In the past week two extraordinary clergy of the Diocese of Puerto Rico died, one well known throughout the Episcopal Church and in the Communion, the other less known.
The first Episcopalian from Puerto Rico to become Bishop of Puerto Rico, The Rt. Rev. Francisco Reus-Froylan, died on November 19th. He was consecrated by Bishops Arthur C. Lichtenberger, A. Ervine Swift and Charles F. Boynton. Bishop Boynton was third and Bishop Swift fourth bishop of Puerto Rico. Bishop Lichtenberger was Presiding Bishop.
The Living Church has this on Bishop Reus, HERE.
I have a particular fondness for Bishop Reus. He welcomed me into the diocese as a deacon and stood by me through the process of becoming a priest. He supported me as I made my way in the first parish I served, El Buen Pastor in Fajardo, PR. They and he have, I hope, forgiven my first stumbles and starts.
Bishop Reus saw the Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico into its independence from the Episcopal Church in 1979. That was done by mutual consent of the diocese and the General Convention for missionary reasons. Bishop Reus was a strong advocate for Puerto Rico as a culture and people, and a voice for social justice and religious freedom.
The Diocese of Puerto Rico became again part of The Episcopal Church in 2003 under Bishop Alvarez.
The two Puerto Rican bishops, Reus and Alvarez have together covered the last 44 years of the work of the Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico. In that period the Church has grown to include more than 30,000 members in 50 congregations.
In 2006 I was fortunate enough to be able to go with a group of young people from St. Peter's Lewes to Puerto Rico. While there we met with Fr. Hernán Villalba, a priest from Columbia who was vicar of Iglesia de San Pablo Apóstol, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. We joined members of the parish for a work day and came back the following Sunday for the Eucharist. We were very impressed with Fr. Hernan's spirit and work and in his joy in living. His family, particularly his children, were very welcoming to us.
On November 13th he was killed in an automobile accident and his funeral was on the 19th, the date of Bishop Reus' death.
Bringing Fr. Hernan on as a clergyperson in Puerto Rico was again a welcoming and risk taking venture by the Episcopal leadership in Puerto Rico. I doubt that he presented as much of a problem as a young upstart gringo in the mid 60's, but he too was a somewhat unknown entity.
The Diocese of Puerto Rico and its bishops have been a place of new beginnings for many of us and for that, and for the ministry of Bishop Reus at the one end, and Fr. Hernan at the other many of us are grateful.