|Death: ||Jan. 27, 2011|
Rev. Francis Xavier Fenech, a priest for more than 60 years, died on Thursday, January 27, 2011, at Lourdes-Noreen McKeen Residence. He was 85.
Born in 1925, in Cospicua, Malta, Father Frank or The Movie Star, as he was affectionately known, was ordained there by Archbishop Michael Gonzi on March 25, 1950, but spent most of his career in Florida. He moved to Florida in 1955, at the invitation of Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley. Fenech worked at St. Patrick's Church in Miami Beach, St. Catherine's Church in Sebring and then came to Palm Beach County as the first administrator of St. Phillip Benizi Parish in Belle Glade, as well as St. Mary in Pahokee and Holy Cross in Indiantown.
He became the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Lake Worth in 1983.
Though he retired from Sacred Heart in 1990, he said that he retired "from an assignment, but never from active priestly ministry".
During the years he spent at Lourdes-Noreen McKeen Residence, he kept that promise. As recently as a few days before he died, Rev. Fenech was visiting others at the residence, praying with them and ministering to their needs, said Sister Mary Anne Dennehy, the administrator at the residence.
"He had a reputation here as being a very gentle soul," said Rev. Paul Manning, another retired priest at the residence. "About three weeks ago, I got a call that somebody needed last rites and he came with me. That's an example of how he always wanted to minister to people."
In March 2010, Rev. Fenech celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination, with a Mass presided over by Bishop Gerald Barbarito, who would later celebrate his funeral Mass.
The Palm Beach Post has published a glowing report about a Maltese priest who has served in Florida for 55 years and is regarded as "a living history of the Catholic Church's growth in Florida".
Called 'The Movie Star' by his friends, once, a reporter did not need to ask many questions to learn why - he was wearing pastel Izod sweaters, a dark Armani suit and big sunglasses at his residence in West Palm Beach.
Fenech worked in St. Augustine, the state's first Diocese, in the 1950's, in the Miami Archdiocese in the 1960's and in Palm Beach Diocese since it was formed.
In his 60-year career as a priest, he worked in native Malta, Australia, Spain and France before being invited to Florida in 1955, by Archbishop Hurley.
"I told him I would go there one year, two years," Fenech told a newspaper in an interview with a wry smile. "It has been 55 years."
In his first years he established a center in Miami's garment district for 600 Puerto Rican families working there. He then made his reputation as an administrator and parish-builder at St. Raymond Parish in Coral Gables, where he added several buildings, one of which was named after him.
He took a course to master Spanish when he worked with Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants in Miami. In a few years, he moved to Sebring and from there to St. Philip Benizi in Belle Glade, St. Mary in Pahokee, when that parish was still a mission, and Holy Cross in Indiantown.
When he became pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Lake Worth in 1983, he remodeled the church, the church hall and added a parish center.
"He was a hands-on pastor, in the sense that he did a lot of building, not just the liturgical work," said his friend Fr. Paul Manning.
When the chaplain rebuffed his efforts to make a pastoral visit to the Glades Correctional Institution, he wrote Archbishop Joseph Hurley in St. Augustine.
"That got changed right away," said Carl Modecki, another of Fenech's longtime friends.
An ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease reduced Fr. Fenech's voice to a whisper and in his later years suffered from other complications due to a fall. However he continued to celebrate Mass in the chapel or in his room.
Very soft-spoken, from the Parkinson's and medicine, he preached by example. When people saw him with his breviary or saying the rosary, it's was just genuine.
Although he has not returned to Malta for decades, he spoke regularly on the phone with his two older sisters there, in Maltese.
And when Pope Benedict XVI visited Malta he was glued to the television watching the live coverage on the EWTN network.
The immigrant was back home again, after so many years.
Visitation took place on Monday, January 31, 2011, at Quattlebaum Funeral Home, 1201 South Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, with a Wake Service held at 7 pm. The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at 11 am., on Tuesday, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Lake Worth, with Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito, officiating. Interment followed at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery, Royal Palm Beach.
Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery
Royal Palm Beach
Palm Beach County
Created by: Eman Bonnici
Record added: Mar 24, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 67363671