by Parish Staff
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Peace of the Risen Christ be with you!
My retirement is a bittersweet moment in my life. The day that I got ordained was one that was filled with great joy and excitement. It took a while to sink in that I was actually a priest. It was a long journey. Fifty-nine years ago when I was a junior in high school I left Aransas Pass and all my friends and moved into the Corpus Christi Minor Seminary (now St. John Paul II High School). I was the only one in my class that had never attended a Catholic school before. I had a lot to learn about my Catholic faith. I had a lot to learn about myself as well. It was like I was starting over! New friends to be made — some of these friendships have lasted these 59 years. I was excited and scared at the same time. What frightened me most was having the Jesuit Fathers as teachers. They had and still have a reputation of being great educators. I had a lot to learn.
Each year in the seminary changed and formed me into the man who presented himself to Bishop Drury on May 9, 1970, and asked him to ordain me a priest. I thought that I knew it all on that day and was ready to conquer the world. Boy was I mistaken! The one thing that I did have was a determination to do my best. I had adopted as my personal motto a saying that the band director at Aransas Pass High School put above the band hall door “Only Your Best Is Good Enough.” This is motto that not only got me through the seminary but has worked well in my priestly ministry.
My 49 years in priestly ministry has seen me in a variety of different ministries. I started out as and Assistant Priest in Corpus Christi Cathedral under the guidance of a saintly man, Msgr. Albert Schmitt. Very quickly I found myself serving Bishop Thomas Drury as his master of ceremonies — a job that lasted eight years. In my first eight years I also was the assistant editor of the South Texas Catholic, the Diocesan Director of Religious Education for one year, chairman of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the diocesan vocation director for six years and the administrator of Corpus Christi Minor Seminary for five years. This last job included mowing the lawn, mopping the floors, washing dishes and paying the bills. The only thing that I was not taught in the seminary was how to raise the money to pay the bills and understand the book keeping. The priestly ministry is never dull!
In July of 1978 I volunteered to work in our diocesan mission in Arteaga, Coahuila, Mexico, where I had my first assignment as a pastor and had my name changed to “Don Lorenzo, el Senor Parraco.” My three years in Mexico changed my life forever. The poor people in the villages in the mountains around Arteaga taught me how to be joyful in serving the Lord, even when it meant doing without or almost dying from amoebas. It was there that I experienced the joy of being poor. The poor are the most generous people that I have ever met. What an example of washing feet. I ate food that I did not recognize, rode a donkey, bathed in the cold water of a nearby waterfall, got up on cold mornings only to discover that there was no butane gas to heat the water for a shower which meant unhooking the gas tank, loading it into the truck and getting it filled. Yes the priestly ministry is never dull!
I arrived in Arteaga shedding tears of fear of the unknown to leaving three years later shedding tears of joy and love. While in Mexico, I fell deeply in love with Our Lady of Guadalupe and her Son. Now you know why the image of Mama Lupe appears in every building of this parish. It has been said that I am white on the outside and brown on the inside. I take that as a compliment.
By chance, or by God’s design, when I returned from Mexico, I was named pastor of Our Lady Guadalupe parish here in Corpus Christi. I remember that shortly after arriving at the parish, the parish bookkeeper, Lucy Olmos, told me that we had a zero balance in the checking account. I went over to the church, knelt in front of Our Lady and told her that this parish bears her name and if she wanted it to grow she would have to find a solution to the financial crunch we were in. She did! Maria is such a loving mother to us. After ten years in OLG parish, I got a phone call from Bishop Gracida one afternoon while my hands were lost in bread dough telling me that he wanted me to go to SS. Cyril and Methodius parish. My heart sank. I had fallen in love once again with the people in Our Lady’s parish. Again another tearful goodbye in spite of all the problems including having a gang put a price on my head. As you can tell, they were not successful — I am still here. It’s true, priestly ministry is never dull!
I definitely keep Mama Lupe busy looking after me. I am sure that she loves me! Afterall, she is the one that made it possible for me to walk after spending four years in a wheelchair. If you put your life in her hands she will look after you as well. In fact she already is.
After twenty-one years in priestly ministry I found myself packing up again and moving into the rectory of SSCM. This time was a little different. My own mother was not here to help me. She died of cancer in 1989 just a few hours before I was to witness the marriage of Gilbert and Melissa Juarez. You see my mother and my father had supported me through my seminary years as well as in my priestly ministry. In Mexico, she was known for making apple pies and giving them away to the people there. You see, in the mountain villages I was given apples in the collection instead of money. What a deal!
I arrived here at SSCM in 1991 with the same problem I had in OLG — no money. I inherited a debt of about $500,000 from the remodeling of the church and in back taxes to the diocese. And then there was the school! A lack of money seems to be a problem in every parish I go to. You know that the seminary teaches you nothing about raising money or bookkeeping. Not to worry, I turned to Mama Lupe again as well as to our patron saints, Ss. Cyril and MethodIus. This was a win win combination. We got out of debt only to go back into debt. For a few years I opted to keep the school open and not pay the annual assessment and insurance. A tough decision, but one that was worth it. The parish school has played a vital role in the life of this parish. Oh, did I tell you that the seminary never had a class on how to run and support a parish school. As I write this I find that the school is in another little financial crisis. Mama Lupe I really need your help now! Oh, did I tell you that the priestly ministry is never dull!
Being a pastor of a parish is indeed challenging. As the pastor of SSCM, I not only have to be concerned about the spiritual welfare of our parishioners, but I also have the physical plant to care for. The stress comes from the later. Again I say that the seminary does not and did not prepare a priest to be a financial wizard! If only that had.
The most rewarding and joyful part of being a parish priest is in letting Jesus use me to make Himself present in the Sacraments of the Church. The ten years in the seminary was well worth it just to be able to stand behind the altar and celebrate Mass, even if it was just for one Mass! Being ordained also means being the instrument in the Lord’s hand to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and/or to anoint someone with the Oil of the Sick in another great sacrament. Yet another reason that the ten years in the seminary was worth it! I also find great joy in being able to read the Gospel and preach His word at Mass. It is said that a teacher learns the most in the act of teaching. The same is true in preaching. In preparing a homily, the Holy Spirit opens my eyes to see deeper into what the Lord is saying and challenges me to grow spiritually as I attempt to put that Word into action in my own personal life and help you to do the same. Yes, the priestly ministry is never dull!
In every parish in which I have had the honor of serving, I have striven to build the Christian community, to become a living part of the Body of Christ. In doing so I have gotten to know and love many people. Even though as a priest I cannot marry, I find that I have many children. As a couple passes on their love to their children and give them the very best, I strive to do the same with you, my children. A married couple is to let their love for each other spill over onto their children. A priest is to let his love for Jesus spill over onto his children. It is not always easy to express one’s love for thousands of people. I know that I have not also been the loving priest that I should have been and have hurt or offended people in two countries — Texas and Mexico. I can only say that I am sorry and beg your forgiveness. I do not want to retire with a heavy heart. I love the Church and I love with a special love the people of this parish.
Retirement is going to take a lot of adjustment. I will be starting a new chapter in my life as I continue on my priestly journey towards my heavenly home. I will need all the prayers I can get!!!!
When asked what I am going to do when I retire, I say that I am becoming a “rent-a-priest” or “have collar will travel!” I have already been asked to help in a parish the first weekend of October in order to give the pastor time to take a vacation. I am looking forward to only doing spiritual priestly ministry with no responsibilities of administration.
I have enjoyed every step of the journey that I began with you 28 years ago. I thank you from the bottom of heart for the prayer support that you gave me through all the trials of my 22 surgeries. You will always have a place in my heart.
I love you,