Saturday, March 12, 2011

Remembering a slain Roman Catholic priest after 9 years

Father Lawrence, its truly a shame today is the 9 year anniversary of your passing, I do hope you find peace in heaven! may you rest in peace!

Fr. Lawrence Penzes was appointed pastor. Fr. “Larry”, like so many of the pastors before him, brought a new energy to the parish. During his brief eight years as pastor, he was able to reduce the parish debt while many new renovations took place in the church. He commissioned a statue of Our Lady of Peace that graces the right side of the altar designed by his brother and donated by a long-standing member of the parish. In 1997, Fr. Larry was instrumental in securing the stained glass windows that so beautifully adorn the church from the Chapel of St. Joseph’s Villa in Rockville Centre – a gift from the Sisters of the Congregation of the Infant Jesus. New lighting was installed and pews were removed to make way for a Baptismal font that would allow baptism by immersion. A “Saints’ Chapel was built off the main entrance to the church giving parishioners a place to pray and reflect with the saints whose statues adorned the church Pre-Vatican II.

On March 12, 2002, the most unheard of tragedy overtook our loving parish. A man with a rifle hidden under his coat entered the church during the 9:00 AM daily Mass shot and killed Fr. Larry and long-time parishioner, Eileen Tosner. The outpouring of grief was beyond belief! As the community was coming to grips with this senseless act, Bishop William Murphy sent Fr. William Singleton, a retired priest from St. Raymond’s in East Rockaway to help us begin the healing process. In late summer Fr. James Pereda, from the Diocesan Tribunal served as temporary administrator until Bishop William Murphy would select our new pastor.

Priest Dies in N.Y. Church Shooting
The NationCrime: An elderly parishioner is also killed. A suspect is arrested after a seven-hour standoff.
March 13, 2002JOHN J. GOLDMAN TIMES STAFF WRITERLYNBROOK, N.Y. — A man with a rifle opened fire Tuesday in a church in this suburban community, slaying a priest during Mass as he stood on the altar and killing an elderly parishioner as she worshiped in a pew.

The suspected gunman fled into a house near Our Lady of Peace Church. After a seven-hour standoff, a police SWAT team forced its way into the building and subdued the man, who officers said lunged at them with a knife.

Father Lawrence Penzes, 50, was shot in the back just as he finished his sermon and had turned to sit down. The bullet that killed Eileen Tosner, 73, hit her in the face.

About 40 people were attending the morning Mass when the attack began. Worshipers who dived to the floor recalled hearing shots and a baby cry. Some thought they were hearing firecrackers until they realized that bullets were being fired.

"I just threw myself on the floor. I saw Father Larry go down," said Jean Maier, who was in a front row. " . . . When I finally got up, the lady behind me was dead."

Clergyman Probably Died on the Altar

Physicians said the clergyman was killed when the bullet that entered his back pierced his heart.

"It is very likely he died on the altar," said Dr. Dana Monaco, an attending physician at nearby Mercy Medical Center, where the priest was pronounced dead.

Shock waves quickly swept through the normally quiet community on Long Island's south shore. Parishioners in tears gathered outside the red brick and gray concrete church, which was cordoned off by yellow police tape.

Anxious parents rushed to the church's school next door. As a precaution, the school's doors were locked to keep students inside while police sought to capture the gunman.

The suspect, Peter Troy, 34, of Lynbrook, was charged Tuesday night with two counts of second-degree murder and attempted murder, said Nassau County police spokeswoman Joan Eames.

Neighbors said the man had moved into the area several months ago and had acted strangely.

Detectives are investigating whether the suspected gunman could be linked to an incident Monday night in the parking lot of the town hall directly across from the church. Several windows of the car belonging to Lynbrook's police chief were shattered by gunshots.

After the slayings, detectives said, an off-duty police lieutenant and a parishioner chased the suspected assailant, who fled the church. They managed to wrestle the rifle away from him, but he eluded their grasp. Police quickly traced the man to a nearby house with several apartments, where he was later apprehended.

"The sorrow we all share at this senseless act is beyond human measure," said Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Center diocese.

"Our hearts are one with all the parishioners of Our Lady of Peace Church who have lost their good and faithful pastor as well as a devoted parishioner and neighbor," Murphy said.

