The prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother Joseph Esparza, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in San Antonio, TX, Br. Joseph died in Austin, TX, on August 19, 2014. He was in his 40th year as a professed religious in the Congregation.
San Antonio, TX was home to Brother Joe Esparza. As the direct descendant of Gregorio Esparza, a hero of the Battle of the Alamo, San Antonio was in his blood. His father, Reynaldo, was born in San Antonio, and his mother, Nora, was born in Somerset, which is right on Loop 1604 on the southwest side of the “Alamo City.” Joseph Henry, their eldest son, came into the light in San Antonio on October 23, 1951. At their local church, Christ the King, Joe received his primary education, as well as the sacraments of initiation, and an attraction to a vocation in the Church.
Joe began his secondary education at St. John’s Seminary in San Antonio, but after a year, transferred to Holy Cross High School, where he became familiar with the Brothers of Holy Cross. In 1970, after graduating from high school, Joe was admitted to St. Edward’s University where he majored in chemistry as a student of Br. Thomas McCullough. During his freshman and sophomore years, Joe worked on the staff of the library at St. Edward’s.
In January of 1972, Joe was accepted as a candidate for the Brothers of Holy Cross. As such, he was a member of the Mang Hall formation community on the second floor of the Main Building before they moved to St. Joseph Hall that summer. In August of 1973, Joe was received as a novice at Holy Cross Novitiate, Bennington, VT. These were times of experimentation in formation. The candidate program was a year and a half long, the novitiate was two years; promises were made instead of vows. After a year in Bennington, where Rev. Thomas Barrosse was the novice master, Joe returned to St. Edward’s to continue his undergraduate education. In June of 1975, he received his Bachelor of Science degree. Two months later, in San Antonio, Joe made his first promise to live according to the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Then, after being certified to teach chemistry and mathematics in the State of Texas, Joe taught for a semester at Holy Cross School, New Orleans. From 1976-1979, he was assigned to St. Francis High School, Mountain View, CA, where he taught algebra and geometry, and moderated the yearbook. Thinking that, as a Brother, he might be able to expand his role into religious education or campus ministry, he received permission to study theology at the University of Notre Dame for a year and a half, beginning with the football season of 1979. He returned over the next few summers, completing a master’s degree in theology in 1983.
After seven years of renewing his promises annually in such places as St. Joseph Farm, St. Francis High School, the University of Portland, and Columba Hall, Joe came home to San Antonio to pronounce his final vows as a Brother of Holy Cross on October 23, 1982 at Holy Family Church.
During the 1980 academic year, Brother Joseph assisted in campus ministry and taught algebra and freshman religion at Moreau High School, in Hayward, CA. In the fall of 1981, he returned to San Antonio where he applied his considerable talents to a variety of ministries over the next 18 years.
To begin with, he returned to Holy Cross High School as a teacher and as the first graduate of the school to persevere as a Brother. While teaching computer programming there, Joe was appointed as the first Executive Director for Holy Cross Center, newly-established by Brother/Doctor Stanley Culotta to make medical and social services readily available on the West Side of San Antonio. By 1983, the Center absorbed all of Joe’s ministerial efforts as the Executive Director and grant writer. Then, yielding to an enduring attraction to faith education, Joe took the Mini-Pastoral Program at the Mexican-American Cultural Center, and became the Director of Religious Education at Holy Family Church. Brother Joseph’s successful ministry at the parish level made him the winning candidate for the position of Associate Director of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, a role he assumed in 1987, about a month before the papal visit of John Paul II.
Joe invested his creativity, his facility with computers, and his love for the universal and local Church in this ministry. He developed faith education programs and helped train catechists throughout the diocese.
In early 1990, he qualified to participate in the Jeopardy quiz show. Joe was on the popular television program for two games. His takeaways were $2,999, a gelato maker, and an insider’s view of what it takes to produce a television show ‒ all of which were eventually put to good use.
