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REMEMBERING PAT FENTON

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No one person can do justice in remembering all that Pat has meant to us – his friends and colleagues at the Thomas Merton Center. We are grateful to all who share their treasured memories of Pat with us. 

Pat was very special to me. He was with the Merton Center from the beginning. He brought his skills and good spirits to the Board where his reports as Treasurer were very complete and concise. The last time I saw him was at the planning committee for the TMC 50th anniversary. He loved looking through the earliest issues of the New People. I miss him so much. — Molly Rush 

One of the things that led Pat to leave the priesthood was, he really didn’t think he was any better than anybody else, yet everybody was treating him as though he was. Pat felt ‘he could not be authentic’ in that role. His commitment to the poor was persistent, steadfast, action-oriented. His mentor, Jack O’Malley, is prophetic. Pat was the practitioner, patiently dealing with banking and government and HUD bureaucracies. He didn’t like hierarchy, and yet he ended up working in Action Housing for years dealing with the banks, which are about as hierarchical as you could get, with HUD, which was impossible to deal with. I live in Uptown near Mercy Hospital. Action Housing (where Pat worked) has built or renovated three properties, opened and operated them here in Uptown in the twelve years I’ve been here. Pat was faithful in going to Mass (and we heard some really unhelpful sermons!). He balanced work with family, play, and openness to keep learning. The Osher classes at Pitt have lost one of their best students. He was authentic, not a people-pleaser, yet open to people who differed in opinion. He will do everything he can to keep Donald Trump from being re-elected in November. — John Oesterle 

Pat Fenton – a friend who accepted friendship. 

Pat Fenton – who did not know social status, financial ability or race and ethnicity. 

Pat Fenton – who had a date with his love Ginny Cunningham every Friday night. 

Pat Fenton – who worked hard and played hard. 

Pat Fenton – who made the best soups. 

Pat Fenton – who refused church fish fries because they did not serve beer. 

Pat Fenton – that good looking Irishman whose spirit and memory will remain always. 

Bonnie DiCarlo 

One of the major points about Pat’s life is that he had a great sense of faith. I believe that Pat’s main motivation for being so faithful to the call of social justice in his life came from a very profound spiritual awareness. He was extremely faithful to that awareness in how he approached not only people, but also the major issues of peace and justice. He will be greatly missed and never replaced. His spirit will live on forever. — Denny Kirk 

And dear Pat, Jack and I have tried to pull specific memories but the inescapable view ~~ A gentle, humble man, young at heart always, a dear friend to our kiddos when they were in grade school. While we were attending St Joe’s in Manchester Pat was a huge presence for them at Sunday Liturgy, always a friendly, happy smile and a warm welcome to the wee folks. We are so pleased he was a kind gentle ~ man to them, a role model in many ways. We realize he will be greatly missed by family, friends and ourselves. — Anne and Jack MacFadyen 

My memories of Pat Fenton over the past 40+ years range from the ridiculous to the sublime. A few days before he passed, I was looking at a picture of him taken when a group of us went to Cape May, New Jersey together. Those were the days when the beach at Cape May disappeared at high tide. He is sitting by the water on a pile of rocks protecting his fair Irish skin with a big towel over his knees and a hat pulled over his forehead shielding his face. Another time a van of us were driving to Notre Dame for CCUM urban ministry seminars. Pat was taking his turn at the wheel swearing he wasn’t sleeping when his eyes were closed on the long straight boring trek from Pittsburgh to South Bend. He liked to do that. Maybe it was his way of getting out of driving. I remember his delight in quoting the Peter Sellers character, Chauncey/ Chance from the movie Being There as we’d all laugh and repeat the words. Years later, dinner and lunch with Pat and Ginny were warm and delightful moments that, as we grew older became kind and thoughtful sharing and listening conversations about life’s changes. Pat’s best characteristics seemed to bloom and come into relief after he married Ginny. 

