UPDATE: A Memorial Mass in honor of Reverend Edward Joseph Penchi will be held Tuesday, February 23, 2016, 11:00 am in Christ the King Chapel at Holy Cross Diocesan Center in La Crosse. The Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan will be the Main Celebrant and Reverend R. John Swing will be the Homilist. A luncheon will be held immediately following the Mass in the Refectory at the Diocesan Center.
The Reverend Edward Joseph Penchi, at the age of 85, and a priest for 59 years, died on Sunday, January 31, 2016 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The Mass of Christian Burial was held on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at Holy Cross Parish in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Burial was at the Missions Cemetery on the edge of the city of Santa Cruz.
Father Penchi was preceded in death by his brother Charles, his parents, Thomas and Laura, his sisters Theresa (Fred) Malin, Marie Louise (Richard) Kimmet. He is survived by his sister, Sister Loretta, FSPA.
THE REVEREND EDWARD JOSEPH PENCHI
Father Edward Penchi, at the age of 85 and a priest for 59 years, died on Sunday, January 31, 2016 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Edward Joseph Penchi was born on July 13, 1930 in Genoa, Wisconsin, to Thomas and Laura (nee Doucet) Penchi. His elementary education was at Saint Charles Elementary School in Genoa and he attended Aquinas High School in La Crosse. As a seminarian he graduated from Loras College in Dubuque from St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore. Father Penchi was ordained a priest on May 19, 1956 at Holy Cross Seminary by Bishop John P. Treacy.
Father Penchi’s first assignment was as assistant at Saint Vincent de Paul Parish in Wisconsin Rapids. On February 21, 1957, he was appointed assistant to Father Albert P. Roemer, Director of the Brothers of Saint Pius X. On June 8, 1961 he was appointed full time teacher at Columbus High School in Marshfield with residence at Our Lady of Peace Parish. On June 19, 1963 Father Penchi was given a three year assignment at Santa Cruz in Bolivia under the direction of Father Joseph Walijewski. In August of 1966 he returned for a few months to assist at Immaculate Conception in Eau Claire and take a course in Madison. In October 1966 he returned to the mission of Santa Cruz. On June 11, 1980 he was assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in the pastoral care of the Cuban refugees at Fort McCoy. The camp closed at the end of October and Father Penchi continued to work with the resettlement program until he returned to Santa Cruz in Bolivia in 1981. On July 1, 2000, Father Penchi was granted status of senior priest, while continuing to live and serve at the parish of Santa Cruz. In addition to his other pastoral work, Father Penchi was the director of the local Pro-Life Radio Program and served in that role until his death.
Father Penchi was preceded in death by his brother Charles, his parents, his sisters Theresa (Fred) Malin, Marie Louise (Richard) Kimmet. He is survived by his sister, Sister Lorett FSPA.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 3:00 p.m. Bolivia Time (1 p.m. Central Standard Time) on Tuesday, February 2, 2016, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, at Holy Cross Parish in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The Most Reverend Sergio Alfredo Gualberti Calandrina, Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, will be the main celebrant and Most Reverend Robert H. Flock, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cochabamba, Bolivia, will be the homilist. In addition to numerous concelebrants of the Archdiocese of Santa Cruz, Father Keith J. Kitzhaber, associate pastor of Holy Cross Parish and Father John R. Swing, former missionary from the Diocese of La Crosse will be present to concelebrate. Burial will be follow at The Missions Cemetery on the edge of the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Prayers and visitation began early on Monday, February 1 and continued all day with a Vigil Mass offered by Bishop Estanislao Dowlaszewicz at 7 o’clock in the evening. Other prayers and visitation continued throughout the night until the time of the Funeral Mass on Tuesday.
Fr. Eduardo Penchi Homily
By Father John Swing
February 23, 2016
Bishop Callahan, Sister Loretta, brother priests, Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, family and friends of Father Ed, welcome. I would like to specifically name the priests that worked with Fr. Ed throughout the years. Padre Jose Walijewski, P. Luis Wozniak, P Emmet Faber, P. Bob Pedretti, P. Tom Donaldson, myself, Bishop Robert Flock, Msgr Joe Hirsch, and P. Kieth Ktzhaber, band of brothers all. Along with the priests was the powerful presence of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. They are; sisters Guadalupe Soria, Philomena Neenan, Lou Anne Willette, Sulpice Kortendick, Clarissa Smith, Joaquin Bazan, Helen Marie Raycraft, +Rosaleen Hanley, Rosemary Huddleston, Emily Empen, Theresa Auad, Maria Ann Stelmach, Helen Glynn and Cristina Feagan. God bless you all especially at this sacred moment when we all gather together to honor, remember and pray for Fr. Eduardo and for those who love him.
Bishop Flock, in his words given in Fr. Ed’s funeral homily three weeks ago in Santa Cruz said; “In order to be a good priest, one has to associate himself with a better priest and I have had the grace to be with Padre Eduardo.” These sentiments are echoed in the thoughts and minds of everyone who has ever had the privilege to live and work with Fr. Ed.
I am so proud of our Diocese and our bishops who stayed the course for 60 years in Santa Cruz. From Bishops Tracey to Callahan reaching out to Santa Cruz and in return, all of us receiving untold blessings in reverse mission. We have all been deeply enriched by the vitality of La Parroquia de La Santa Cruz.
Padre Eduardo was there 53 years, arriving on July 13, 1963, on the occasion of Ed’s 33rd birthday. Through it all Padre Eduardo has been the thread, the glue, the steadfast presence which bound it all together.
