After seven decades of service in Southeast Texas, Father Luis Urriza – a 100-year-old Roman Catholic priest – is being forced to retire, and return to his home country, Spain.
Urriza is the founder of Cristo Rey Parish in Beaumont, one of the first churches in the area with services in Spanish. He plans to return to Spain at the end of October, even though he doesn’t want to leave, and his parishoners don’t want him to go.
Listen to the interview with Urriza in the audio player above or read the full interview transcript to learn more about how Urriza’s parishioners don’t want him to go and what his plans are once he returns to Spain.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: You recently celebrated your 100th birthday. Congratulations and happy belated birthday! So, can you tell us a little bit about how you first got to Beaumont and started the church there?
Father Urriza: The bishop asked me if I would come here to work in Beaumont. I didn’t know Beaumont, so, I didn’t know anything. Then I began to see what is going on in Beaumont. … I told my superior and he said, “Okay, you are in charge of these people.” So I came to Beaumont. I began mass in 1951 at Cristo Rey.
How many parishioners do you have now?
Urriza: I don’t know; too many. The church was crowded on Sundays before the pandemic.
How and when did you find out that you were going to be called back to Spain?
Urriza: A few days ago. I didn’t know anything about that. The bishop called me and gave me the notice, that’s all. He gave me two weeks.
What was your reaction? What did you say to the Bishop?
Urriza: Well, I don’t know. I can’t say anything about that. I didn’t like it is all I can say.
How have folks in your parish reacted to the news?
Urriza: Really bad. They are doing anything to keep me here. They did a march on Sunday. The people from the church, they had a march to St. Anthony Basilica for the protest.
Do you have any family or friends back in Spain?
Urriza: Yes, I have a brother, 97, and a sister, 95. I want to visit my brother and my sister, especially, because my sister is really sick. I want to see them.
If you had your choice, what would you do?
Urriza: Stay here is my choice. Continue working here in Beaumont, in Cristo Rey, but that is no option now.
What would what would the church say if you told them you wanted to stay here?
Urriza: I feel bad. I don’t want to leave, but I have to leave because they already told me I had nothing to do here.
And so it sounds like you plan to stay obedient to the bishop?
Urriza: Yeah. These are my superiors in Spain. I don’t like it, but … people, they are crying and crying and saying, “Don’t leave, don’t leave!” I have to be obedient, that’s for sure.
What are your plans next?
Urriza: We are going to stay a few days in Port Arthur at Our Lady of Guadalupe. And then on the 29th, I’m going to celebrate the last mass in the same house I said the first one. I said my first mass in 1951.
You’re going to go back to where it all started, it sounds like.