Franciscan Father Alonso de Blas, who split much of his priesthood among St. Mary’s High School, St. Mary’s Basilica and the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, passed away March 6. He was 75.
Fr. de Blas was born Oct. 25, 1939 in Caracas, Venezuela, according to the Franciscan Renewal Center, and was the youngest of three children. He lived across the street from St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix by age 11 where Franciscan influence would shape his vocation.
He attended what was then St. Mary’s elementary and high schools, but finished his education in 1956 at a minor seminary in Santa Barbara, California. The future friar then studied philosophy for four years, received the habit and studied theology for four years before being ordained for the Order of Friars Minor Dec. 19, 1964.
The Diocese of Phoenix was his second assignment. He spent 16 years teaching various levels of Spanish and religion at St. Mary’s High School in the 1970s and 1980s. Word of his passing quickly went viral on the school’s Facebook page with 145 “shares,” a total that jumped to 465 across other social media feeds.
Gloria Anne Luck summed up his public life in her comment on the Facebook page for St. Mary’s High School, “May this man that has spent a lifetime touching the lives of thousands, teaching and baptizing our parents, children and grandchildren, rest in peace with the most high, Father our God. Thank you for your life of gratitude.”
Jodi Humrich reflected on the baptism of her son in 1986 on the Franciscan Renewal Center’s Facebook page. She recalled the semi-private ceremony for a single mom and the baby of an interracial couple. It was a period of public judgment, but Humrich noted Fr. de Blas’ dignity, love and respect for all people.
He spent most of the 1990s teaching the faith to adults at the Franciscan Renewal Center and returned there to teach in retirement in 2009.
“He was a great teacher, who brought joy and life to every classroom in which he taught and to every student he encountered,” said Franciscan Deacon Herve Lemire, director of adult education and retreats at the Franciscan Renewal Center.
Dcn. Lemire, alongside his wife, Marianne, and their extended family, knew Fr. de Blas for over 25 years. He called the priest “a dynamic force at St. Mary’s High School.”
The school inducted him into its Hall of Fame as “Outstanding Franciscan” in 2009. He served as teacher, chaplain, board member, mentor, “and for sure, as everybody’s best friend,” Dcn. Lemire said.
“It was my honor and privilege to have known this great Franciscan Friar Minor who touched more lives, in and out of school, than anyone could ever imagine,” he said.
Lou LaScala, a one-time principal, said in a 2009 tribute video that Fr. de Blas had a rare ability to make kids want to learn something. Bob Kelly, a one-time teacher, put the priest among the top five list of smartest people he had ever met, but said Fr. de Blas was humble about it.
“He could make you think and think deeply and make you laugh at the same time. And that’s a pretty good gift. And he’s got it,” Kelly said in the tribute video.
Fr. de Blas’ fourth and final priestly assignment brought him back to a place he knew well: St. Mary’s Basilica. He served as associate pastor beginning in 2000.
“He had a special love for everybody and made them feel like the most important person in the world,” said Jeff Campbell, a friend and one-time parish manager at St. Mary’s Basilica.
Campbell said the Franciscan priest had an accessible teaching style, one even noticed by non-Catholics at funerals and weddings. He expected people of other faiths and no faith to attend the priest’s funeral March 13 at St. Mary’s Basilica.
“They could sense in him that he was genuine,” Campbell said.
His love for people and teaching gradually brought Fr. de Blas to share his wisdom via the printed word. When Campbell launched Tau publishing in 2002, Fr. de Blas’ books were among his first projects. The priest relished book signings.
Catholics for generations to come can grow closer to Christ through Fr. de Blas’ scriptural reflections for Lent, the Triduum, the journey from Easter to Pentecost and Advent. And what’s a Franciscan priest without a collection of prayers and exhortations on none other than St. Francis and St. Clare?
“You aren’t going to find anyone who loved people the way he did, who would drop everything to go to the hospital to anoint someone,” Campbell said, noting that it didn’t matter if it was the middle of the night or if the priest, himself, wasn’t operating at full strength.
He is survived by his brother, Romualdo de Blas, and his sister, Theresa Mulligan.
The greater community, especially those who knew Franciscan Father Alonso de Blas at St. Mary’s High School, St. Mary’s Basilica and the Franciscan Renewal Center, is invited to celebrate his life March 13 at St. Mary’s Basilica, 231 N. Third St.
- 2 p.m. Visitation
- 2:30 p.m. Rosary
- 5 p.m. Office of the Dead with the friars
- 7 p.m. funeral Mass
- 11 a.m. March 14 inurnment at St. Francis Cemetery, 2033 N. 48th St.