DETROIT — Fr. Thomas W. Sepulveda, CSB, the beloved former pastor of the city's oldest parish, Ste. Anne de Detroit, died March 11 at the age of 79.
Fr. Sepulveda, a member of the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) for 59 years, was the last Basilian priest assigned to the historic parish after 125 years of Basilian service. He retired from active ministry in 2012.
Fr. Sepulveda was born in Detroit on June 7, 1944, the son of Mauro Sepulveda and Mary Provencher. He attended Our Lady Gate of Heaven Grade School and Sacred Heart and Visitation high schools in Detroit. He entered the novitiate for the Basilians in Pontiac in 1963 and professed his first vows in 1964.
The future Fr. Sepulveda attended the University of St. Thomas in Houston, then taught for one year at the Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y., and one year at Catholic Central High School in Detroit. He then earned his master of divinity degree from the University of St. Michael College in Toronto in 1973, and was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil on May 11, 1974.
He later earned a master's in theology from St. Mary University in San Antonio in 1979.
Over the course of his 49-year priesthood, Fr. Sepulveda served in parish ministry in Mexico, Texas and Detroit.
While Fr. Sepulveda served as pastor of Ste. Anne de Detroit from 2003-12, he first arrived at the parish in 1973 as a transitional deacon. According to a Michigan Catholic article from 2012, Fr. Sepulveda, who was of Mexican heritage but did not speak Spanish at the time, said it was a transformative experience to serve a Hispanic community — he became fluent in Spanish and became dedicated to serving Hispanic communities.
“I came to understand that my identity as the son of an immigrant Mexican laborer provided me with an open vista filled with life and a full variety of possibilities," Fr. Sepulveda told the congregation at Ste. Anne when he left the parish. "The knowledge you conveyed dramatically changed not only my life, but also the direction which my future priestly ministry would take.
“You shared with me the religiosity, language and customs of our Latin peoples, as well as the particularity of celebrating love of life, God and family," Fr. Sepulveda continued. "You have made me by far a richer person in every way.”
Fr. Leo Reilly, CSB, who served alongside Fr. Sepulveda at Ste. Anne, recalled Fr. Sepulveda as a devoted pastor.
“Our rectory was an open house where people were always welcome,” Fr. Reilly said. “I used to say that we didn't live over the store, we lived in the store. The parishioners, Latinos and Anglos together, took great pride in the beautiful church and filled it with wonderful singing and prayerful liturgies.”
Following his time in Detroit, Fr. Sepulveda spent his remaining years serving in Texas, in the Diocese of Brownsville.
Fr. Sepulveda will be remembered by his Basilian brothers as an excellent teacher and witness who served the Church nobly. However, he was also remembered for his humanity.
“If I would write an icon of Tom, his iconography would include a cigarette in one hand and a can of Tab in the other,” wrote Fr. Norm Panck, CSB. “However, I can’t think of a symbol that could adequately convey his love and dedication to the Basilian community in Mexico and his devotion to Spanish-speaking Catholics in the USA that he served in his later years. That is his legacy.”
Fr. Sepulveda was preceded in death by his parents and two of his sisters. He is survived by one sister, along with many nieces and nephews.
Fr. Sepulveda’s Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Anne Church in Houston on Wednesday, March 15.