Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, one of San Antonio’s most accomplished and beloved Catholic priests whose work brought him recognition in Latin America and Europe and an esteemed faculty position at the University of Notre Dame, reportedly died of a self-inflicted gunshot at his home Monday afternoon, according to sources in the Catholic community.
Friends spoke of being devastated and in disbelief as the news made its way through Elizondo’s large circle in the city. Elizondo, 80, a Westside native and the son of Mexican immigrants, became a beacon for Catholics and non-Catholics inspired by his deep appreciation of mestizo history, culture and spirituality. His own roots gave him a grounded understanding as a theologian of what the poor and oppressed throughout Latin America were experiencing under the rule and repression of military dictatorships in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. For Elizondo, liberation theology that swept the continent in those decades was one and the same with his mestizo-rooted theology.
I first met Elizondo in El Salvador while living there during the civil war years. We later became friends when my family moved to San Antonio in 1989. Kenneth Woodward, the longtime religion editor at Newsweek and author of numerous books on Catholicism and faith, told me at the time that Elizondo was one of the most remarkable priests he knew and that I should do whatever it took to get to know him once I arrived in San Antonio.
“Yes, Virgil Elizondo was an important theologian, but he was much more than that: He was a great priest,” Woodward said Monday evening. “Virgil was the face of the Church, and therefore of Christ, to literally thousands, in San Antonio and around the world. Tonight, the whole Catholic world weeps.”
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him …