Paul Wellman

On Thursday evening, Santa Barbara’s faith community suffered a great loss: Father Virgil Cordano, pastor emeritus at the Santa Barbara Mission, passed away at the age of 89. While The Independent will be running a special tribute to this man who touched the lives of so many, Your Worship is honored to be able to present the thoughts and memories of several of Father Virgil’s colleagues.

Along with friends, family and parishioners, Santa Barbara clergy are deeply saddened by his death, and are pleased to celebrate his life by sharing a few memories of their connection to Father Virgil. The picture that emerges is one of a man with an incisive sense of humor, a true dedication to practicing the universal love and forgiveness his religion preaches, and a willingness to share his faith through action. He will be remembered with love and respect, by the authors of the letters below and by the community at large.

I have deep memories of Father Virgil from the late eighties, when my family attended the children’s mass at the Mission and our two young daughters were involved in the choir there. Father Virgil gave the homily at the children’s mass, which we attended instead of the adult mass because we always preferred hearing Father Virgil’s wonderful sermons to the children.

Sunday after Sunday Father Virgil made the mystery of the world and the importance of being a good person the focus of his talks. He seemed to want the children to think about everyone in the wide world as a significant part of a mysterious and wonderful world. And, unlike at other churches, where the children were being carted off to hear the gospel “in their own words” or “in words they could understand,” Father Virgil’s children’s mass was never a place where the kids were talked down to. He always spoke as a father with a message of hope and joy and love that all of us, from the 2-year-olds to the 60-year-olds, who came just because they so loved those sermons, could appreciate.

In later years, I got to know him as an important member of the interfaith community. There, too, he was a leader because of his clear convictions and the words he found to speak about the things that mattered to us all. He saw the value of interfaith dialogue and the essential love behind all faith traditions. He spoke of interfaith understanding from the perspective of someone who lived it deeply from within his own faith.

I’m not a practicing Catholic any more, and I must admit, I sometimes had my doubts about Father Virgil’s Catholicism. His voice, so willing to express doubts and fears, seemed too universal for the confines of one faith tradition. His heart seemed at peace and in a brotherhood with Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Bah¡’is, Zoroastrians, fellow Christians, atheists, and agnostics. Who knows which category fits him best. All I know is that Father Virgil was a good person and it was my privilege to share the world with him.

– Patty Forgie, Executive Director of the University Religious Center

I remember a time in the ’80s when a group of religious feminists came together to celebrate an interfaith potluck and communion in one woman’s home. She was a Catholic woman and had invited Father Cordano to preside. He was quite at home among us. When he found that I was ordained, he embraced me as his colleague and shared the serving with me, a Protestant woman.

– Rev. Dr. Myrna Tuttle, Visitation Minister of the First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, United Church of Christ

I got to know Father Virgil over the last 14 years as we served on boards together – first for La Casa de Maria and later Hospice of Santa Barbara. In 2002, he came to preach at our church and to share in celebrating communion with us – a great moment and honor I will always treasure.

Like everyone, I was continually blessed by the way in which he witnessed to his conviction that God loves all people, regardless of their belief or tradition. At the same time, he was not impressed by shallow theological reflection or vague thinking. His great, open and embracing heart grew out of a skilled, inquisitive and dedicated mind.

I remember a few years ago greeting him at the beginning of a meeting. “What are you doing for Lent, Father?” I asked. He smiled and said “I’ve decided to give up being around people I don’t like.”

I often asked him what he’d been reading or thinking about recently, because he was always reading and exploring cutting-edge ideas. Once he shared two thoughts that he’d found provocative. One was a report he’d heard of a theologian at the Vatican who had recently affirmed that “Jesus cares more that all people be saved than they be saved through him.” The other was, “Do you know what they say will be the most awesome thing about seeing God? It’s not seeing God’s power or God’s glory – it will be beholding God’s humility.” Those thoughts moved Virgil deeply. His life reflected those truths.

– Rev. Steve Jacobsen, Pastor of Goleta Presbyterian Church

While many clergy members have not yet had the opportunity to formulate their thoughts on Father Virgil’s life, any further letters received will be published here next week, along with Your Worship’s other content. Letters for publication in the paper’s print edition can be sent to


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