Alpine priests take over pastoral care at Saint Mary’s in Marfa

MARFA – With the departure of Reverend John Paul Madanu from St. Mary’s in Marfa this month, the vacancy in pastoral care is being filled by the neighboring Alpine priests going forward. Father Pablo Matta and Father Victorino Lorezca, both of Our Lady of Peace in Alpine, will serve Marfa, with Matta becoming the parish administrator.

Matta’s role in the Big Bend has grown since he arrived in Alpine in September 2020. “They’re servicing the whole Big Bend region for the foreseeable future,” said a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, which oversees Catholic churches in West Texas. The spokesperson said the Marfa parish would not have its own solely-dedicated priest for at least a year, if not longer.

The former Saint Mary’s administrator, Madanu, came to Marfa’s Catholic church in July of 2017 as parochial vicar and later became the church’s administrator, but this summer was reassigned to El Paso. Now Our Lady of Peace in Alpine, Saint Mary’s in Marathon, Saint Joseph’s in Fort Davis, Saint Mary’s in Marfa and the Sacred Heart Mission in Valentine all fall under the care of Matta and Lorezca, along with deacon Alfonso Calderon who is working toward full ordination and returns to the Big Bend in early August.

For many priests, leaving the big city of El Paso for remote West Texas can be a hard assignment; Matta was grateful. “I spent almost all of my priesthood in El Paso, and El Paso for as good as it is, I’m not a city person,” he said.

Talking about the Marfa assignment, he says, “I’m looking forward to it. I enjoy being out here, I’m from a small town, and I really had requested for a long period of time to be allowed to be transferred here. Primarily here because it is part of my history.”

Having grown up in Pecos, less than 100 miles north of Marfa, the priest already has a leg up getting settled in. “I kind of know the area. As far as the people, through sports, I remember the Marfa Shorthorns. But I also had relatives in Presidio and Ojinaga, so we would pass through Marfa,” he says. While in El Paso, his fellow priests would tease him, asking Matta, “‘What do you do for fun out there?’” he recounts.

But Matta says one thing he appreciates about small town life is the time spent just passing time with relatives and friends. “Many aspects, like the quiet, I enjoy, as far as being in a small town. It’s another pace. So far, since I’ve been here, I’ve enjoyed it.”

Father Matta is comfortable with balancing the various West Texas communities, having overseen four different communities while he was working in El Paso. “Here of course there’s the travel, having your car run correctly – it’s going to be a lot of travel time,” he says. But beyond the mileage, Matta said he’s looking forward to getting settled in and learning more about the Marfa community. “I’m not too worried about it, it just takes time.”

He and Lorezca got started in Marfa early this month, and on Matta’s part, he is eager to incorporate Marfa into their work. While the two priests, along with Calderon, reside at Our Lady of Peace in Alpine, Matta hinted that that will probably change soon.

“I somehow feel like I want to reconnect with Marfa, and in Alpine, for example, I’m getting to see people I haven’t seen in a long time,” Matta says. “I am looking forward to meeting the people and seeing how things have evolved [in Marfa] since my younger years.”