Pat loved his service empowering and protecting the disadvantaged and marginalized. He understood the frustrations and dead ends of people’s lives and how that could translate into the same type of difficulty when serving them, but he could nuance the possibilities for them so well because of his insight, skills and deep compassion. He helped me with such cases more than once. 

In my time at the Merton Center, Pat was a dedicated, smart and grounded board member, always the voice of reason and witness to the values and history of the organization. He could be like a dog with a rag when it came to fiscal responsibility. And again, he was an ever attentive listener. He and I even considered co-directing the Center at one (very short) time. Fortunately, he thought better of it and we dropped the idea. 

Through everything, Pat was fun. And funny. He had an Irish wit that sees the incongruities of life and raises us above the mire like music and art to oneness of our best selves. Pat’s life, his friendship, was a ministry to all of us. Thanks, Pat. May the angels take you into Paradise. May you rest in peace. We miss you. — Marcia Snowden 

I first met Pat in 1975 when I spoke to the Association of Pittsburgh Priests about forming an organization to press for changes in conditions at Kane Hospital, the largest public nursing home in the country with 2200 beds. I had co-written a report condemning the conditions and the Senate Committee on Aging had held hearings exposing severe problems there. 

Pat told me he would be interested in helping and he became a critical member of the Committee to Improve Kane, sacrificing endless hours of his time for many years. I then worked with him as part of a nursing home ombudsman project to protect residents in nursing and boarding homes and bring about systemic changes in our long-term care system, as part of a state-wide effort. 

Pat showed extraordinary compassion, patience and dedication in his work on these issues. He could always be counted on to come to strategy meetings, attend and speak at many public actions such as a protest in the county commissioners’ meeting where we held paper cut outs to demonstrate staff shortages, resulting from low pay. When there was disagreement about how to proceed, Pat offered his expertise of reconciling differences to help in reaching a consensus. He did this in a calm, kind and deliberate way that I will always remember. 

I will never forget Pat’s invaluable support in closing a boarding home operator with years of publicized abuse, including illicit drugging of residents and theft of their personal income. Family members and a parish Catholic sister contacted us for help. Pat helped me every step of the way in developing a strategy that culminated in a meeting with family members and concerned citizens, where the mayor of the area committed that she would take action. The Mayor revoked the illegal zoning permits of the home, leading to its eventual closing. The operator never opened again. 

Pat lived his values of compassion and social justice for the most vulnerable through his unwavering devotion to the work of our organization and many others. I will never forget his smile, kindness, steadiness, and his deeply felt commitment. I will be forever grateful to him. — Mary Lewin 

I had the privilege of knowing Pat Fenton in his early years as a priest. We both lived at the Holy Rosary rectory in Homewood. He was a hospital chaplain at the time. He did enjoy much living in Homewood and serving among the people. He was keenly sensitive to social justice issues. He was much concerned about the poverty of many of those living in the area. He would attend Community meetings, especially those around racial and social justice. Later when he served as pastor of the former Corpus Christi Parish in Lincoln-Lemington we worked together on concerns of our neighborhoods. Later his work with Action Housing would afford him more opportunities to serve people. He certainly helped to make the world a better place. May God bless him for his goodness. — Fr. David H. Taylor

Pat and I became good friends very quickly. It all started at St. Regis Church. I knew Ginny before I met them together when we were all looking for a priest who would give a meaningful homily. After Don Fisher retired, we moved on to Sacred Heart where we discovered Mark Skerdish until he was transferred out of the pulpit. Then on to St. Mary of the Mount, where we became Michael Stumpf groupies. During this time Pat and Ginny asked Bonnie and me to be witnesses to their marriage in the church officiated by Fr. Walt. I met John Oesterle there, who became part of a growing group of friends who met for breakfast at J.J.’s after Mass. From the beginning Pat and I talked about the homilies and our own understanding of the Scriptures. Other social groups developed that Pat and I participated in: dinners with our respective other social friends, including a group of former priests. In all of these groupings the conversation in one way or another was meaningful, reflecting a very deep aspect of the lives of the participators. When he and I talked about these encounters, Pat’s response was simply “good” or “it could have been developed further,” which always meant “more social justice”. Pat’s Irish wit always cut me down to size when I became too esoteric, but it was always respectful and with love, which is how I felt for him. Since his death I have missed him more daily, but I am convinced that he will be more present in his absence. 

