Msgr. Peter Lentine, oldest serving pastor in archdiocese, dies at 98

Msgr. Peter Lentine, seen here celebrating his 50th anniversary as pastor of St. Philomena Parish in Detroit, passed away the age of 98 on Aug. 1. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

DETROIT — St. Philomena Parish pastor Msgr. Peter Lentine passed away in the night on Aug. 1. He was 98.

Msgr. Lentine was the pastor of the east-side parish for the past 50 years, serving as the oldest active priest in Michigan and one of the longest serving priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit’s history.

On Dec. 11, 2016, the parish celebrated a Mass commemorating his 50th anniversary at the parish, which was his only assignment as a pastor over his 67-year ministry.

“When I was ordained, it was in my mind that I was going to be a priest for however long as I was going to live,” Msgr. Lentine told The Michigan Catholic in December 2016. “Priesthood was always going to be part of my life. I don’t think of any shortcomings, and moments where I wouldn’t be a priest.”

A stalwart fixture at St. Philomena Parish on Marseilles Street, Msgr. Lentine — typically referred to as “Fr. Pete” — was much loved by the community.

“Msgr. Peter was an inspiration and a friend for many years,” said Patricia Kolojeski, who’s been a parishioner at St. Philomena for 27 years. “I first met him 45 years ago when my grandmother was a member of the parish. Our friendship was rekinkled when my husband and I joined the warm, caring St. Philomena community.”

When you talk to anyone in the St. Philomena community, “warm” “caring” and “open” are the words that come up often. Never one for fancy titles, Msgr. Lentine typically went by “Fr. Pete.”

“Father always remembered names and asked about all the family,” Kolojeski said. “He was kind and loving and thought about others. Two years ago, even while Father was undergoing dialysis three times a week, he made the effort to visit my husband who was in hospice at home. As Detroiters, we are excited about Fr. Solanus connection; At St. Philomena’s, we’re proud of our Fr. Pete connection.”

Among the clergy in the Archdiocese of Detroit, his example served as a model of what it meant to be a parish pastor.

“For us, he was a great example of unconditional dedication to his mission of being a shepherd after the example of Christ the Good Shepherd,” Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said. “May the Lord reward him for his labors.”

While celebrating Msgr. Lentine’s 50th anniversary at St. Philomena, Fr. Dan Worthy gave the homily describing the type of pastor “Fr. Pete” was.

“I remember saying, ‘Peter, who would want to go to St. Philomena, with all these other parishes who have great things going on?’” Fr. Worthy recalled. “Peter said, ‘They’ll come here when they don’t want to dress up.’ Who want to come to St. Philomena? The hungry, the naked. Here, you’re clothed; here, you’re fed; here, you’re welcomed. We thank God for Fr. Pete.”

After the Mass, parishioners and staff shared their thoughts and gratitude for Msgr. Lentine’s leadership of the parish.

“For every stage of life in a family’s life, he was in touch,” said St. Philomena parishioner Sue Loredo, who worked at the parish for 17 years. “You build on that love, starting from the moment you met him, and it just continued. Father welcomed people to the parish. He was always on (the children’s) level. He made sure church wasn’t a scary place, it was like going from your home to another home.”

Msgr. Lentine was born in Detroit on April 1, 1919, to Emmanuel and Josephine (Randazzo) Lentine. He is preceded in death by his parents and siblings, Rose (Crimando), William, Samuel, James, Anthony, Russell, Joseph, Jenny (Methric) and Manuel.

St. Matthew, Assumption Grotto and St. Rita parishes in Detroit and St. Elizabeth Parish in Wyandotte.

On Dec. 14, 1966, he became the pastor of St. Philomena, where he spent the rest of his priesthood.

“When you went to that church, you could feel the spirit there,” said Sally Bernard, a St. Philomena parishioner for 30 years. “It’s a humble church, a gracious church, that reflected Fr. Pete. You just couldn’t refuse him, he has almost everyone involved in something.”

Bernard became an extraordinary Eucharistic minister at Msgr. Lentine’s suggestion, part of his plan to create an open, welcoming liturgical environment at St. Philomena.

“When my grandson was born, Fr. Pete would take him in his arms during the sign of peace,” Bernard said. “When I was teaching catechism, he’d come into the class every Monday night; the children just loved him. During his funeral, even though he’s gone, you still feel his presence there. Everyone is going to miss the man; he was so important to everybody.”

In many aspects, the work of Msgr. Lentine very much shaped the very nature of St. Philomena Parish, where parishioners hope to carry on the example set by their beloved pastor.

“What are parish really is, is a giant family, a giant community,” said parishioner Mary Beth Calandro. “He made St. Philomena’s part of the community. We’ve had a food pantry for the last years, poele who come here every day with bags of food to take the rectory for distribution.

“Our parish is very Christian-centered oriented. (Msgr. Lentine) instilled this sense of holiness about him, and a sense of justice and fairness; he was just a very decent person. He led by example, treated people with respect. Going out of his way if someone felt lost. It meant so much for so many.”

Outside the parish boundaries, Msgr. Lentine’s love the community was well known.

“Fr. Peter always had a positive word to offer, and did so,” said Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon. “He was so many folks’ favorite priest.”

“People loved Msgr. Lentine,” Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny of nearby St. Paul on the Lake in Grosse Pointe Farms added. “He is easy to love, because he loved so easily.”

Visitation will take place at St. Philomena Church, located at 4281 Marseilles St. in Detroit, on Thursday, Aug. 3, from 4-9 p.m. and Friday, Aug. 4, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The funeral Mass took on Saturday, Aug. 5, at St. Clare of Montefalco Parish, 1401 Whittier Road, Grosse Pointe Park. A private interment will take place on Monday, Aug. 7, at Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township.