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Ogden congregation mourns loss of pastor who died of COVID-19

By Brittany Tait, KSL TV | Posted - Jan. 11, 2021 at 11:29 a.m.

OGDEN — It's a time of mourning in the Catholic community after a Utah priest suddenly died of COVID-19. Father Rene Rodillas tested positive on Tuesday and was sent home from the emergency room with oxygen. By Friday, he was found dead in his home.

There are many heavy hearts within the Salt Lake City diocese and beyond.

Father Rene's reach extended from the Philippines, to St. George and up to Ogden.

Sadly, he passed just 2.5 days after his COVID-19 diagnosis.

"I was shocked. I can't believe it. I couldn't talk right away," said Olive Velarde.

Members from the St. James the Just congregation are mourning the loss of their pastor.

"He is a good priest, everybody loves him. He is a caring and kind person," Velarde said.

She spoke to Father Rene on Tuesday. That's the day the pastor went to the ER at Ogden Regional Medical Center due to COVID-19 symptoms.

"He said he had a stomach upset, and then he had a fever and then a cough," said Velarde.

He was admitted, tested positive for COVID-19 and released from the hospital that same same day. He was told to recover at home.

Velarde spoke to Father Rene every day after his diagnosis and brought him food and ginger lemon tea.

On Thursday evening, he told her he felt weak. That was the last time she talked to him.

He is a good priest, everybody loves him. He is a caring and kind person.

–Olive Velarde

Velarde said he tried to call the hospital that night.

"He said, 'I tried to call the hospital, but nobody answered,'" she said. "I said, 'Call them. Call them.'"

On Friday, Velarde reached out to the Father.

"I called a few times in the afternoon and nobody answered."

Friends said Father Rene was found dead later that day.

"He was just a beautiful human being," said Marcie Downs, who met Father Rene when he was administrator of the Saint Olaf Parish in Bountiful.

She said he was loved by all who knew him.

"If they didn't attend a convention, they were always asking, 'Where is Father Rene?' said Downs. "He was like a rockstar. I think of the love of God that just poured from his heart."

Those from his congregations called Father Rene joyous, caring, and always willing to help.

They said many times, he would just start singing during his sermons with his beautiful voice.

At the time of his passing, Father Rene was doing masses two times a day.

He would have turned 59 later this month.

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Brittany Tait


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