Fr. Stephen Jasso said he knew something was wrong this past February, about two months after retiring as the pastor of All Saints Parish in Fort Worth, Texas.
On June 29, the 85-year-old Franciscan priest learned what exactly was wrong with him: he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Jasso is now asking for prayers as he nears the end of his life.
“This has become a new challenge,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I am asking people to pray with me all the way until the end.”
ALS is a disease that progressively weakens the muscles throughout the body. Most people diagnosed with ALS die within three to five years of their diagnosis. Jasso said he had no idea what ALS even was before he was diagnosed.
Since February, Jasso has lost the use of his left arm and left side, and uses a wheelchair.
While Jasso does not currently celebrate Mass as he is unable to stand, he still hears confessions each day and meets with parishioners to provide spiritual counseling. He also assists with writing references to help recent immigrants with gaining permanent status for themselves or for family members. He said he hopes he will one day be able to celebrate Mass from his wheelchair.
Despite these physical challenges, Jasso has remained steadfast in his faith and in his dedication for the Fort Worth community, telling a reporter that his “love for God and for people is stronger than ever.”
“I’m carrying the cross because I feel — this illness — for some reason, God has permitted it,” he told the Star-Telegram. He has embraced the suffering that comes with his disease, saying that he will “carry it as the Lord carried his cross for me.”
Beloved in his community, parishioners described Jasso to the North Texas Catholic at the time of his retirement as “always present” and “always on call.”
“He’s been an outstanding priest and pastor. He’s helped a lot of people,” one usher for All Saints said. “He’s been a good friend to my family and many others.”
There has been an outpouring of support from the community since the news of his diagnosis. Mayor Betsy Price proclaimed August 7 as “Father Jasso Day” by the City of Fort Worth. Faith leaders from varying religions and denominations were present at a ceremony. In a Facebook post, Price said that the city was “truly blessed to have a servant leader” like Jasso.
Jasso made a name for himself shortly after his arrival in Fort Worth in 1985. At the time, the city was a hotbed of teenage gang violence. Jasso was quick to integrate himself with young people in his parish, and worked alongside the mayor, police chief, and school superintendent to promote peace and education.
Throughout his priesthood, Jasso would continue to place a key emphasis on education.
“Leadership is not just something that happens. It's something you get ready for,” he told NBC’s local Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate last year.
In 2013, Jasso received the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools.
Also an outspoken advocates for immigrants, he met with then-President George W. Bush in 2002 as part of a Hispanic Leadership Summit.
Jasso, one of 15 children, has been a priest for 53 years. Prior to Fort Worth, he was a priest in Peru and Mexico City. He survived the deadly Mexico earthquakes of both 1985 and 2017, telling the North Texas Catholic that despite the existence of natural disasters, “God has not created the world to destroy it, but to bring it to a state of perfection.”