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Sat, Dec. 07

After two-year absence,<br>Zagorc returns to church

When the Rev. Frank Zagorc left the Grand Canyon a few years ago for his native Ohio, it didn’t seem probable that he would ever again serve as priest of the El Cristo Rey Catholic Church.

Frank Zagorc returned to Grand Canyon after two years in Ohio. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/GCN)

Then he heard the church was having some problems retaining priests.

"I went to Ohio not expecting I would come back," said Zagorc, whose given name is Francis. "I heard they were having a little trouble getting more permanent help. That’s when I asked to come back here."

Zagorc had served the El Cristo Rey for seven years prior to his departure in July 2000, first coming to Grand Canyon in August 1993.

"I guess I had the seven-year itch, people had seen me too much, heard me too much and I thought maybe I needed a break," Zagorc said about leaving. "But I really enjoy this place."

Zagorc has served as a priest with Holy Cross Fathers, celebrating 40 years of service back in 1998. Through the years, he’s served in various places, including 18 years in Uganda, as well as Ohio, Indiana and California.

Before coming out to Arizona in 1993, he served as chaplain to the Holy Cross Brothers at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio.

"The guy who preceded me here was also a Holy Cross priest," said Zagorc, now in his early 70s. "He called me up saying he heard I wanted to see the Grand Canyon. I never thought it would become a reality."

Zagorc was referring to William O’Connor, who served as priest at El Cristo Rey from 1986-93. When Zagorc came to Grand Canyon, O’Connor took the position at St. Edward’s in Ohio.

Holy Cross Fathers had a "gentlemen’s agreement" for several years with the Diocese of Phoenix to serve the El Cristo Rey with its priests. But when Zagorc left in 2000, there was nobody to take his place.

Over the past two years, the church has seen several priests. Don Felix Perera arrives from the Philippines in August 2000 and stayed for one year. Cyprian Okoronkwo, a visiting priest from Nigeria, followed and stayed a few months. William Condon, a retired Diocesan priest from Richmond, Va., then arrived in November last year and stayed for three months.

In the following months, 11 priests from the Diocese of Phoenix celebrated weekend Masses at El Cristo Rey. Among them was John Faustina, who celebrated the first Mass at Grand Canyon on Easter 1952. There were also visits from a few other priests.

"After I left, they were going through uncertain times with what I almost call ‘rent-a-priests,’" Zagorc said. "That’s when the parishioners took over."

Zagorc calls the emergence of parishioners a blessing because they took charge of the situation. Just last month, the parishioners finished a renovation project to the El Cristo Rey chapel. Zagorc credits Gerry Burke and Pablo Garza for taking charge. Garza oversaw a renovation of the chapel, which can now accommodate about 100 people.

All Masses are currently being held in the chapel. The church serves 40 to 50 local families, along with dozens of tourists.

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