In 1990, Joe returned to parish work in response to an invitation from St. Paul’s Church where he served as a pastoral administrator for four years. In 1994, the Archdiocese contracted Joe as a consultant for adult faith formation with broad responsibilities for assisting parishes to develop life-long religious education programs and integrating these efforts with other programs of the archdiocese. A specific goal was to implement a foundational religious education program called Catholic Adult Faith Enrichment. On camera (with a coffee cup in hand, playing off the acronym C.A.F.E.), Joe interviewed specialists in topics regarding faith, Scripture, the Church, sacraments, morality, and prayer.
Joe also took on special assignments. As a big fan of Fiesta San Antonio, he was delighted when Archbishop Patricio Flores asked him to form a singing group to welcome the King of the Fiesta to the Chancery Office.
Joe was exceptional in his ministry to adults through retreats and parish formation programs. He had a way of drawing theology out of people by illuminating the life experiences they shared, surprising them by what they knew intuitively about God, thus deepening and affirming their faith. Joyful upon witnessing these graced moments, he would even dance around the classroom.
In April of 1999, Joe headed to Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to start a new phase in ministry, collaborating with Father Bob Wiseman in the direction of Family Theater Productions, a division of Holy Cross Family Ministries. In this capacity, Joe oversaw productions and facilitated communications with the main office in Albany, NY. He was able to travel to Ireland, Spain and the Holy Land, and he produced Family Theater’s The Fifth Gospel – The Holy Land. During the year and a half Joe worked with Family Theater, he lived with the Holy Cross community in Sherman Oaks and shared readily from FT’s stock of movies. Family Theatre hosted a memorable Father Moreau Day gathering in 2000, drawing 60 Holy Cross participants from the Los Angeles area.
In late 2000, when Father Will Raymond was named National Director of Family Theatre Productions, Joe transferred across the continent to the new offices of Holy Cross Family Ministries, which had relocated from Albany to Stonehill College, North Easton, MA. He served there through 2010 as a multi-talented utility man who could fill in wherever needed. He brought his C.A.F.E. program with him and adapted it for use in the Father Peyton Family Institute.
In 2011, Brother returned full circle to San Antonio, to facilitate adult faith education at Christ the King Church, where he had been baptized. At this point, health issues were beginning to slow him down, but Joe took on the task of overseeing the newsletter publication for Moreau Province. Supported by his fellow members in the Brother Charles Andersen community, Joe stayed in San Antonio as long as he could, through major surgery and treatments for cancer. As his need for care increased, he accepted a move to the Brother Vincent Pieau Residence in Austin. He passed away peacefully on August 19, 2014, only a few days after entering hospice care there. Members of Joe’s family were able to be present with him at the time of his death.
– Br. Richard Critz, CSC
This is a letter from Mike Esparza, Joe’s youngest brother, to Joe, to be read on the day of his funeral.
I am sorry that Mikey and I could not be there with you today. But I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for all that you have meant to our family and for all that you have taught us over the years.
First and foremost, you have always shown us what it means to have faith in God. From your early days as an altar boy at Christ the King, you displayed your faith and proved to be a model to others, including your brothers—all of whom followed in your footsteps and also became altar boys. At an early age you heard God’s call and entered the seminary. You heard his call again and attended Holy Cross High School, again with all your brothers following in your path. All achieved academic success, like you had—largely because you served as a model for us.
You were always the smart one. When you were a child you read the Golden Book encyclopedias A to Z, and later when Mom invested in a new set of World Book encyclopedias, you followed that up by reading them from cover to cover. When we needed to do research for a school project—we just asked Joe. When we wanted to know what the ten biggest cities in the world were—we just asked Joe. Or when we needed to know what the chemical symbol for Beryllium was—we just asked Joe. You attended St Ed’s, became a Brother, and later got your Master’s in Theology from Notre Dame. Your life was one of achievement. You loved learning because you had an innate curiosity and a knack for remembering details. You even proved this by winning multiple times on Jeopardy—which I still have on video.
You weren’t only smart, you were also a great teacher. You cared about imparting knowledge, whether it was to your brothers and sisters or to your chemistry students when you taught high school, or to your adult religious education students at Christ the King parish, most recently. Learning and teaching go hand in hand, and you were always there to help, because you cared about people and you cared about the truth.
