By Nadia Maria Smith
CS&T Staff Writer
Father Joseph A. Senske died at Villa St. Joseph in Darby on Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 after almost 61 years of priestly service. He is remembered for his gentleness, humility, compassion and great sense of humor, according to those closest to him.
Father Senske was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 7, 1921, to the late Joseph A. Senske and the late Sara M. Heany. He was the oldest of seven children.
“Our friendship goes back to Sept. 1, 1939, the day Hitler’s army invaded Poland, which is the day we entered the seminary. There were 40 of us,” said Father Phillip Barr, pastor emeritus of St. Edmond Parish in Philadelphia and the homilist at Father Senske’s funeral Mass. “I will miss his company most.”
They both served together, hearing confessions for the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and for parishes in Chester County that needed confessors for their school children, CCD classes or adults, Father Barr said.
“He was a dedicated man to the holy sacrifice of the Mass and especially to the sacrament of confession. He was a very mild, humble man who accepted every appointment from being parochial vicar and pastor to chaplain of the I.H.M.s, as the will of God. Whenever he was getting transferred, I’d ask him how he was doing with the transfer and he’d say, ‘This is where God wants me for now,'” Father Barr said. “He felt the same way when his health deteriorated and he was sent to Villa St. Joseph.”
Father Senske attended St. Bartholomew Parochial School and Northeast Catholic High School before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He was ordained on May 22, 1948, at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul by Bishop J. Carroll McCormick. His first assignment was as parochial vicar at Annunciation Parish in Shenandoah. He also served as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Allentown; St. Henry Parish, St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish, Visitation B.V.M. Parish and St. Christopher Parish, all in Philadelphia.
Father Senske was named pastor of Transfiguration Parish in Philadelphia from 1972 to 1979, and then appointed pastor of St. Callistus Parish, also in Philadelphia, where he served until 1991.
In addition to his parish assignments, Father Senske was a friend to the I.H.M. sisters, serving as chaplain at Villa Maria by the Sea Retreat House in Stone Harbor, N.J. for more than 20 years, and as chaplain to the I.H.M.’s Gillet Convent at Immaculata University for more than a decade.
The sisters fondly remember him as “a spiritual director, friend, mentor and even a gardener,” said Sister Patricia McGuigan, the superior general at Camilla Hall, the resident home for infirm and elderly I.H.M. sisters. “He was a general handyman when needed. We all have happy memories of him as a true servant of God.”
According to his youngest sister, Teresa Oliver, he continued his friendships from the various parishes he served long after he left.
“People loved him,” she said. “He was generous and compassionate.”
“When you lose someone you love, you miss everything about them,” said Colleen Malpezzi, his niece, the youngest of 23 nieces and nephews. “You miss the simple moments and the big moments. He baptized and married all of us.”
Father Senske is survived by his brothers, Jules and Robert, his sisters, Teresa Oliver and Grace Petner, and nieces and nephews.
His funeral Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali on Jan. 9 at Camilla Hall. Concelebrants included Bishop Martin H. Lohmuller, Bishop Louis A. DeSimone, Bishop Robert P. Maginnis, Msgr. Timothy C. Senior, Father Barr and other members of the class of 1948. At Father Senske’s request, he was buried at Camilla Hall Cemetery.
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.