Father Roy D. Petipren, MM

Born: July 30, 1893
Ordained: May 31, 1925
Died: December 6, 1977

Word was received from Korea this morning, December 6, 1977, that Father Roy D. Petipren died. He will be buried there on Friday morning.

Father Petipren was born 84 years ago, on July 7, 1893, in Anchorville, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. When twelve years old his family moved to Detroit where his father ran a grocery store and Roy assisted in the work. At 19 he was injured in the leg by a horse kick and was laid up in bed for six weeks. He traced his desire for the religious life from this time as a result of reading the lives of the saints. His missionary calling was sparked by a talk that a White Father from Africa gave in his parish and also by an unforgettable impression made on him by our Co-Founder, James A. Walsh, whom he heard give a talk on the missions. However, he first went to the diocesan seminary at Cincinnati, Ohio for a few years before coming to Maryknoll in 1921. He was ordained in 1925 and went to Korea in August of that year.

In 1942 Father was repatriated on the Gripsholm. He worked in the Powell Wyoming Japanese Camp for a year and in 1946 returned to Korea. As the Reds advanced in 1950, he was airlifted from Pusan to Japan but soon returned and began his famous POW camp work as an auxiliary chaplain of the U.S. Army. In 1953 he was granted a furlough and on that occasion General McGarr of the POW Command wrote of Father Petipren: “His work is outstanding … as a result, his enclosure is the best of all POW enclosures. He is untiring in his efforts to bring the consolation of religion to the POWs. Except for the usual furloughs he has remained in South Korea since his return in 1954.

On the occasion of his 40th anniversary of priesthood in 1965, the Superior General summarized well the life of Father Petipren: “Your mission work in Korea has been outstanding and you are a great example and inspiration to our young missioners. We all admire the way you can continue getting so many converts year after year.” His modestly written reports evidence this truth: “800 preparing for baptism in 1964; 232 adults brought into the Church in 1965; 433 persons confirmed in 1961 – more than 50 were also recently baptized.” In 1957 at 65 years of age – “They expected to have 1400 adult baptisms by the end of the year.”

Without exception, all his superiors found him, as one wrote, “a model of zeal – a missioner par excellence, and a perfect gentleman – The years only serve to deepen his enthusiasm for souls and conversions – his single purpose in life.”  Characteristically, almost all his letters to his superiors close with the gentle, “Yours obediently in Christ.”

A Mass of the Resurrection was concelebrated at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, December 9, in the Chapel at Maryknoll. Father William T. O’Leary was Principal Celebrant and Father Joseph Conners, the Homilist.