Part of learning was traveling. Even at an early age you loved to travel. As late as two weeks ago you fondly reminisced with Uncle David and your brother Ray about travelling to Canada to see our sister Mary Louise (who we knew as Tita), along with our brother Bobby. You enjoyed the retelling of the tale of the old Pontiac Tempest you drove up there (which broke down at one point) and the ensuing adventures. Years later, when I was a teenager, I recall your taking me to Carlsbad Caverns and Albuquerque to see a friend of yours, who was a Brother of Holy Cross. The ride was long and hot but it was always fun with you, brother.
You also recently reminisced about taking Mom and Dad to Spain with Ray and Bob, to see the homeland. After telling me the entire history of the Esparza family in Spain, you said you wanted to show it to me next summer—to show me Esparza Castle. You said you wanted that for your 40th anniversary as a Brother. I wish we could take that trip, Joe. I want to thank you Joe, for caring about our history. You took up the mantle from our Dad, who was always the family historian. Thank you for your lessons.
You also had an enduring love of music. You grew up on the Beatles and Peter, Paul and Mary. And later, you developed a love of classical music and opera. You would often break out singing operatic arias, which I never understood or appreciated. So now, as I’m in my 50s and listen to classical music and even opera, I realize that as far as taste in music was concerned, you were right and I was wrong. You also were the only one of the siblings who had any appreciable musical talent, playing the guitar and singing, whether it was arias or songs at church. So, not only did you get all the brains in the family, you also got the talent.
And at this point, all these lessons come together. In the last week that I was with you, you proved strong in spirit, and strong in faith. In that last week it was great being with you. You were the teacher again—you taught us what a life of faith and caring for others brings. You taught us about being the good traveler—about taking the final trip we must all take from this earth. You taught us about walking with Christ. As you leave us to join our parents and sister, I want to thank you again brother.
We will love you forever.
– Mike Esparza
Bro. Joe Esparza was Holy Cross educated, having graduated from Holy Cross High School in San Antonio, St. Edward’s University, and the University of Notre Dame. And because of this, he became an excellent Holy Cross educator. Joe was a very gifted individual who had an extensive, diverse list of positions that he held in ministry. He was a high school teacher in several of our schools and was the Executive Director of the Holy Cross Center in San Antonio. He worked at Holy Cross Family Theater in Hollywood, was an Associate Director of Religious Education, and a consultant at the Archdiocese of San Antonio, during which time he hosted a television show on Catholic Television. Joe held several positions at several of the parishes in San Antonio as well. He ministered at Holy Cross Family Ministries for a number of years, working primarily with adult religious education. He returned to his home parish of Christ the King in San Antonio to be on the team for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Joe was very gifted and creative in working with adults in their faith formation. You could fine none better.
Joe was extremely intelligent. He was the editor of the Moreau Province News for awhile and Bro. Leo’s editor and proofreader of Leo’s papers for his PhD classes. And Joe had a great memory. He would remind me about things my parents had said or done, that I had long ago forgotten.
The Holy Cross Religious and his family were very proud of our Bro. Joe for sharing his intelligence and memory, by appearing on two episodes of the TV game show Jeopardy. His favorite question on the show was: What is the name of the river in South Bend, Indiana? The St. Joseph River! That was a no-brainer for Joe!
Joe knew San Antonio and its history well. He was always a gracious tour guide of the Missions and other sites to our visitors from out of town. He followed in his father’s footsteps, who used to do the same for our out-of-town guests. Joe was very close to and loved his family, both his present family and his ancestral family. He was rightfully proud to be a descendent of Gregorio Esparza, one of the defenders of the Alamo. And as Bro. Roger tells it, on the way to Mass in the morning, Joe would point out all of the places his family frequented when growing up. He knew San Antonio and its history backwards and forwards.
The image of Joe that I remember most is his reading the newspaper in the morning, while listening to classical music. Joe would give his daily editorial on the current events of the day. Joe loved to read, he loved music, and he loved his tacos. Often after coffee and the newspaper, he would join his good friend Peter for some breakfast tacos at any number of their favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurants.
