PHOENIX — From a butterfly release to folkloric dancing, children’s activities, a lowrider show, mariachis and other entertainment, the ninth annual Dia de los Muertos event at St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix drew a multitude again this year.
It will be the last such event at which the Franciscan Friars of the Santa Barbara Province are in residence at the historic church.
After 127 years serving the St. Mary Parish community, the Franciscans will withdraw from pastoral leadership due to declining priestly vocations and a restructuring of their U.S. provinces. They will continue to be a presence at the Franciscan Renewal Center, Our Lady of the Angels Church (The Casa) in Paradise Valley, and the Old Mission San Xavier del Bac outside Tucson.
Fr. Michael Weldon, rector of St. Mary’s Basilica, has served at the church since 2014. He made his solemn vows for the Franciscans in 1980 and was ordained in 1981. His history with the community extends back even further than that: he graduated from St. Mary’s High School, which once stood near the basilica but was relocated some years ago when the Diocesan Pastoral Center was built.
Since the announcement was made in September that the Franciscans would be leaving St. Mary’s Basilica, Fr. Weldon and the other friars have wrestled with various stages of grief, he said.
“This is historic pastoral move for the order that first entered Arizona with Fray Marcos de Niza in 1538,” Fr. Weldon said. “Without the pastoral commitments of the past generation of U.S. Catholicism, we long to initiate new adventurers and initiatives in the mission of the American church.”
The friars walked in procession with the images of their beloved dead during the Día de Los Muertos event. Their final celebration at the basilica will be in June during the feast of John the Baptist, which also marks the dedication of the original church at Monroe and Third Street in 1881.
“We will pass our Franciscan history into the arms of God on that day. In the meantime, come pray with us,” Fr. Weldon said.
The plan is for St. Mary’s Basilica to be returned to the Diocese of Phoenix during the summer of 2023. Future staffing of the parish has yet to be determined by the diocese.
“In a special way, we keep Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM, the friars of St. Mary’s, the staff, and parishioners in our prayers. We are grateful for their pastoral care of the people of God and for the diligent oversight of this historic place of prayer,” a statement from the Phoenix Diocese reads.