Retired Monsignor Arsenio S. Carrillo, a native Tucsonan who served 40 years at St. Augustine Cathedral, died Wednesday morning at his home on Tucson's northeast side. He was 87.
Carrillo, a former vicar general for the diocese, had been ill, said Steffannie Koeneman, a Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson spokeswoman. She did not have information about his health issues.
Frank Sotomayor, a cousin of Carrillo's, released a statement from the family:
"Our family grieves for the loss of our beloved 'Cheno' while we also celebrate his devoted half-century of service to the Catholic community of Tucson. We are thankful that he is now with our Lord and Savior. We sincerely thank everyone who has expressed condolences for his passing."
"We mourn the loss of one of our finest priests," said Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas. "Not only was he loved by the members of the St. Augustine Cathedral, but of the larger community as well."
"He was a leader known by many....his image on the overpass near downtown is a reflection of his being an exemplar among us. We will miss his warmth of heart, his quick wit and his deep kindness," said Kicanas.
On a Facebook post in Spanish, Santiago Benton, 41, recalled his years as a young altar boy serving with the monsignor. Benton said Carrillo was "a perfect model of a priest and pastor. He radiated love, understanding, patience, tremendous wisdom and his sermons were the most inspirational that I have heard in my life. He made an impact on me and thousands of other persons."
Carrillo was ordained a priest on May 26, 1956, and he was pastor at the cathedral from September 1969 to June 29, 1995. He then served as associate pastor until his official retirement July 1, 2002, said Koeneman.
In a 2006 interview with the Star, he described himself as a "frustrated mariachi," explaining he was looking forward to hearing Mariachi Cobre and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra perform at a concert in the Old Pueblo.
The concert was a celebration of Carrillo's 50th anniversary in the priesthood and a fundraiser to restore the cathedral's placita and hall, which was renamed after Carrillo.
Carrillo said by the age of 12 he knew he wanted to be a priest. He was inspired by "Father Carmelo, a Spaniard who was a very kind, generous person" and the pastor at Holy Family Church when Carrillo was a boy.
"He was a consoling person to people in need, and I wanted to be the same when I grew up," recalled Carrillo, one of seven children born to Guadalupe Sotomayor Carrillo and Federico Carrillo. His father, who suffered from leukemia, supported the family by selling fruits and vegetables throughout Tucson's barrios with the help of his children.
Carrillo said knowing that the cathedral's hall and placita would be renovated and dedicated in his honor made him feel humble and proud. "I take it as gratitude as part of my service at the cathedral. In my time, I have celebrated thousands of baptisms, First Holy Communions, weddings and funerals," he said.
Funeral services are pending.