Rev. Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, Mexican-American professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, usually described as “the father of U.S. Latino religious thought,” was found dead in his home in San Antonio on Monday. He was aged 80.
The professor of pastoral and Hispanic theology at the University of Notre Dame reportedly died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head shortly before 2p.m.
Archbishop of San Antonio, Gustavo Garcia-Siller released a statement paying tribute to the deceased priest saying,
“I join the priests of the Archdiocese of San Antonio as we are deeply saddened and stunned by the news of the death of Fr Virgilio Elizondo on March 14. This is an occasion for great sorrow, as his death was sudden and unexpected.”
“At this devastatingly sad time for Fr 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 Fr Virgil and for the repose of his soul.”
The priest named by Time Magazine as one of our most innovative spiritual leaders was accused in 2015 of sexually abusing a young boy more than 30 years ago in a lawsuit filed against him, the San Antonio archdiocese and a former priest, Jesus Armando Dominguez.
The lawsuit, alleged that John Doe as a young boy was sexually abused by a former priest, Jesus Armando Dominguez, from 1980 to 1983 while he was a student at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio living in an orphanage. John Doe reportedly claimed that when he reported the incident to Rev. Elizondo, he was sexually harassed again.
Fr. Elizondo vehemently denied the allegations in a public statement and vowed to prove his innocence.
A long-term friend and administrative assistant, Janie Dillard, told the San Antonio Express-News daily newspaper that the accusation “could never be [true]”, and said Fr Elizondo “died of a broken heart”.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Fr. Elizondo was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of San Antonio in 1963. During his early years as a priest, Father Elizondo worked in parishes, but his ministry took a more scholarly turn in 1965 when Archbishop Robert E. Lucey appointed him archdiocesan director of religious education.
Father Elizondo became prominent as an advocate for the underpaid and exploited Mexican-American laborers in his archdiocese during the early 1970s. A highly respected scholar and author, Elizondo founded the Mexican American Cultural Center, now the Mexican American Catholic College, a research and training center for pastoral leaders who come from all over the United States and Latin America to study.
He had pursued scholarly work in theology, evangelization, faith and spirituality, culture and public ritual. Among numerous other honors for his scholarship and ministry, he received the Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 1997 considered one of the most prestigious awards for U.S. Catholics.