Father Elizondo, nationally known Notre Dame theology professor, dies

IMAGE: CNS photo/Octavio Duran


SAN ANTONIO (CNS) — Father Virgilio
Elizondo, a nationally known professor of pastoral and Hispanic theology
at the University of Notre Dame and founder of what is today the Mexican
American Catholic College in San Antonio, was found dead in his home the afternoon
of March 14. He was 80.

The Bexar County Medical
Examiner’s Office verified his death late that night. The priest reportedly
died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Father Elizondo was widely
recognized as “the father of U.S. Latino religious thought.” He pursued
scholarly work in Latino theology, evangelization, faith and spirituality, and
culture, was the author of many books. He was rector of San Fernando Cathedral
in San Antonio in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I join the priests of the
Archdiocese of San Antonio as we are deeply saddened and stunned by the news of
the death of Father Virgilio Elizondo on March 14. This is an occasion for
great sorrow, as his death was sudden and unexpected,” San Antonio
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said in a statement released by the archdiocese.

“At this devastatingly sad time
for Father Virgil’s family — especially his sister — as well as his brother
clergy, co-workers and friends, we offer our most profound sympathies,” the
statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them all. I pray for
all those who mourn Father Virgil and for the repose of his soul.”

No details about funeral are arrangements
were released.

In May 2015, Father Elizondo was
named secondarily in a lawsuit filed by a John Doe in Bexar County District
Court in San Antonio. The suit also named former priest Jesus Armando Dominguez
and the San Antonio Archdiocese.

The suit alleged that as a boy,
John Doe was sexually abused from 1980 to 1983 while he was living in an
orphanage and was being mentored by Dominguez, then a student at Assumption
Seminary in San Antonio. John Doe claimed that when he went to report the abuse
to Father Elizondo, the priest kissed and fondled him.

Father Elizondo vigorously
denied the charges in a public statement and in conversations with friends, and
said he was prepared to fight the allegation legally.

A longtime friend and
administrative assistant, Janie Dillard, told the San Antonio Express-News
daily newspaper that the accusation “could never be (true),” and said
Father Elizondo “died of a broken heart.”

Dominguez, who was later
ordained in San Bernardino Diocese in California, disappeared in 2005 amid
criminal charges of sexually molesting a number of boys. He reportedly fled to
Mexico and was never arrested.

A native of San Antonio
and the son of Mexican immigrants, Father Elizondo was ordained a priest for
the Archdiocese of San Antonio in 1963. As a young priest, he worked in
parishes, but in 1965, Archbishop Robert E. Lucey, then head of the archdiocese,
appointed him archdiocesan director of religious education.

He was an advocate for
underpaid and exploited Mexican-American laborers in the Archdiocese of San
Antonio during the early 1970s. Father Elizondo was active in television work
and video productions and is considered the foremost interpreter of U.S. Latino
religion by the national and international media.

As pastor of the San
Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Father Elizondo presided over a Sunday
Spanish Mass that was broadcast to more than 1 million households.

In 1972, he was a
co-founder with then-Archbishop Patrick Flores of the Mexican American Cultural
Center in San Antonio and served as its first president. It was renamed a few
years ago as the Mexican American Catholic College.

He joined the Notre Dame
faculty in 2000. Among his many books are “The Future Is Mestizo,”
“Galilean Journey” and “The Human Quest.”


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