'Have Courage and Go Forward'
Marian Vicar Gen. Father Joe Roesch, MIC, blessed the casket containing former Marian Superior Gen. Fr. Donald Petraitis, MIC, in a funeral Mass celebrated at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Stockbridge, Mass., on June 16. Father Donald died June 12.
By Dan Valenti (Jun 20, 2012)
Father Donald Petraitis, MIC, former Superior General of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and the last Provincial Superior of the former St. Casimir Province, died June 12 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He was 74 years old.
Father Donald, born in Chicago in 1937, grew up under the pastoral guidance of the Marian Fathers and the Sisters of St. Casimir, who served at Our Lady of Vilna Parish. Father Donald became interested in a religious vocation, and he joined the Marian Congregation. He professed his religious vows on July 16, 1956.
Fr. Donald Held Several Key Marian Offices
After completing his college studies at St. Procopius College (now Benedictine university), Fr. Donald continued his studies for the priesthood at Marian Hills Seminary in Clarendon Hill, Ill. He was ordained a priest on May 9, 1964.
Following his ordination, Fr. Donald taught at Marianapolis Prep School in Thompson, Conn. In 1970, he became the school's director. In 1975, the Marians' General Chapter elected Fr. Donald the congregation's Vicar General, and he moved to Rome. There, Fr. Donald served nine years as Vicar. In 1984, he was elected Superior General.
In 1993, Fr. Donald returned to Chicago, and the Marians elected him to the office of Provincial Superior. He served in that capacity until 2006, when the two Marian American provinces merged to form the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province. Father Donald spent the last three years in retirement at the Marian home on Thompson, Conn.
In his eulogy at the funeral Eucharistic liturgy celebrated on June 16 at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, principal celebrant Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, Vicar General, noted the familiar concluding tag line from any e-mail or phone call sent to him by Fr. Donald: "Keep smiling."
'Have Courage and Go Forward'
Father Joe said that he often wondered what Fr. Donald meant by that closing:
"That things are tough but Jesus is in charge and so, 'keep smiling?' He also liked the Italian expression Corraggio e avanti! — meaning 'Have courage and go forward!' Could we say that Fr. Don was an optimist? I think so. Now in fairness, those that lived with him would tell us that there might occasionally escape from his lips his assessment about how things were going — maybe a lament, or two, or three — but he had been through so much. I think we could say that he looked to the future with hope. He has had many health challenges in the last few years of his life, and yet, he attended the General Chapter in Rome last year as he had done, every six years since the 1970s."
Father Joe called Fr. Donald "a living history of all the changes in our Community since the Second Vatican Council." Father Joe then explained that during the "Communist oppression" during the 1980s and early 90s, Fr. Donald served as superior general: "These were not easy years for the Community, yet he sought to visit the members whenever possible, even if it meant being watched by a KBG tail."
A Storyteller with 'a Twinkle in His Eye'
Father Donald loved to tell stories about those years, Fr. Joe said, including tales "of his many adventures and encounters. He could also be very direct, telling you when he didn't like something, but he will be remembered by many for the twinkle in his eye and his mischievous smile. He had a good sense of humor, and he liked to tease people. He had a very good voice and was a fine preacher."
Father Joe expressed greetings and condolences from Superior Gen. Fr. Andrzej Pakula, MIC, who could not attend the Funeral Mass. He also extended the condolences on behalf of the Polish Provincial Superior, the Very Rev. Pawel Naumowicz, MIC, and for Fr. Jan Migacz, superior of the Asian Vicariate. As Fr. Joe said, "Many are united with us in prayer today."
Father Joe concluded with a prayer: "We pray that our Founder, Blessed Stanislaus, along with Blessed George, all of our Marian brothers who have gone before us, and all of our patrons may be able to welcome Don to the place prepared for him by our Lord, because Don wanted to 'keep smiling.'"
A 'Significant Role' of 'Leadership'
The Very Rev. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior for the Marians in the United States and Argentina, served as co-celebrant and homilist at the funeral Mass. Father Kaz praised Fr. Donald for the "significant role during his leadership as superior general of the Congregation. It was his responsibility to guide the Congregation during a period of profound changes in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union, where many of the Congregation's members lived and worked.
"Father Donald was able to witness the life and ministry of his confreres working under highly oppressive conditions of the Soviet regime before 1989. He stayed in contact with the Marians from Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine who joined our Congregation in secret. He cared for their spiritual and material needs, thereby encouraging and strengthening them."
Father Kaz also noted that to Fr. Donald was afforded "the privilege and responsibility" to prepare the solemn beatification of Blessed George Matulaitis, the first Marian to be raised to the honors of the altar "during a special year for the Lithuanian people as they celebrated the 600th year of Christianity in their country."
Father Kaz said in the end, Fr. Donald "will be remembered as a priest who always manifested a deep faith in God's goodness and providence." He was also "a man of courage, who never tired [of encouraging] the members of his community when facing difficulties with his famous Italian expression, 'Corragio e avanti': 'Have courage and go forward.'"
Following the Mass in Stockbridge, Fr. Donald was waked with a Mass of Christian Burial in Chicago at the chapel of the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Casimir. Burial followed in St. Casimir's Cemetery there.