North American Basque Organizations
  A federation of organizations to sustain BASQUE culture


  Izan ziralako, gara, eta garalako izango dira  
"Because they were, we are, and because we are they will be"
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Eguberri eta
Urte Berri On!

Merry Christmas &
Happy New Year!

Feliz Navidad y
Prospero A
ño Nuevo!

Joyeux No
ël et
Bonne Ann




APEZAK: Basque chaplains in America

The era of Basque-American chaplains ended with the passing away of Aita Martxel Tillous (2009), because now no more priests are being sent here from the Basque Country.  For many years we were fortunate to have had the service of these dedicated priests who spent long hours and drove long distances to minister to our various communities. 

Related link:  Basque-English Mass material

This story originally appeared in the Reno festival booklet "Renoko Astenagusia"

Basque people have been traditionally Catholic, and Catholicism is present in much of Basque traditions both in the Old and New World. The fact that Old World Basques are almost all Roman Catholics, as are most of their New World-born descendants, provides an additional difference between the Basques and some other ethnic groups. The Basque language also plays an important role in their religious lives.

According to William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao in Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World in some areas of the West such as Jordan Valley, Oregon, Volta and Fullerton, California, and Elko and Gardnerville, Nevada, there is evidence that Basques were instrumental in erecting the first local Catholic churches.  There is also a persistence and appeal of the practice of importing Old World-Basque clergymen to minister to the Basques of the American West.

It was 1910 when bishop R G. Glorieux of Idaho wrote to the bishop of Vitoria-Gasteiz, in the Basque Country, asking for a Basque priest for his diocese. Father Bernardo Arregui, from Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, arrived in Boise in 1911 to serve the Basques in Idaho.  He was the first priest to arrive in the U.S. with this particular mission: to serve the spiritual needs of the Basques in the Basque language.

After Father Arregui, Father Patxi Aldasoro from Mutiloa, Gipuzkoa, arrived in Boise in 1954 to serve as chaplain for the Basques, which he did for five years. He visited the sheepherders in the mountains, celebrated mass, and heard their confessions. He also served Basques in Boise and other urban areas.

Aita Patxi Aldasoro Iparragirre Rev. Patxi Aldasoro

After Aldasoro, two other priests from the Basque Country arrived in Idaho: Father Santos Recalde from Bizkaia, author of Deunor, Euskal Artzaiak Ameriketan in which he describes some aspects of the Basque life experienced in America, and Father Juan Mari Garatea, who is from Lekeitio, Bizkaia, and the last chaplain. When the sheep industry declined in Idaho, the Basque chaplain appointments also ended.

At the same time, with sponsorship from the diocese of Fresno, California, and the Basque diocese of Baiona, the Golden State became another focal point for the reappearance of Basque chaplains in the States. Father Jean Leon Luro, from Ahatsa, Benafarroa, arrived in California in 1961 to serve the Basques in the surrounding areas. After serving three years, Father Jean Challet, from Hazparne, Lapurdi, took his place until he was replaced six years later in 1970 by Father Guillaume Copentipy, from Milafranga, Lapurdi.

Father Jacques Sallaberremborde, from Altzuruku, Zuberoa, followed him and was the first to relocate to San Francisco, which continues to be the official residence for Basque chaplains. In 1977 Father Jean-Pierre Cachenaut arrived from Iholdi, Benafarroa. Father Cachenaut spent more than eight years in the States and during that time he gained fame as an extraordinary and tireless driver. He was an energetic chaplain who visited every Basque settlement from California to Montana, from New Mexico to Washington state, and even as far east as New York.

In 1986 Father Cachenaut returned to the Basque Country and was then replaced by Father Jean-Pierre Etcheverry from Heleta, Benafarroa. Father Etcheverry returned to the Basque Country in 1989.

After a two-year period without a chaplain, Father Jean Elicagaray, from Buzunaritze, Benafarroa, arrived in San Francisco in 1991 to fill the void. By this time Basque Americans had not only grown accustomed to the Basque chaplains but also cherished having one in the States.

These priests were sorely missed, not only because of the lack of a Basque mass at festivals, or the spiritual guidance they provided, but also because for many they soon became regarded as family members. The absence of the Basque chaplain from 1989 to 1991 did not go unnoticed. After three years, Father Elicagaray went back to his current parish in Donapaleu, Benafarroa.  Father Martxel Tillous from Ezkiula, Zuberoa, replaced him in 1994 as the last Basque chaplain until his death in 2009.

We cannot express enough how much the work of these individuals has meant to all of us. We appreciate not only the spiritual guidance that they have provided, but also their work in the perpetuation of the Basque culture in the United States, and most of all we appreciate very much their friendship.  It has been said that the Basques are people of few words, but when they speak it is from the heart. This being so, we thank you and will never forget the sacrifices you have made for us and the time that you shared with us.

Aita Challet

Cachenaut, Sallaberremborde, Challet & Luro

Aita Guillaume Copentipy

Aita Sallaberremborde

Aita Cachenaut

Aita Elicagaray

Click on Aita Etcheverry's eulogy

Eulogy: Aita Martxel Tillous: Goian Bego -- R.I.P.


Recreate + Educate = Perpetuate is the website of the North American Basque Organizations, Inc. (N.A.B.O.) a federation of organizations for the promotion of Basque culture. Helping to make this website possible is the Basque Autonomous Government of Euskadi.  Please send inquiries to  For links to all our pages on this website click on SITEMAP