Bishop Callahan sent me to Santa Cruz to represent him and our Diocese at the Mass in Hope of Resurrection for Padre Eduardo. I extended Bishop Callahan’s sincerest condolences and expression of love to the parishioners of Santa Cruz Parish and assured them that Bishop Callahan, himself would be coming in the next week.
I arrived in Santa Cruz about 24 hours after Fr. Ed’s death. The immigration authorities require some sort of documentation regarding the purpose of one’s visit. Of course, because of the short time, I didn’t have any. Sensing a problem, the woman at the desk motioned for two security officers. Two big uniformed officers stood one on her right and the other on her left. They began to quiz me. I explained that my brother priest, Padre Eduardo, died last night and I am here for his funeral. Suddenly the agent looked at me and said, “I know Padre Eduardo, he is a good friend of my family.” She took her rubber stamp and slammed it down on my passport. End of discussion. She said, Welcome to Santa Cruz. During the whole encounter she did not show a hint of a smile but when she realized who we were talking about, her whole demeanor changed, as if she were standing on holy ground. The two big guys were smiling.
Friends, that woman was the face of Santa Cruz. How many thousands of babies baptized, anointings, marriages, and family life ministries were there where Padre Eduardo profoundly, deeply touched hearts and moved hungry souls.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Is 61:1
One of the outstanding characteristics of the ministry of Fr. Ed was his patient, quiet, listening style which brought people together in team ministry. How do you minister to a parish of 60,000 people? It is done through leadership formation and the empowering and inspiring of staff and parishioners.
One day when the gringo staff, priests and sisters were having dinner together, Fr. Tom Donaldson pounded his fist on the table and said, Eduardo, you are altogether too boisterous. All this shouting and yelling of yours has got to stop. Ed, with his elfin smile quietly replied, yes, there is altogether too much noise in the world.
Fr. Ed was physically rather frail. He often had a cough. His diminutive, silent figure was misleading. Because when he did speak, everybody listened. He spoke with authority. Ed was always well-informed. He was a student and always did his homework. Whatever issue might be simmering, Ed was on top of it with detailed knowledge and analysis. I heard Bishop Flock complain that Ed would not speak up, that his content was always so good. Even so, Fr. Ed communicated powerfully and touched hearts.
Sometimes it was David and Goliath. Once Fr. Eduardo wrote an open letter denouncing the Bolivian authorities for having shut down the National Catholic Newspaper, La Presencia. It was on Holy Thursday night that I was passing out copies of the letter. Thousands of people passed through our church on that day. A police officer came up to me and asked me to step aside with him. He had been informed that Fr. Ed and I were in great danger. Fr. Ed had touched a nerve. We agreed to stop passing out the letter.
I have a thousand stories to tell but we I choose just a few. Sister Loretta has a huge assortment of letters and audio tapes done by Fr. Ed throughout the years. One Palm Sunday we had an overenthusiastic group that went out to harvest palms. Our truck had a capacity of about 2000 pounds, we easily had 4 to 5000 lbs on the truck. It was so heavy that the front wheels did not touch the ground. Some of the men stood on the front bumper in order to be able to steer it down the road. We had about 50 helpers in the plaza outside our church to distribute palms. They each took about 75 to 100 lbs of palms and distributed them to about 3000 people. P. Eduardo was in the middle of the plaza blessings the palms. There came a moment when everyone wanted to touch P. Eduardo and he disappeared into the sea of palms. We couldn’t see him but the unflappable Ed continued proclaiming the Gospel over the microphone. Then the music began and Ed emerged from the crowd like Jesus entering the Holy City. It was glorious.
It is one thing to be a priest, but a missionary in a 3rd world country, and then in that country to minister to the imprisoned and the dying. Eduardo was chaplain of the city jail for years. He was the prime mover in building several chapels in the area, he worked on the Matrimonial Tribunal, he taught in the seminary, he was founder of Pro-Vida, a pro-life action group. We could go on and on. How awesome is that?
When I arrived at the parish the night before the funeral Padre Eduardo was lying in state on the exact spot where, just a few months before, Pope Francis sat as he met with the Bolivian Episcopal Conference. There was a picture of Padre Eduardo and the Pope.
One of the most moving moments was the next day when a group of us met in the ‘on campus’ office of Radio Maria, the Catholic FM radio station. For 45 minutes on live radio we reflected on the life of Padre Eduardo. One of the persons in the studio was a phycologist who was 13 years old when Fr. Ed first came to Santa Cruz. In the last few years Fr. Ed and he and others collaborated in a weekly radio program discussing family life.
It was a closed casket. A medical student who had attended to Padre Eduardo confided with me how the cancer had ravaged his face. It got so that the gauze bandages wouldn’t hold up. They ended up wrapping his head. Fr. Kitzhaber teased Ed that he looked like a mummy. Padre Eduardo said that it was ‘de modo’, that it was the latest fashion. At the funeral I reminded the people that Lent was only a few days away. It is a time that we focus on the suffering of Christ. We turn our thoughts to the agony in the garden where, in the Gospel of Luke, it tells of Jesus anxiety being so deep that he sweat drops of blood. In Eduardo’s final weeks the drops of blood falling from his face were offered to God by Ed as a final prayer, the ultimate sacrifice. He never complained. Literally, to the last drop of his blood he gave his life in an act of thanksgiving to God.
Archbishop Luis Rodriguez, Archbishop of Santa Cruz until 1991, would always conclude his Mass with an emotional outpouring of this prayer; Oh that we have more priests, Oh, that we have holy priests, Oh, that we have more holy priests. Padre Eduardo was a holy priest.