It is sad to report that a friend and great priest who I shared many things in common with has passed on to the Lord.
Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete born January 7, 1941, also called “Mystical Monsignor” passed away at the age of 73 after battling a long illness. Albacete had an interesting life and one that is similar to mine. He was born in Puerto Rico where he grew up atheist. Albacete was a very intelligent man having earned doctoral degrees in Physics and Space Science. Prior to being ordained a priest in 1972, he worked at NASA as a scientist.
As a physicist and scientist at NASA, he was surrounded by atheists and agnostics. One would wonder how Albacete left atheism for Catholicism. While studying in labs the wonders of physics and the universe, he noticed that God was not such a bad idea after all. He saw God in science; in the physics and workings of the universe. This is similar to my own story. In 1968 he read Cardinal Ratzinger’s (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) “Introduction to Christianity.” After reading this amazing book which I have read myself and which aided me in my own conversion, Albacete understood Christianity more. He converted, left his NASA position and felt called to the Catholic priesthood. His colleagues could not understand how he could be a man of science and then believe in a dead man on Sundays. Nevertheless, he continued on with his choice and was ordained.
He earned a master’s degree in Sacred Theology at the Catholic University of America and then a doctorate in Sacred Theology at Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome. He was the president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico for some time and also taught at St. John Paul II Institute for some time. Later on, he taught at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York. His experience with the Hispanic brought him to become an adviser on Hispanic Affairs to the US Bishop’s Conference. He was also a leader in the Communion and Liberation movement founded by Fr. Luigi Giussani.
Monsignor Albacete was a prolific writer. He wrote for Tempi, the New Yorker, as well as the New York Times Magazine. Albacete also authored the book “God at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity” which is a good read and was also in the film “The Human Experience.” Albacete was often on PBS and gave talks on John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” He and John Paul II were friends and met prior to John Paul II becoming the Pope. While in Washington, Albacete was a young priest who was told to drive a Polish bishop (Karol Wojtyla) around time. This is how they got to know each other. Albacete also got to become friends with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI whose book was responsible for further opening his scientific mind to God. When Saint John Paul II visited Cuba in the late 1990’s, Monsignor Albacete accompanied him and even spoke to Fidel Castro who told him that no priest ever spoke to him of Christ in the way Albacete did. This is no surprise. Monsignor Albacete was a very humble man who has a gift of explaining heavy topics in theology and science with ease and simplicity. There was no way you could get confused or lost in his lecture which was always jovial and full of laughter whenever he made a joke or a funny comment. He even had a debate with the late Christopher Hitchens.
I met him years ago at a parish in Manhattan via my uncle who had become a permanent deacon. He gave a talk at the parish and I was delighted to learn that he was an atheist and physicist when he introduced himself. Needless to say, after the talk I was after him like a fan after a pop star-celebrity. His story mirrored my own life’s story and I learned a great deal from him since we both related to each other in that respect. It was physics that led me to God as well, not religious texts or preaching. God used science to bring Albacete, myself and many others to Himself.
Monsignor Albacete will be missed. He was a great priest, funny, intelligent, humble and loved science! May he rest in God’s peace.