'He was a man of the people:' Parishioners mourn Clayton priest who passed away from COVID-19

CLAYTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- Parishioners at St. Ann Catholic Church in Clayton have been paying their respects to Father Hector Rangel Galvan, who died from COVID-19 complications.

Parishioners have been going to the Parish Center for visitation at all hours since Monday. They have to register because of COVID-19 protocols. Galvan's funeral Mass will be held Tuesday evening at the church.

"It's sad," parishioner Adan Duran said. "It does help you to wake up that the epidemic, it is real."

The priest from Mexico was popular, especially among Latino parishioners who attended his Spanish masses.

"We have a big Hispanic community here," Duran said. "The way he preached, it was really authentic. It was really down to Earth, and you could really understand what he was trying to say."

Father Hugo Esparza is a missionary in Haiti, but he returned to Johnston County for the funeral.

"He was a man of the people," Esparza said. "He was able to relate to people in their brokenness. He was able to relate to people in their struggles. And I think that's what made him very authentic."

Father Peter Grace, of St. Ann's, said they suspect "Father Hector," as he was known, got COVID-19 in December when visiting a sick patient.

"When people called him, he gave himself," Father Grace said. "He would wear a mask and be protected, but it wasn't enough."

Father Grace said the entire church staff got the novel coronavirus. Everyone else recovered, but COVID-19 attacked Father Hector's lungs. He spent time in the hospital and died three days ago.

"We're really sad," Father Grace said. "I think the people really prayed and wanted him to come back. He himself fought to stay alive, so we're really disappointed and sad and yet at the same time proud because he just loved us so much and we loved him so much."

Father Grace was among those giving Father Hector his last rites.

"It's just sad to see anybody, somebody you love and somebody who was such a good example," Father Grace said. "Anointing him was difficult ... everybody was crying."

There is a funeral stream available.
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