Monsignor Raul Sanchez, 53, died June 18 after collapsing six days earlier while delivering Mass at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Bakersfield. The pastor, who had been waging a private battle with cancer, suffered a heart attack and several strokes. Friend Maureen Buscher-Dang gathered several memories of Sanchez from parishioners and friends.

Nancy and Chris Romero began attending St. Philip the Apostle Church as young children with their families. The pair met in the church’s high school youth confirmation program.

After Chris proposed to Nancy in 2013, the spent a year in pre-wedding counseling with Monsignor Raul Sanchez.

“Monsignor told us that he admired how we always looked out for one another. He urged us never to lose that quality,” recalled Nancy, noting that Sanchez officiated the couple’s wedding in October 2014 at St. Philip’s.

“Monsignor was like a loving uncle who always looked out for us,” she said. “He was someone we could always turn to for advice or direction, or even just to grab a bite with and share some laughs.”

Sanchez especially enjoyed home-cooked meals, and often dined with Chris and Nancy at their parents’ homes. It was also over a meal that Sonia McClure got to know Sanchez.

For more than five years, McClure has served as a Eucharistic minister in St. Philip’s health-care ministry. She became friends with Sanchez during a lunch with other Eucharistic ministers at the Elephant Bar, one of the priest’s favorite restaurants.

During the lunch, Sanchez was questioned on a variety of topics. He talked about where he grew up and acknowledged that he had been a little wild as a youngster. He shared why and how he became a priest. 

“The way he spoke to us was easy to listen to,” recalled McClure, noting that Sanchez was known for being very humble and down to earth.

In his sermons, he “would mix regular life occurrences in with whatever the message was that Sunday. I would walk out after Mass and say ‘Lord, I get this. I understand.’ I also thought his sense of humor was amazing.”

While Sanchez supported and nurtured thousands of St. Philip’s parishioners, he did not share with them that he was dying of cancer. For more than a year, he struggled with multiple myeloma. Very few people even knew he was sick.

“He was more concerned for his St. Philip’s parishioners. Even his family did not know he had cancer and that is the way he wanted it,” said his friend of more than 40 years, retired Monsignor John Coehlo-Harguindeguy.

“He opened the church doors to all seeking the love of God,” explained Nancy Romero. “It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from; in his eyes, you were always welcome.”