by Buckley Jensen
Jose Prudensio Gonzales arrived in Monticello with his family in March of 1900 at the age of 16. He lived for nearly a century in this small community at the foot of the Blue Mountains.
J.P. made an enormous contribution to the Hispanic Community in Monticello, including the building and running of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on South Main Street.
The year he turned 100 in l989, his youngest son Bill returned to Monticello and took his father on a trip to some of the places where he had worked in the Four Corners country over his long lifetime.
“Dad was as lucid and physically able on his 100th birthday as many men decades his junior,” Bill recalled.
“We were in Telluride, where Dad had worked in the mines, and I suggested that perhaps he would like to move from Monticello and live with one of his children in another place.
“He turned to me with fire in his eyes and said, ‘Monticello is my home. I would never leave!’ I knew by the tone of his voice there was no point in discussing the subject further.”
J. P. Gonzales’ family came to Monticello because there was work here. For centuries, his ancestors had worked with sheep in Spain.
They were among the most knowledgeable and hardworking sheepmen in the world.
Some of the early settlers in San Juan were building large herds of sheep and they were pleased to be able to hire capable men who were willing to spend long periods of time away from their families and be responsible for the valuable herds of animals to which they were entrusted.
Monticello had a larger Hispanic community in the early 1900’s than it does now. As the years went by, many of the descendents of those early families moved to Price, Salt Lake, Ogden and other states to work in other occupations.
But J. P. and his family stayed. He raised nine children. He taught them correct principles. They reflect their father’s integrity and honesty.
Bill said his father told him on many occasions that because they were poor, he didn’t have the money to educate him, but that if he would work hard he would never go hungry. And he was right.
Part of Bill’s doctoral dissertation was written based on some of the books, beliefs and history valued and handed down by his father.
One of the proudest days of J.P.’s life was when he traveled to Salt Lake City and attended the graduation ceremony at the University of Utah as son Bill received his PhD.
Bill spent his career at the University of Utah as a professor of Spanish literature. Part of his doctoral dissertation included the handwritten poetry, history, ballads and prayers handed down over generations and carefully added to by J.P.
The family homesteaded in Indian Creek shortly after they arrived in 1902, where Newspaper State Park is located. J.P. engraved his name and the date high on the left side of the famous “Newspaper Rock,” which is still, a century later, one of the most visible images on the rock.
J.P.’s father, Ramon, died in l902 and J. P. had to let the homestead go to work to support his mother and sister.
He worked many jobs over the years, becoming a foreman for the Somerville and Scorup Cattle Company, a trusted sheepherder for several sheepmen in the area, and he worked in the mines and the uranium mill in Monticello.
J.P.’s devotion to St. Joseph was legendary. One of his dreams was that one day the Catholics in Monticello would be able to build a church to replace the log cabin meeting house they had outgrown.
With the help of the Catholic Church Extension Society, the church building project began. The people could not afford the $35 price tag for a lot in town, so Prudencio and a woman named Ascencion Martinez chose a little lot south of town for the new church.
When it was built in l943 it stood alone in the fields. Today it is surrounded by the growth of the community.
Local people hauled in large rocks which formed the foundation of the Church. They framed and roofed the church and finished it with stucco in the Spanish tradition.
When the church was completed, Bishop James E. Kearney dedicated it and gave the key to J.P.
J.P kept the eucharistic lamp burning day and night for much of the rest of his life. He would get up in the middle of the night to go change it. He rang the church bell every day for prayer.
The teaching of the Catholic faith mostly occurred in the home. They gathered every day at 10 a.m. for the rosary. Prayer was a major part of everyday life in the Catholic homes of Monticello.
His children remember a harvest season when much needed wind for threshing had not occurred for weeks. J.P. prayed fervently to St. Lawrence. During the night the wind came up. He got up and spent the entire night gleaning the wheat by hand with the help of St. Lawrence.
J.P. read the bible every day of his life. Reading the word of God to him was almost like breathing. Wherever he worked or traveled his Bible was his constant companion. His children say he read the bible from cover to cover every year of his adult life.
Mr. Gonzales was also a student of languages. His associations and inclinations led him to become fluent in four languges: Navajo, Ute, Spanish and English.
In the early days in Monticello he was often called to be a court translator for cases involving people who could not speak English.
The Gonzales family deeply loved and respected their Anglo non-catholic neighbors in Monticello. Bill tells the following story:
“When I was in grade-school we all drew names one Christmas and were expected to get a present for the classmate whose name we had drawn. I knew my family had no money for Christmas presents and I worried day and night about it as I heard the other kids talking about the presents they were getting.
“I finally went to my father and told him my problem. He had no money, but he told me to go down to the City Mercantile and talk to Della Jensen about the matter.
“It was a difficult thing for me to do. Mrs. Jensen was so kind. She listened quietly as I poured out my soul to her. She then looked me in the eye and said, ‘Billy, your father is as honest as any man I know. You go ahead and pick any gift you want in the store and when you can, I know you will come in and pay for it.’”
Little Bill picked a doll for the girl whose name he had drawn.
At the Christmas party held in class that year when the girl opened her gift from Bill, she literally screamed and jumped for joy. It was the only doll she had ever had in her life and it was the only present she got that year.
To this day, that experience is one of the most vivid and memorable of Bill’s life. It meant the world to him that the Jensen’s thought so highly of his father and family that they would trust him in his hour of need.
Prudencio Gonzales lived to be 106 years old. He died and was buried in Monticello in l992, after almost a century of service to the Monticello area.
His example and legacy will live on in the lives of his family and the many people his example influenced in life.
He was gentle, kind and good. He lived according the Franciscan tradition. He believed that we are all children of God. His long life of service is an inspiration to all who knew him.