ARLINGTON, Texas - Not one, but two priests at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Arlington have tested positive for COVID-19.
On Sunday, church members recognized one of them who lost his battle with the virus.
An Arlington congregation mourned the loss of Father Alejandro Hernandez Garcia, who died Wednesday after being hospitalized in late January due to COVID-19.
The 48-year-old priest was ordained in Mexico and assigned to St. Matthew Catholic Church — which is part of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth — in 2016.
Yeni Hernandez, a church volunteer of 20 years, said she’s never been as close to a priest as she was to Father Hernandez, citing their Mexican backgrounds.
"He was hardworking," she said. "He went to the house of the father."
Looking back, she believes he treated COVID-19 seriously, and strictly enforced protective measures.
"And he said nobody here will be sick," she recalled.
Father Hernandez, however, became ill, and he wasn’t alone.
Father Alejandro Hernandez Garcia
Another priest at St. Matthew had the virus at the same time, but has recovered.
"The eldest pastor is sick, too. He’s come back now, we’re happy for him," churchgoer Jose Torres said. "Anyway, we pray all the time for this pandemic to be over."
Hernandez said she previously felt the impact at home.
"Half of my family was sick," she added.
Now that it’s affected her church family too, the toll weighs even heavier.
"It is not easy, but we will be OK," she said.
There is no occupancy limit for church services set by Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order.
However, the Fort Worth Diocese is operating with 50% as max capacity, saying it has a "higher duty."
FOX 4 asked if any church members have recently tested positive and was told, "no one else notified the diocese that they had COVID, as required."
Father Hernandez’ funeral service is scheduled for Thursday at noon.