Padres Asociados para los Derechos Religiosos, Educativos, y Sociales was founded in San Antonio in 1969. Among the founding members were diocesan priests Ralph Ruiz and Henry Casso, Franciscan Manuel Martínez, and Jesuit Edmundo Rodríguez. The organization was formed to serve the Mexican-American people in the Westside of the city, where these priests were working, but it also recognized a growing movement that stressed social awareness among Mexican-American youth. On October 7, 1969, after a period of letter writing, approximately fifty participants arrived in San Antonio for the first meeting, at which the agenda for the first national meeting was produced. On February 2–5, 1970, the men met in Tucson, Arizona, and the organization was thereafter incorporated as Los PADRES. The leadership developed a traveling workshop, the Mobile Team Ministry, entitled "Issue Discernment," and received funding from the Campaign for Human Development.
The Issue Discernment Workshops, part of the organizing effort, proved successful. The group held a second national meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in February 1971. The New Mexican PADRES had strong support from Archbishop James Peter Davis, which extended to "office in the chancery." Davis was not the first non-Hispanic to offer support for the organization. In San Antonio, Texas, the early meetings were hosted by a diocesan priest of Czech heritage, Balthasar Janacek, among others. Also, non-Catholic groups provided funding, including the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization and the Lutheran Church in America. Among the concerns addressed by the Issue Discernment Workshops was an internal one: the membership of the Catholic Church in the United States was one-fourth Hispanic, yet there was not a single Hispanic in its upper hierarchy. The PADRES petitioned the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and received the appointment of an episcopal liaison committee, which was to listen to the concerns the PADRES expressed on behalf of Mexican-American church members. New Mexican priests were successful in helping to get Roberto Sánchez named to succeed Archbishop Davis. Patricio Flores had been named auxiliary bishop for San Antonio in May 1970, and Roberto Sánchez was to be appointed Archbishop of Santa Fe in July 1974. Flores had been one of the founders of PADRES, and as national director in the early 1970s he was one of the group's most outspoken, visible members.
The leadership of PADRES was strongly influenced by theological trends and activities in Latin America, especially liberation theology. The first years of the organization saw a great deal of positive energy and activity; annual meetings were held in different parts of the nation. The group played a key role in settling some labor disputes, founding various grass-roots organizations, and opening up the Catholic hierarchy for Hispanics. Among successful projects was the establishment of the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, founded by Father Virgilio Elizondo, who was a major influence on PADRES through the activities of the center and his theological writings. Additionally, religious women's groups such as Las Hermanas contributed assistance to PADRES projects and helped staff the cultural center. Afterward, however, the national organization, then based in Los Angeles, became relatively inactive.