Former Christ the King pastor remembered for his joy, spirit of service
The Rev. Arnel Estrella was known as a priest who was full of joy, who could relate to young people and who preached from the heart.
“He was very open to the Holy Spirit. You could tell the Holy Spirit was speaking right through him,” said Katie Tylinski, director of faith formation for four parishes, including Christ the King Parish in Leechburg.
The Rev. Estrella, whom most people knew as Father Arnel, was assigned to Christ the King as parochial vicar in 2017. Previously, he was parochial vicar at St. Barbara Parish in Harrison City, where Elisa Esasky worked with him.
“He would come over on Friday evenings from the rectory, wearing jeans and a kung fu T-shirt, and help me get ready for the evening (after party),” said Esasky, director of youth and young adult ministry at St. Barbara’s. “He just enjoyed having an opportunity to be with the young people.”
The Rev. Arnel A. Estrella of Leechburg, formerly of the Philippines, died Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at Allegheny General Hospital after a battle with cancer. He was 52 and had been a priest for 25 years.
Born in the Philippines on March 31, 1966, he was a son of Delia (Aldave) Estrella and the late Jose T. Estrella.
He was educated at Holy Rosary Minor and Major Seminary in Naga City, Philippines, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Caceres in 1993. He served as a parochial vicar and parish priest in the Philippines before coming to the Diocese of Greensburg in March 2015.
The Rev. Estrella came to the United States with two other Filipino priests as part of the diocese’s International Priests Program. There currently are 18 international priests serving in the diocese, including 16 from the Philippines and two from India.
The Rev. Estrella was assigned as parochial vicar (assistant pastor) at St. Barbara’s, where he served for two years.
Esasky said the Rev. Estrella assisted her with youth ministry both inside and outside the church. After Friday night Penn-Trafford home football games, he helped set up for the after party, which usually involved food, a DJ and a bonfire.
“Once the kids started to arrive, he would just hang out for a while,” she said.
The Rev. Estrella also assisted with the monthly Foundations of Faith evenings, which provide spiritual formation for families, she said. He celebrated the Mass, heard confessions, did baptisms, officiated at funerals and preached sermons, overcoming cultural and language difference.
“Father Arnel was always good about being personable with people. He shared a lot of stories about his family and life back in the Philippines, and how different it was here,” she said.
Esasky said she last spoke to Rev. Estrella in August. “He loved being a priest. He enjoyed his time being able to serve God’s people,” she said.
When the Rev. Estrella was transferred to Christ the King, he worked with Tylinski on youth ministry. “He was able to speak to them in their language. He was very relatable and easy to talk to,” she said.
Tylinski said people loved his homilies. “For weekday Masses, they were short and to the point. They were very encouraging and right from his heart,” she said.
Monsignor Larry J. Kulick, vicar general for the diocese, said the Rev. Estrella remained optimistic even when he realized his situation was critical and terminal.
“When I asked him if he wanted to return home, if that was possible, he said, ‘No, I want to stay here and continue to serve.’ His desire was to get back to the parishes where he was serving,” Kulick said.
In addition to his father, the Rev. Estrella was preceded in death by a brother and a sister.
He is survived by his mother, five siblings, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Friends may call from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Christ the King Catholic Church, 125 Park Road, Leechburg. An All Souls Mass will be celebrated at 6 p.m. Friday. His body will continue to lie in repose at the church Saturday, where friends may call from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, with Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic presiding.
Rev. Estrella’s body will then be returned to his home country, where a Mass will be celebrated in the Archdiocese of Caceres. Interment will follow at Holy Rosary Major Seminary Cemetery, Naga, Philippines.
Arrangements are being handled by Curran Funeral Home and Cremation Services, Leechburg.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @shuba_trib.