar, he asked, “Where is God in all of this? Where am I in all of this?”

Opening his eyes, Ibanez said he saw the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe that gave him the reassurance he needed.

Ibanez said the timing couldn’t have been better.

He said since his religious superiors knew he had been a journalist, they told him, “The order’s priority is for someone to go into media,” Ibanez said.

Ibanez teaches future journalists and filmmakers at Texas A&M Kingsville.

Flores said students are fortunate to have him as their professor.

Ibanez said he was accepted into the master of fine arts program at the American Film Institute, one of the nation’s premier film schools.

Since then, Ibanez has produced several award-winning documentaries, including films about Hurricane Katrina and the last Dominican friars with a parish in South Texas.

Ibanez said he has several other projects in the works, including one about the late civil rights champion Dr. Hector P. Garcia.

He said his production company, Pluma Pictures, is dedicated to movies about heroes and heroines.

Ibanez also is a published poet. He said poetry serves as another a creative outlet.

He said his life has centered around his love of a story and searching for truth.

Ibanez said his life as a reporter allowed him to see much of the world’s realities.

“I think the priesthood is all about people, being of service to people,” Ibanez said, much like reporters in search of truth. “In that sense, I think these are intersecting lines.”