Bishop Cirilo Flores, shepherd for San Diego and Imperial Counties’ nearly one million Catholic faithful, passed away Saturday afternoon, Sept. 6, at the age of 66.
Flores was born and raised in Corona, California, the third of six children of Armida, a high-school dropout, and Cirilo, an immigrant from Sinaloa, Mexico. When his parents were unable to afford to send him to the Catholic Notre Dame High School in Riverside, the Knights of Columbus–a Catholic fraternal organization–paid his way.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Jesuit-founded Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Flores entered the seminary for a year but left to be a teacher. He then attended Stanford Law School, and after earning his juris doctorate degree, he practiced business-litigation law for 10 years (and became a fourth-degree Knight, the highest rank in the Knights of Columbus).
However, in 1986, Flores returned to the idea of the priesthood, entering St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Orange in 1991, he served at various parishes in Orange County before Pope Benedict XVI made him a bishop in January 2009. In 2012, the pontiff appointed Bishop Flores to serve as Coadjutor Bishop of the neighboring Diocese of San Diego, with Bishop Robert Brom, whose tenure was coming to an end.
In Sept. 2013, Bishop Brom retired, and Flores became the fifth Bishop of San Diego, named for, in Latin, St. Didacus, a Franciscan brother born in Spain before the year 1400. Flores was also the first man of Hispanic descent to hold the post.
In April, Bishop Flores suffered a stroke, and then was undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of prostate cancer. At the time of his death, he was living at Nazareth House, owned and operated by the Catholic order the Sisters of Nazareth.
According to the Los Angeles Times, at his beside were his cousin Dr. Tom Martinez, Monsignor Steven Callahan and members of the Sisters of Nazareth.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that, while Bishop Flores was a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s mandate to force companies and organizations to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients he was also a tireless advocate for poor and disadvantaged.
The article quoted him as saying to a Union-Times correspondent: “We have to foremost take care of the poor, especially in these times of economic stress. We can’t let up on our efforts.”
Bishop Flores’ final tweet (repeated in Spanish) read, “We’re called, like Christ, to be lamps shining on all the dark places of human experience, to bring to bear his Light. (2 Pt 1:19)”
Estamos llamados, como Cristo, a ser lámparas que brillan en todo lugar oscuro de la experiencia humana, para hacer ver su luz.(2 Pe 1,19)
— Bishop C. Flores (@BishopFlores) August 6, 2014
As indicated in the tweet, the line is a quote from the Second Epistle of St. Peter, Jesus’ chief Apostle, believed by Catholics to be the first Bishop of Rome and thereby the first pope.
Funeral plans for Bishop Flores have yet to be announced. An interim administrator will be chosen in the next few weeks to head the diocese until Pope Francis appoints a successor to Flores.
Image: Diocese of Orange