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A Joyful Leader Leaves a Legacy of Hope
The Bible says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). This is the doctrine that Rev. Dr. Samuel Acosta lived by as a servant of God, by which I mean a servant of his community, mainly in Chicago’s Logan Square. Instead of being rigid in his ideas about community, Sam always listened to what his community needed and responded accordingly. When helping young men in prison, for example, he was known to say things like, “They don’t need Bibles; they need jobs.” His flexibility and cheerful disposition earned him the trust of many in the Chicago Latino community, where he came to be known simply as “El Reverendo.” We would often hear this called out to him when walking around the city, as he could not walk a block without someone who he helped running toward him to say, “Hola.” The congregations that he led were extremely diverse, representing Latinos from an array of countries of origin and varying beliefs, which underscores his ability to bring different minds together. He earned countless accolades for his community service through the church, though he never boasted about any of them. In fact, he worked 80 hour weeks, as a minister and psychologist specializing in pastoral family counseling, rarely charging his clients or parishioners for his dedicated care. El Reverendo helped LGBTQ folks face coming out to homophobic parents and friends, he helped Latino refugees who had been tortured by dictators in Latin America, he helped families struggling with abuse, and he encouraged women in the neighborhood to learn to drive and earn their degrees so as to be more independent. This work earned him a commendation by Mayor Richard M. Daley and a Celeste Peña Community Service Award from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Even though it may sound like it, his work in Chicago was not a singular experience. When he moved to San Marcos, Texas, he had a similar effect, participating in events like San Marcos Chamber of Commerce’s Navidad Para Los Niños fundraising event. Somehow, he always renewed his spirit and determined what the will of God was wherever he went. This man, who has people who love him all over the U.S., will be greatly missed. His brief and incredibly incomplete bio follows.
Rev. Dr. Samuel Acosta died at age 82, in North Bergen, New Jersey, on April 28, 2019, at 10:30 p.m. He struggled with complications from Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease for about 10 years before passing. He was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, in 1937, to Luis and Justicia Acosta, and had three sisters, Nohemi, Dorcas, and Mariela, all of whom are still alive. Sam and Yolanda met and married in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1961, where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Theology. They then moved to Sam’s hometown to be with his family. There, he fathered his first two children with Yolanda, sons Luis (his father’s namesake) and Carlos. Sam continued his education at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he earned a Master’s in Theology in 1967. He and Yolanda eventually moved to Chicago in 1969, to start his ministry at First Spanish United Church of Christ in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, where he worked for over 20 years. Daughter Grisel was born in Chicago in 1971, and during this time earned multiple degrees from Loyola University and The University of Chicago Theological Seminary, including his Doctorate in Theology. Sam continued his practice at Ravenswood Presbyterian Church for his remaining days in Chicago. Eventually, he and Yolanda moved to San Marcos, Texas, where he semi-retired, devoting his last working days to Memorial Presbyterian Church. Upon facing his debilitating illness, Sam and Yolanda finally retired in Florida, where they lived near Luis, his wife Suzie, and their daughters Michelle and Madeline. However, as the disease progressed, Sam and Yolanda decided to move to New Jersey to be with Grisel, who could devote more time to their care in their elder years. Sam was happily married to his wife, Yolanda, for 58 years. He also leaves behind Elizabeth, Carlos and Lori’s daughter, and Sam and Yolanda’s first grandchild.