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Jean Pierre Etcheverry célébrant la messe
A1.2 Chaplain deaths & end of an era?  

Originally published 03-29-2006 by John M. Ysursa.  Neither NABO or the Basque Government is responsible for the following content. For more information, or to get on our email list contact us,

With the recent deaths of Aita Challet & Aita Etcheverry we reflect on the contributions of Basque-American chaplains and the looming reality that soon we will mostly likely not have any more.

 only our third issue, and already sad news.  As a Basque-American community, we have benefited from the contributions made by our Basque chaplains.  Unfortunately, two of these men that made a commitment of several years to minister to us Basque-Americans have passed away:  Fr. Jean Challet, who served as the Basque-American chaplain from 1964-1970, died last month; and now this month's passing of Fr. Jean-Pierre Etcheverry, chaplain from 1986-1989.  Their passing is a cause for both a reflection on the sacrifices of Basque chaplains over the years and the looming reality that soon we will not have any more.  The beginnings of the Catholic ministry to Basque-Americans began early in the 20th century but now it appears that this era of having Basque-American chaplains will soon be coming to end unless there is a last minute change.

In 1910 the Basque community of Idaho petitioned to have a chaplain to minister in the Basque language.  The request was conveyed by the Bishop of Boise to the Bishop of Vitoria-Gasteiz, and in 1911 Boise received father Bernardo Arregui of Tolosa as the first Basque chaplain.  He would be followed by Fathers Aldasoro, Recalde, and Garatea.  Then in 1961, the Diocese of Bayonne also stepped up to provide a chaplain in California.  Aita Jean-Leon Luro was the first to hold the post followed by Jean Chalet, Guillaume Copentipy, Jakes Sallaberremborde, Jean-Pierre Cachenaut, Jean-Pierre Etcheverry, Jean Elizagaray, and Aita Martxel Tillous (the current Basque chaplain). 

Aita Jean Challet served as the chaplain to the Basque American community form 1964 to 1970.  He passed away in February 2006.

Aita Challet was born in 1921, and he was ordained a priest at the age of 25 in his hometown of Hazparne, Lapurdi in 1947.  In 1964 he came to the United States to serve as a chaplain to the extended Basque-American community.  He continued the pioneering work of Aita Jean-Leon Luro who was assigned by the Diocese of Bayonne (Baiona).  That commitment continues.  Based in California, as a chaplain he ministered to the larger Basque-American community.  Many a wedding, funeral, baptism and mass of celebration did he give us for those years.  He was succeeded in by Aita Guillaume Copenttipy.  When he returned to the Basque country, he continued his ministry in the communities of Itsasu and Ziburu until he retired.  He passed away at the age of 84, and was interned in his hometown of Hazperne.  For more information about Aita Challet, visit  http://www.euskalkultura.com/index.php?artiid=4251.   

Aita Jean Pierre Etcheverry left us on March 9, 2006. He was born in Helette, Baxenabarre, became a priest and served as Basque Chaplain in Paris from June 16th, 1976 to May 27th, 1981 and in the United Sates of America from July 9th, 1986 thru July 26th, 1989.  After an extended illness, he passed away at the age of 61.  His funeral mass, in his hometown, was concelebrated by Bishop Moleres of Bayonne and 60 priests, including his Basque chaplain predecessor Aita Jean Pierre Cachenaut, and his successors Aita Elicagaray and Aita Tillous.  During the funeral mass verses were sung from the Basque-American community.  For more information, visit

Jean Pierre Etcheverry, 1945 - 2006. Image Source: Michel Etcheverry.

Aita Jean Pierre Etcheverry, based in San Francisco, served as the chaplain to Basque-Americans from 1986 to 1989.  He passed away in March 2006.

The passing of these two priests is occasion to reflect on their commitment to us over the years.  Now there are certainly some good things about being a priest, but then again much has to be sacrificed to maintain this commitment to ministry.  It's quite clear that most young men in the western world today make their assessment that there are more negatives than positives; I am referring specifically to the low numbers of men who chose today to enter the priesthood.  I'm not throwing stones (biblical reference) at those men who opted not to go into the priesthood because I didn't either.  But the fact remains that much is demanded of a priest including the hard life that one is required to lead.  For example, on Sunday after mass as the congregation files out, everyone gets into a car and goes off to whatever with family and friends.  Did you ever wonder what the priest does after everyone else goes off with others?  After being surrounded by people, now he is alone.  I mention this to give us something to reflect on as we recall the sacrifices made by these two men while they were among us.  Each for several years had to be there for others, but what about the other side of the equation? 

As a Basque-American community we benefited from their sacrifices.  The unique element of their ministry, of course, was the Basque language.   They tended to our temporal and spiritual needs, being there for us in times of sadness and joy; they were there for consultation and support.    Recall that their ministry was also the work of a missionary.  They came to a new land where they had to learn the language and different customs.  They came amongst us to try and make things a little bit better for us.   

It looks like we won't make a century when it comes to having a Basque chaplain.  After numerous efforts, Aita Tillous (our current chaplain) has found that there is no European diocese that is able to spare a Basque chaplain because they don't have enough over there.  Most likely, he will be the last of the line.  Aita Tillous' visa will expire in 2008; that coupled with his pending retirement (note he has been with us now for twelve years) means that soon we will be losing him as well as he dreams about going back to Euskal Herria.  And he's earned it:  he started his priestly ministry as a missionary in Africa for twenty years, and now he has given us twelve years driving from one point to another.  For perspective:  he spends 100 nights a year sleeping in his vehicle as he makes the long treks from one Basque community to another. 

Barring a last minute change of heart by a European Basque diocese, when Aita Tillous completes his mission amongst us, there probably won't be any replacement.  He continues amongst us because he probably feels a sense of duty to continue this ministry because he knows that for some it makes a real difference, and when he goes there will most likely not be another.  He doesn't want to leave us with nothing, so he is exploring the permanent deaconate program to have someone continue the ministry in Euskara.

For many years we were fortunate to have had the likes of Aita Challet and Aita Etcheverry amongst us.  Mil esker zuei eta goian bego izan.

Aita Martxel Tillous is our current--and perhaps last--Basque chaplain.  See the related story at Basque chaplain future

Joseba Etxarri has made more information available at about the passing of Aita Challet at http://www.euskalkultura.com/index.php?artiid=4338

Idoya Urruty informed us that more can be found about the passing of Aita Etcheverry at http://www.euskosare.org/euskal_herria/jean_pierre_etcheverry_priest

Also, you can actually listen to his funeral services via EuskoSare by going to the following link:

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