The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 15, 2000 Issue
Local News

Manitowoc Biblical scholar dies

Fr. Justin Pierce also served as Salvatorian provincial in 1970s

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Fr. Justin Pierce, 81, a biblical scholar and past provincial for the Society of the Divine Savior, died Sept. 9 at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, where he had been a teacher and chaplain for 27 years.

"Fr. Justin will be greatly missed by the Silver Lake College community," said Sr. Maureen Anne Shepard, college president. "As a scholar in service to community, he contributed the insights into truth, beauty and goodness that he discovered in his study of Scripture and life."

Anthony Pierce was born on June 13, 1919, in Cleveland, Ohio, one of 10 children to the late Frank and Agnes Pierce. He entered the Salvatorians in 1937 and professed religious vows on Sept. 8, 1942, taking the religious name of Justin. He was ordained on June 4, 1948, at St. Gregory Church in St. Nazianz.

Fr. Pierce received his Licentiate in Ecclesiology from the Catholic University of America in 1949 and his Licientiate in Old Testament Theology from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1951. He was fluent in Greek, Latin and several other languages.

His teaching career led him to Divine Savior Seminary in Lanham, Md; St. Pius X Seminary in Galt, Calif.; and Mount St. Paul College in Waukesha before coming to Silver Lake College in 1970. He stayed at the Manitowoc college until his death, except for three years from 1979 to 1982, when he served as provincial for the Salvatorians' USA province, based in Milwaukee.

Sr. Shepard said that Fr. Pierce left a remarkable legacy at Silver Lake.

"Both as chaplain and faculty member," she said, "Fr. Justin was instrumental in building community through his care and concern for each and every person, the initiation of lively exchanges that challenged people to reflect and grow socially and spiritually, and his wit and sense of humor."

"Fr. Justin has always impressed me as a man of deep faith and conviction," added Dr. Robert Berchmans, chair of the college's department of Religious Studies and Philosophy. "When you conversed with him, you knew what he thought and how he felt."

Many people know exactly how Fr. Pierce felt and loved him for it. When he knew he was going to die, Fr. Pierce decided to have a combined birthday and going home party at the college this past June. He was amazed at the number of people who came.

One was Helen Scieszka, pastoral minister at Chilton Interparish and a former psychology professor at Silver Lake where she and Fr. Pierce became friends. Scieszka, who visited Fr. Pierce in his last days, asked him what -- from his biblical background -- he thought heaven would be like.

He told her that he had no idea outside of the fact that it was union with God. For Scieszka, that comment turned out to be a great insight.

"I learned that you can have all that knowledge and still, what it boils down to is faith ... none of the knowledge came in; it was faith that it was union with God. ... That was the biggest gift he gave me."

Berchmans said that people noticed this love and trust in God in Fr. Pierce. "He was a man deeply in love with his God. His love was not a blind love, but a love that demanded honesty and scholarship."

The funeral liturgy for Fr. Justin Pierce was held at Silver Lake Chapel on Sept 13 at which Bp. Robert Morneau presided. Burial was in the Salvatorian Cemetery in St. Nazianz. Fr. Pierce is survived by one brother, John Pierce of Novelty, Ohio, and one sister, Ann (Henry) Grosel of Lakewood, Ohio.

Fr. Pierce requested that all memorials be directed to Silver Lake College, Manitowoc 54220.

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