Being at a party with soldiers, celebrating Mass in Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, hearing first-time confessions from unchurched Catholics. All in a days work for Fr Robert Repenning, a New York priest and class of 1996 alumni at St John’s who, after being ordained a Catholic priest in 2001, worked as a chaplain in Iraq. He spoke last Tuesday at the Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati Confraternity monthly event, conveying his story on how he became a Priest and describing some of the experiences that he had as a chaplain in Iraq.
The Blessed Pier group, as it is commonly known, is a recently founded group of devoted Catholics that is just beginning to make its presence known on campus. The group’s patron and namesake is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: a young man who died at the age of 24 in early 20th century Italy and who is on his way to becoming a saint. He was an engineering student and a great outdoorsman who would go on excursions with his friends to the mountains. He smoked a pipe and enjoyed wine, and led a hidden life of deep prayer and service to the poor. He is a great example of how to be a good college student, as he devoted his life to Christ and still had a good time.
Its goal is to reignite fervor for the Catholic faith at St John’s, where faith and devotion can, at times, be sorely lacking. Apart from regular events, the group also coordinates charitable works and hands out free Rosaries and takes prayer requests every Wednesday in Marillac Cafeteria.
At the group’s event on Tuesday, April 25, Repenning described just how difficult it could be to be a priest in Iraq. It takes great leadership skills and total self sacrifice. He pulled rank every chance he could so that he would be able to use planes, trucks and any other type of transportation to get where soldiers needed him. His most proud achievement was to be able to celebrate Mass in a former porn theatre, now converted into a chapel, in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Celebrating the most holy event at such an unholy location shows how God is working in the most unusual places, to bring about the sanctification of the world.
Michael Paris is the president of the Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati Contrafraternity and a junior Philosophy major in St. John’s College.