Joe DiCarlo 

I’ve known Pat Fenton since he was a seminarian assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Manchester where I was pastor in the late 60’s and 70’s. He was a quiet attentive presence in the community where he had the innate skill of listening and learning from the community; realizing he didn’t know everything, but, in fact, had much to realize. At the same time, he was never intimidated by differences of culture and race, remaining open and caring, listening and engaged. Pat never “went along.” He had strong convictions and would not back down from his very strong convictions about social justice and human dignity, which he carried from the streets to the boardroom. As an independent, critical thinker, he never sought acceptance and popularity over principle but was always prepared and did his homework. He was not afraid to take on anyone. 

At the same time, he had a deeply nurtured faith and spirituality that was treasured as a gift and never an obligation. 

Pat was a good and loyal friend who always had my back and was very empathetic in tough situations. He had integrity and was not afraid to disagree. I can see him with a tilt of his head listening, brows slightly furrowed, asking care-filled questions. His wit and humor were infectious. His eyes twinkled when he let go of a hearty laugh. That great laugh is one of my favorite and most dominant memories of Pat. It rings in my heart. I miss you, my brother.– Fr. Jack O’Malley 

If there is one word which comes to mind when I think of Pat, it is the word gentle. As a gentle person, he was about the nearest we come to the incarnation of a non-violent human being. This seemed to mark his whole life. Then I think of his intense commitment to racial justice and the struggle against racial injustice. His preferences in where he worked and ministered showed his commitment to the poor, the oppressed and those discriminated against in our society. And then there was his strong commitment to peace, non-violence and resistance to all wars, especially nuclear war. His refusal to pay taxes for war and war-making had a great impact on all those who resist the military-industrial-educational complex. May we all have the strength and courage to carry on the work that Pat gave his life to.– Michael Drohan 

Ed and I first met Pat in 1985 when he was pastor of St. Joseph’s in Manchester. We had moved to Pittsburgh the year before and were just becoming acquainted with the TMC and the Pittsburgh community of activists. We were attending a baptism at St. Joseph’s when Ed leaned over and whispered to me: “That man in front looks just like Cesar Chavez!” Then he said the same thing to a woman sitting next to him, who said, “Well, that’s because it is Cesar Chavez.” So, later on we found out that Pat and Cesar were longtime friends through their social justice actions and we were privileged to be introduced to these two compassionate and courageous men at the same time- -Pat Fenton and the founder of the United Farmworkers Union.– Donna Brett 

I knew and worked with Pat for more than 40 years and it was always a pleasure to work hand-in-hand with him. Pat had many wonderful qualities. Two that stand out for me were his faithfulness and perseverance. I saw these qualities most of all when he was working on challenging issues. One example is the work he did with Wood Street Commons as a staff person with Action Housing. He spent many hours bringing the facility into compliance, helping to find funding for the programs there, and finally making it stand on its own several months before he passed away. This same determination and faithfulness could also be found as a board member for several non-profit agencies that were going through difficult times. He could have found reasons to leave the boards or not renew his term; but he hung in there with them always believing that the challenges could be met and that the agencies could once again be viable. I consider myself blessed to have known Pat. — Fred Just 

We at the Thomas Merton Center owe a great debt of gratitude to Pat for his many years of dedicated and valued service on our board of directors for several terms through the years, most notably as treasurer over the past decade. At the time of his unexpected passing, Pat was serving on the Building Committee and the Planning Committee for the Merton Center’s upcoming 50th anniversary to be commemorated in 2022. He leaves an inspiring legacy to all those who follow him. 

NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 4. May/June, 2020. All rights reserved.

Categories: News

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