Thursday, May 22, 2008

Father Virgil dead at 89


Santa Barbara lost a friend yesterday when Father Virgil Cordano — one of the most widely recognized figures in Santa Barbara — died of what officials say was failing health and a long battle with throat cancer. He was 89.

Cordano, a long-time supporter of Santa Barbara’s annual Fiesta, came to the Mission in 1939.
“Our community is heartbroken,” said Mayor Marty Blum. “He was our conscience and we’re going to miss him a lot. He didn’t care if you were Catholic or not, he would still talk to you.”
Blum said Cordano was the best listener, always willing to hear anyone’s affliction.
“In my life, I try to be open to everyone I encounter,” Cordano told local newspaper columnist Barney Brantingham earlier this week from his hospital bed. “I may politically disagree, but I respect them. I have to promote their true good. All love is sacrificial. What counts is the kind of person you are becoming.”
Blum said she had a lot of respect for Cordano.
“My fondest memory of Fr. Virgil,” Blum said, “was at this one banquet where my husband Joe sat and talked with him, and after an hour and a half, Joe decided to convert to Roman Catholic. Since he’s Jewish, I thought it was pretty incredible.”
Blum also remembered the time she got to dance with Cordano at the Doubletree Hotel.
For years, Cordano hosted the annual Fiesta Pequena, the event that kicks off one of Santa Barbara’s wildest celebrations every year at the Mission.
“Father Virgil held a very special place in the hearts of the Board of Old Spanish Days,” said Old Spanish Days El Presidente Tim Taylor. “He joined the Board in 1963 and was on stage at Fiesta Pequeña for many years holding a leadership role with the committee that produced our opening show.”
Cordano has been ill for some time and died with his family by his side. No funeral arrangements had been made as of last night.
Raised in Sacramento, Cordano has had connections to Santa Barbara since 1939, when he moved here to attend Catholic high school at St. Anthony’s Seminary, a now-shuttered preparatory school for Franciscan priests.
He returned to the area for good in 1950, serving as seminary rector, parochial pastor, professor, author, Mission curator and pastor at the Mission.
Cordano has been a huge presence in the community at Fiesta events and public celebrations.
“He blessed every board meeting and the events he attended with wise words, encouraging all Santa Barbarans to come together in unity,” Taylor said. “He was truly larger than life in this town. He will be missed, but will always be in our hearts.”

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