Joe was very hospitable to guests at our house. Several times a year, we hosted student groups from Kings College, Notre Dame West Haven, and Holy Cross School in New Orleans. Joe would always greet them, welcome them, and entertain them with San Antonio history at the breakfast table. Gail Belucci, the campus minister of Notre Dame West Haven, in an email to me after hearing of Joe’s passing, said it best: “I’ll remember Bro. Joe as a welcoming presence – kind and faithful – in all our visits to the Br. Charles Andersen Community. And, he challenged me to eat in places I’d have otherwise passed right by! His love of history and sense of self and family were great lessons. I will always remember him with joy – may he walk now among the saints.”
As Gail said, Joe, may you walk now among the saints. We love you, we miss you, may you rest in peace.
– Bro. Mike Winslow, CSC
Last evening many of us were together sharing stories and remembrances of the life of Joe from ‘both sides of the family’. Today we had the same – thank you Br. Michael for your reflections about Joseph, as our Brother in Holy Cross, and thank you David for presenting Michael’s reflections about Joe, our brother, uncle, great uncle.
This sharing of reflections and experiences about Joe – the Holy Cross Brother, and Joe as ‘Uncle Joe’ – are memories about the past, shared here, together, in the present. My hope is that as we share those memories, a mixture of happy memories with the sadness of the present, we will be consoling and supporting to each other in our sadness. That sense of support for each other is especially present here in our Eucharistic celebration, since we celebrate the active presence of a loving God, who died for us and consoles us through Jesus.
On behalf of the Brothers, priests and sisters of Holy Cross, I want to express how happy we are that all of you, the family of Joe, are able to be with us today. As you go back home, please extend to the rest of the family, the assurance that Holy Cross is with you at this time – that you are in our prayers.
During the recent months, the Holy Cross community at Br. Charles Andersen House in San Antonio took great care of Joe as he dealt with surgery and chemotherapy. Thank you to Brothers Michael Winsow, Roger Croteau, and Leo Pereira, and to Fr. Joe Moyer for being present to Joe during a most difficult time. I thank also Br. Stanley Culotta for his advice and help in recent weeks.
Joe moved to Br. Vincent Pieau Residence recently on short notice and I thank Debbie Summers for making the transition as smooth as possible. Br. Harold Ehlinger, as always, just stepped right in and made all the arrangements for Joe to receive the medical and pastoral care that he needed. Thank you, Harold and thank you Mike, as Harold’s assistant. Thank you both for overseeing the pastoral care of Joe.
Thank you to our main celebrant, Fr. Peter Walsh; thanks to Fr. John Phalen for your reflective homily, and thanks to Fr. Paul Ybarra and Fr. Frank Zlotkowski, who were able to concelebrate today.
Because the Chapel at St. Edward’s University is currently under renovation, we are here today. But there is no difference between being at SEU or at St. Ignatius, it’s just more family! Thank you to Fr. Bill Wack and the staff here at the parish who have been so accommodating and helpful.
After I became provincial, about two years ago, I asked Joe if he was willing to take on a new ministry. It is the last one listed on the back of his card – to be the Editor of a new publication for the province. Joe definitely had the experience and skills. At that time, he was dealing with some medical difficulties and I wasn’t sure he would accept it. But he did so – and did so quite willingly. As was mentioned by others last night – Joe was always willing to take on challenges.
The work became more difficult as his health declined and as graciously as he took on the challenge, with equal grace, he stepped down. That same experience of graciously accepting whatever it was that the Lord was calling him to, in the midst of declining health, occurred again recently. A few weeks ago, I went to San Antonio to talk to Joe about moving to Austin where it would be easier to care for him. He loves San Antonio and I expected resistance. But again, quite graciously, he acknowledged that the need of the community to care for him was more important than what he wanted.
That sense of graciousness, of openness, of acceptance, I believe, is a clear sign to all of us of Joe’s awareness of a loving God, who cared so deeply and unconditionally for him. That stance only comes from a life of prayer which was lived out in faithful service to the Lord and the Church as a vowed religious.
As Joe joins his parents, Reynaldo and Nora, other family members and friends, and confreres in Holy Cross, our simple prayer is – may our dear Joe rest in peace.