Archbishop Clavel, Vicar to Hispanics, Dead at 66

Times Staff Writer

The Most Rev. Tomas A. Clavel, archbishop emeritus of Panama and Vicar to Hispanics in the Diocese of Orange, died Thursday at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange after a heart attack and a stroke Wednesday afternoon. He was 66.

“The death of Archbishop Tomas Clavel is a tremendous loss to the entire Church of Orange, but in a special way to the Hispanic people of this diocese whom he so faithfully served. We join our voices to theirs and say ‘descanse en paz,’ “ said Bishop Norman F. McFarland.

As Archbishop of Panama, Clavel founded a Catholic university in the capital city, hosted a weekly Catholic television program and served as president of the Bishops of Central America. The Panamanian native officiated at the 1968 wedding of Gen. Antonio Noriega, then a “sub-lieutenant of transit.” The same year, Clavel moved to Mexico and then to the United States.

In 1971 Cardinal Timothy Manning, then the Archbishop of Los Angeles, invited him to Orange County, where he was named Vicar to Hispanics in 1978.


Pastoral leader to the county’s estimated 300,000 Latino Catholics (roughly half the Catholic population of Orange County), Clavel was known as a champion of immigrant rights. Every year, he traveled to Tijuana in Baja California with volunteers to deliver food and to celebrate Mass in poor neighborhoods.

He made public service broadcast announcements in Spanish about the legalization process and wrote a column in Spanish in the Diocese of Orange Bulletin.

In the May issue, Clavel wrote about his homeland.

“I always advised my fellow Panamanians that there was danger of a Communist regime in Panama, even though the majority of the people rejected communism. Business people didn’t think there was a danger as long as Americans had military control in the Canal Zone. What I predicted finally is happening. It doesn’t make any difference if Americans are in the Canal Zone. . . .

“The only thing left to do is to pray that Panama will come out of this critical situation, that it will not fall under the Communist orbit from which it will never come out again.”

In his Santa Ana home, Clavel received so many people that “his house was like Grand Central Station for people in need,” said Tom Fuentes, diocese spokesman.

People thought of him “like a saint. Like a father. Tender, caring, loving,” said Juanita Amezquita, one of Clavel’s assistants. “There’s tears everywhere.”

He leaves relatives in Panama and the United States.

Masses will be celebrated Monday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Anne Church in Santa Ana, and Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange. Burial will be in Panama.

Clavel asked that donations be made to the Propagation of the Faith and sent to the Diocese of Orange, 2811 East Villa Real Drive, Orange, Calif. 92667.