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Fr. John Van de Paer dies at 100

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Missionhurst Father John Van de Paer died Feb. 9 at age 100. He will be buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pa. 

He was born in Antwerp, Belgium, Nov. 29, 1920. He studied in Brussels and Louvain, Belgium. He joined the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, also known as Missionhurst, in 1940 after graduating from high school. He was ordained Jan. 26, 1947, and was sent to the United States the same year. 

He served as parochial vicar at St. Cyprian Church in Columbus, Ohio, in 1948, and then as parochial vicar at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Philadelphia, a largely African American parish, from 1952 to 1980. He served as pastor there from 1980 to 1995. He served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Parkesburg, Pa., from 1996 to 2014. 

Father Van de Paer lived at Missionhurst’s retirement home in Arlington from 2014 until his death. He was an experienced carpenter who made many of the benches around the property. For his 100th birthday, friends from near and far participated in a drive-by parade to celebrate his life. A collection of stories from former parishioners, compiled by Kathleen Hood, was recently published, titled, “Amazing Grace: A Journey of Love.” Book sales already have raised $15,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative. 


Read about his 100th birthday celebration.

Missionhurst Father Ricardo Terga, province historian, described Father Van de Paer as the patriarch of the local Missionhurst community. “He became a real legend in terms of Catholic ministry to the African Americans in Philadelphia,” said Father Terga. “He worked with the youth program, he really helped a lot of young ladies living in very deep poverty go to college.”

Father Van de Paer was extremely well-known and respected in the Philadelphia neighborhood, which at times could be a dangerous place, said Father Terga. “Local criminals would attack him but once they knew it was him they apologized to him,” he said. “He would scold them and they would accept it, they had such an appreciation for this man.”

Father Terga says one of the greatest tributes Father Van de Paer ever felt he received was being told by the superior general, “This is truly great mission work.”

“He was a man who was really in love with people,” said Father Terga. “His whole ethos of mission work was people.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021