SEOUL, Korea — Salesian Fr. Robert J. Falk, 90, a Green Bay native and longtime missionary to Korea, died April 13, 2022, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Seoul. He had been a professed Salesian of Don Bosco for more than 66 years and a priest for 59 years.
Fr. Falk was born in Green Bay on Jan. 2, 1932, one of four sons of Manuel James Falk and Alice Burlow Falk. He attended St. Joseph School, then Central Catholic High School, run by the Norbertines. He began college at St. Norbert College in De Pere on a Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship. This scholarship originated from the Oneida Golf and Country Club in Green Bay, where he had worked in the locker room. He later transferred to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
At age 21, Fr. Falk enrolled with the Salesians at Don Bosco College Seminary in Newton, N.J., on Sept. 19, 1953. He attributed his vocation to “a good Christian family and a good Catholic high school run by the Norbertine Fathers. The environment — contact with some very pastoral priests and missionaries — instilled in my heart the desire to do some good, to help the less fortunate.” Later, one of the priests at Notre Dame advised him to join the Salesians.
He was admitted to St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton on Sept. 7, 1954, and made his first profession of religious vows there on Sept. 8, 1955.
After graduating from Don Bosco College with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in June 1956, then-Br. Falk was sent to Korea in November 1956. He did practical training at the Salesian high school in Kwangju, South Korea (1956-1959), teaching English, coaching basketball and caring, as he once explained, for “around 100 needy boys who were living with us.” After this training period, he returned to the United States and made his perpetual profession in Newton on Sept. 8, 1959.
Br. Falk went to Turin, Italy, to study at the Pontifical Athenaeum Salesianum. He earned a Licentiate in Sacred Theology there and was ordained to the priesthood on Feb. 11, 1963.
After ordination, Fr. Falk returned to Korea and spent the rest of his life there. His first priestly assignment was with the aspirants in Seoul. In 1965, he was appointed director of the high school and Salesian community at Kwangju and served a six-year term.
He was appointed director of the Don Bosco Youth Center for poor working young men in 1971, but his term was interrupted in 1972 by his nomination as superior of the Korean Delegation. He served in that office until 1978, when he went to Rome for a sabbatical year to study at the Salesian Pontifical University (1978-1979).
On his return to Korea, he served two periods as master of novices in (1979-1990 and 1992-1997). He was also the Korean Province’s delegate for the past pupils and the Salesian Cooperators, the ecclesiastical assistant for the Don Bosco Volunteers secular institute and for many years was a member of the provincial council.
From 1990 to 1992, he was director of one of the Seoul Salesian communities. From 1993 to 1999, he directed the Salesian house at Dae Jeon. He became director again at Kwangju from 1999 to 2003 and spent 2003-2008 as director of an out-of-country Korean mission.
In 2008, Fr. Falk returned to Kwangju as spiritual director of the house of formation. Eventually his health declined, and in 2019 he moved to the provincial house in Seoul.
On his 50th anniversary of profession in 2005, Fr. Falk wrote: “These 50 years have been years of joy and grace. The greatest joy has been the grace to love God, the Salesian confreres, and the young in a family, in our Salesian community. The joy of praying together, working together, living together has made everything so joyful, so rewarding.”
Services for Fr. Falk were held at the Salesian provincial house from Thursday to Saturday, April 14-16. Fr. Henry Bonetti, another American Salesian in Korea, explained: “We wake for three days all day and night. Every hour on the hour there are about 30 minutes of prayer in groups. The prayers are sung in the old-fashioned Confucian tone. Some psalms like the Miserere and a litany of the saints, and after each saint is added, ‘Pray for Fr. Robert Falk.’ After that, the coffin is closed and tied with white cloth ribbons, then goes back out to again lying under a black cloth covering till the funeral. You don’t get to see the body again.”
Fr. Falk is survived by three brothers Dr. James (Gwen) Falk, Fr. Gerald Falk and Richard (Marlene) Falk; many nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends.