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    Several years ago, late on a weekend night, I spotted the Rev. David Sánchez at Baxter Avenue Theatres. He was dressed in jeans and a hoodie, no liturgical vestments swimming at his limbs. His distinct gut-deep laugh (huh, huh, huh) usually bounces through pews, so when I heard it I froze, much like a kindergartner who sees her teacher at a grocery store. What is he doing here?

    Since 2006 Sánchez has been the pastor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Butchertown, where I’ve often listened to his sermons, connecting dots between priest and person: his goats and saxophone, his Louisville City FC fandom, his happy hours with friends, his addition of tequila and empanadas to church dinners, his delivering a Mass in Spanish, his involvement in creating a free health clinic at St. Joseph’s former school, his “Padre” nickname, his 970-mile hike across France and Spain to raise money for the church’s aging steeples and his 200 squats per day to prep for that hike, his repeated message to judge no one, no matter their inside or outside. More vivid than the snooze-y priests preserved in my childhood memories. “I have fun because the only way to reach the non-churchgoers is to go to them. And where do you meet them? At the soccer stadium, at the bars. I meet them at the restaurants,” Sánchez says. “There’s a different, younger generation who are far from church. I am in their human experience.”

    You know what happens to a chatty priest on a barstool? Lots of people buy him drinks. “I only drink one,” Sánchez says, laughing. “But the bar makes a lot of money!”

    A native of Puerto Rico, the 50-year-old Sánchez spent a short time in pharmaceutical sales after college. He joined the Army in 1994, trained as a paratrooper and eventually became a chaplain. He was in that role at Fort Bragg in North Carolina when many encouraged him to enter the priesthood. He was ordained in Louisville in 2002 and bounced around parishes until being named pastor at St. Joseph’s. At home, not far from the church, Sánchez lives with three goats — Lent, Amerika, Colony — and a ram named Rosario, a gift from a family after one of their children received their first Holy Communion. The goats help maintain an overgrown lot next door. “They’re such cheerful animals,” he says, adding that Lent often naps on his lap.

    A couple years ago, Sánchez invited a painter to create a mural on church property. Titled “Love has no color,” the faces of Elvis, Madonna, Ray Charles and Prince pop from a cascade of purple, teal and dark-pink streaks. From his office, Sánchez frequently sees folks pause for photos in front of the mural. “I’m so happy to see them there,” he says with a sly smile. “See? They’re coming to church. Just for that, yes, but they’re coming.”

    This originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine as the Portrait. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Mickie Winters, mickiewinters.com

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