Church officials said Penzes, who was born in Brooklyn, was ordained in 1972 and had been pastor at Our Lady of Peace since 1994. The church has about 7,500 worshipers.

Penzes was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force chaplains' corps and was an activist priest who brought many improvements to the church, including strengthening its finances.

'He Always Left You With a Phrase'

Parishioners described Penzes as a quiet but dynamic priest who concentrated on the physical and the spiritual needs of his parish.

"It needed new windows, it got new roofing. He made the church look like it would last another 50 years until the next generation," said John Lucas, 70. "He was very good on homilies, very story-like. He would hold your mind to his thoughts.

"In the end, you walked away with something," Lucas said. "He always left you with a phrase in the end."

Another parishioner, Russell Ruvolo, 80, described Penzes as "a very, very good priest, quiet on the outside."

"He was a very respectable man," said Ruvolo, who stood in front of the church watching police enter. "Nobody could hate him, but somebody did."

Edward Hughes, the custodian of the church's school, said Penzes would drop into the school to talk with children and was "loved by his parishioners."

Msgr. James P. Kelly of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Center said Penzes had served in two other Long Island churches before coming to Lynbrook and had a major influence on the parish.

Kathy Guerrero, who stood down the block from the church, which she attended regularly, agreed.

"He was a gentleman. He was one of the best priests I ever met," she said. "He was a beautiful person. Everyone just loved him."

Funeral for Slain Priest Draws an Overflow Crowd
ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y., March 15— They gathered, gasping, in front of their small church on Tuesday as word spread that their priest and a parishioner had been killed, and they gathered the next two days to pray and offer condolences as the body of the Rev. Lawrence M. Penzes lay in state.

This morning, the parishioners of Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Lynbrook met again, this time at St. Agnes Cathedral, a larger church here that was still too small to hold the more than 1,000 people who showed up for Father Penzes' funeral.

Parishioners filled the pews and spilled into the vestibule, the stairwell and the choir loft. Near the altar sat about 200 priests in white linen vestments, some of whom had played football or table tennis with Father Larry, as he was known, and others who were familiar only with the grim facts: that a gunman had burst in on 9 a.m. Mass on Tuesday, killing the 50-year-old priest and Eileen Tosner, a 73-year-old parishioner.

''No one will ever forget that Father Larry's passing was during the celebration of Mass,'' the Rev. Charles Keeney, a college friend of Father Penzes', noted in his homily. ''In one sense, for a priest it was a terrible way to go, and in another sense, what a beautiful time for a priest to go.''

Parents hugged their children and sobbed as Air Force reservists who knew Father Penzes through his role as an Air Force chaplain carried the coffin, draped with an American flag, past a row of volunteers from the Lynbrook Fire Department, which Father Penzes had also served as chaplain.

The priest's father and other relatives carried the communion offerings to the altar, where Bishop William F. Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese presided. At the end of the service, the bishop burned incense around the coffin, and the priests filed into the fog outside.

Even then, Father Penzes' friends and flock struggled to come to grips with his death.

''I still can't believe he's gone,'' said Maj. Trish Welch, a lawyer with the Air Force reserves who recalled shopping for Persian rugs with Father Penzes in Dubai, while the two were on an assignment in the United Arab Emirates. ''He'd get them for the parish.''

Parishioners looked back on a terrible week with hopes that by Easter, the healing would begin.

The funeral for other victim, Mrs. Tosner, is set for Saturday. And the village still faces the prosecution of Peter J. Troy, 34, a Lynbrook resident who has been charged in the killings.

''It's going to be a difficult time,'' said Lori Vardaro, 38, a parishioner whose eyes misted as a bagpiper played ''Amazing Grace'' and the coffin was slipped into a silver hearse. ''But I think this is going to pull the community together.''

For many who attended, Father Penzes' funeral was a time to reflect not so much on the details of the shooting as on the simple goodness of a religious man who died in worship. As the country focuses on allegations that priests have molested children, they said, Father Penzes' life represents the church's best face.

''People who are losing confidence in the church,'' said Michael Callahan, 48, a human resources director who attended seminary with Father Penzes, ''need to know that there are people like Larry.''

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