Here's my remembrance of Fr. Larry Penzes, a priest whose quiet zeal had a lasting impact on me and others. Tragedy struck him and those who knew him on March 12, 2002, as he was gunned down as he was saying a morning Mass in his parish. It's the subject of my column, this week, at Patheos. Here's an excerpt:
I was eighteen when I met Fr. Larry Penzes, a newly ordained diocesan priest assigned to St. Pius X Church in Plainview, New York. Fr. Larry was buoyant yet quietly hardworking. Generous and friendly, he was always finding ways to bring people together for a Mass, for a special project to help others, or for fellowship.
I have Fr. Larry to thank for instilling in me a desire to serve the local church. I remember how he talked me into running for a seat on the parish council. Then he encouraged our pastor to hire me as a youth minister.
The young people I knew trusted Fr. Larry. He made himself available to hear their halting confessions, or to give talks or pray the Mass in their homegrown chapel on youth retreats. He never shied away from the tougher problems teenagers faced. He taught that the only way to get out of being stuck on oneself is by taking time to serve people in need.
Fr. Larry’s witness was a clear and honest living of the faith, not over-intellectualizing it, or underselling it. His life as a priest was not just a job, nor was his military career as an Air Force chaplain just a duty. Life was faith and faith was life and they all blended together seamlessly without being broken into compartments. He was a man with a ready smile, a ready handshake, and ready service. His priesthood was engaging because he engaged people and delighted in life.
Fr Larry was simply one of the folks. He loved the New York Jets, and he was always ready for a celebration. I’ll never forget his dressing up in a tuxedo, zipping around the dance floor at a formal event that brought church personnel and parishioners together. Or, the day he playfully donned clown make-up and became a mime in a youth workshop.
Fr. Larry was my first priest-friend, but not the last.Read the rest.