Dr. Alfonso Chiscano Celebrated as ‘Heart’ and ‘Soul’ of San Antonio at San Fernando Cathedral

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Dr. Alfonso Chiscano's portrait is displayed at the front of San Fernando Cathedral.

At precisely 3 p.m. Friday, the bells of the San Fernando Cathedral could be heard pealing over a somber Gaspar Sanz Pavana by guitarist Terry Muska. Nearly 400 mourners listened quietly, having gathered for the funeral Mass of Dr. Alfonso “Chico” Chiscano, a much-honored San Antonio cardiac surgeon and civic fixture who died Aug. 27 at age 81.

Father David Garcia welcomed the family members, members of the Canary Islands Descendants Association (CIDA), dignitaries, friends, and colleagues of Chiscano with the traditional bilingual Catholic Mass greeting, and said, “It is a privilege … to send him home to the Lord, and to give thanks to God for the many ways in which he touched our lives and the lives of so many throughout his wonderful career.”

Those ways include more than 6,000 life-saving heart surgeries throughout his 57-year career in San Antonio, donations to local cultural institutions, trade missions to his homeland of the Canary Islands, and contributions to many projects, including the San Fernando Cathedral restoration, Tricentennial recognition of the original Canary Islanders who established the civic government of San Antonio de Béxar in 1731, and the new Founder’s Monument in Main Plaza, which Chiscano recently helped to rename the Plaza de las Islas Canarias.

His many feats were detailed in a remembrance by his son Todd, who said two words come to mind when he thinks of his father: “heart” and “philosopher.” Chiscano’s philosophies could be summed up in his frequently repeated sayings, which his son and others mentioned as “More to come,” “Keep on truckin’,” “Good morning, America,” “Watch out for the alligators, they will bite your ass if you don’t,” and “Have a team approach to all things in life,” including what Todd called “an indestructible family team.”

Garcia’s gospel reading from Luke recounted a bridging of different cultures between a Roman centurion seeking the healing powers of Jesus for a treasured servant. “We need to … follow the example in this reading, as the way to achieve healing in a very divided and broken world. Alfonso Chiscano lived and breathed his dual ministry of healing the sick and bringing people of different countries together.”

The eulogy was delivered by Henry Cisneros, former mayor and secretary of Housing and Urban Development, his second this week after speaking Thursday at the funeral of former Mayor Lila Cockrell, who died two days after Chiscano.

Alongside a brief history of Spanish colonization, Cisneros recounted the life story of Chiscano, whom he said displayed all the enduring qualities of the “Spanish national character”: courage, tenacity, drive, commitment, discipline, determination, stamina, heartiness, and bravery.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Canary Island descendants dressed in native wear attend the funeral service.

“It’s impossible to capture in a few words the immensity of Dr. Chiscano’s contributions to medicine and San Antonio. Impossible to capture the essence of his indomitable spirit, his prodigious energy, his lively and creative mind, his persuasive skills, his heartfelt passion for everything he did. Chico never stopped working,” Cisneros said.

To the hushed crowd, Cisneros held up an envelope he said he’d received Tuesday, one week after Chiscano’s death. Inside the envelope addressed in Chiscano’s hand was a check intended to help get one last project going, tribute statues to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and wife Tracy Wolff, whom Chiscano lauded for their work on the San Pedro Creek restoration project and many other community accomplishments.

Cisneros called the gesture “Classic Chico,” and closed by saying, “our fortunate city expresses its deep gratitude to the Chiscano family … This son of Las Canarias did his part, and for that, we will be forever grateful.”

Widow Mary Alice, married to Chiscano for 51 years, was present with sons Todd and Steve, daughters Carina Chiscano-Doyle and Kristie Chiscano, and eight grandchildren.  

In addition to his surgical skills, Chiscano was known as a cultural ambassador, working to preserve San Antonio’s ties to Spain and the Canary Islands.

“Dr. Chiscano took it as a personal mission to ensure that the generations that follow us have a deeper understanding of their true heritage,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg after the Mass. “He was persistent, and stubborn, and wonderful all at the same time.”

Nirenberg also praised Chiscano’s work for the Tricentennial Commission. “He was definitely focused on making sure that this was a moment for us to reflect and educate, as much as it was to celebrate, and we see that in his legacy.”

Sherry Dowlatshahi, chief of protocol and head of international relations for the City of San Antonio, was in attendance, hosting new Spanish Consul General Julia Olmo.

“Dr. Chiscano represented this wonderful soul of Spain and San Antonio,” Dowlatshahi said. He took the city out into the world, she said, on his frequent visits abroad, and helped bring the King and Queen of Spain to San Antonio during the Tricentennial. “When we talk about a citizen diplomat, that’s what he was,” she said. “He embodied the values of citizen diplomacy.”

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Dr. Alfonso Chiscano’s widow, Mary Alice, and son Todd listen to Henry Cisneros’ eulogy.

Olmo began her position just three weeks ago, and the funeral was her first official diplomatic activity. She hadn’t had a chance to meet Chiscano, but said, “The first name I heard when I was designated consul in Houston … was Dr. Chiscano.”

On behalf of the Spanish ambassador, Olmo said, “We wanted to convey to the family that all the country, and especially the King and Queen, show their deepest condolences.”

Todd Chiscano invited the entire crowd to a reception at Mi Tierra Cafe following the ceremony.

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