Published June 1, 2006
Father Severino Lopez, CMF, recently retired after 14 years as parochial vicar at Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain where he served the parish’s multicultural community including as director of its Hispanic community. The 88-year-old bilingual priest has also served many other parishes during his 63 years with the Claretian religious order, founded by St. Anthony Claret.
Father Lopez was born in California to Mexican parents and had six siblings, three of whom are still living. He began a rigorous formation program to enter the Claretian order at the age of 13. His priestly journeys have taken the senior priest from one coast of the United States to another, to the Midwest and the South, back to Mexico and off to Guatemala. His willingness to serve in all manner of settings and conditions, in a variety of roles and responsibilities, attests to his flexibility and generosity of heart.
After retiring last fall, he relocated to Chicago in May, where he is celebrating Masses about four times a week at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, where he had served as pastor before coming to the Atlanta Archdiocese. He has extended family living in the area and also plans to conduct weddings and baptisms there.
In a phone interview from Chicago, Father Lopez said that he misses all the good people of Corpus Christi and will continue to keep them in his prayers. Regarding retirement, “I feel that as I approach my 88th birthday, I should slow down a bit and give myself time to smell the roses,” said the Mexican-American priest in an earlier interview.
During his service at Corpus Christi, Father Lopez initiated and oversaw the creation of a rose garden dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe and had a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe sculpted in stone and brought from Degollado, Jalisco, Mexico. At the blessing he dedicated the statue to his late aunt Josefa Parra, a devout Catholic with a devotion to Our Lady, and her companion Coleta Melendez. In December 1917, both women chose to die by fire to preserve their chastity as they fled rapist bandits in Degollado and ran into a building that the bandits had set ablaze.
“Father Sevy” is well known for his generous spirit, friendly smile and approachability. His charismatic presence has been a comfort especially for Hispanic newcomers throughout the archdiocese. He assisted in solidifying the Hispanic communities at St. John Neumann Parish in Lilburn as well as at St. Pius X Parish in Conyers and has always welcomed opportunities to assist Hispanic priests working in remote areas of the archdiocese. Dottie Lauer, a part-time secretary at Corpus Christi, said that he is beloved at her parish and that he did a particularly good job in unifying the Anglo and Spanish-speaking communities. “It’s never been perfect, but it’s as good as it’s ever been and the Spanish-speaking and the Anglo people just love him. He did a nice job in bringing (those communities) together.”
Through the years Father Lopez occasionally wrote articles for The Georgia Bulletin, and wrote his autobiography in 2004 entitled “El Poche: Memoirs of a Mexican-American Padre.” Copies are available through Corpus Christi and through the Claretian Monastery in Oak Park, Ill.
In the book he writes candidly about both the joys and struggles of priesthood. In his late 50s he took a three-year leave of absence where he confronted feelings of confusion, turmoil and spiritual dryness that he had struggled with since his bicultural childhood. But in that searching he then found a new sense of peace and God’s grace as a child of God. “God’s grace … led me to realize that I was a full-fledged child of his and the path he had placed me on at age 13 was the one I was to follow,’’ he writes in “El Poche.”
The thousands who attended his Masses for over 63 years are grateful he followed that path, and Corpus Christi members already miss his uplifting homilies and his ability to connect them with everyday life, according to parish staff.
During the winters he plans to live near his sister in Wildwood, Fla., and to assist at St. Vincent de Paul Parish there. He also has two brothers living in California.
Friends may write Father Severino Lopez at Villa Guadalupe, 3201 E. 91st St., Chicago, IL 60617.