home events current issue resources
  around the church archive marketplace subscribe
   
"Those whose lives his work has touched remain in his debt."  
  Rev. Peter J. Scagnelli (1949-2017)  
Mary G. Fox  
   

As we celebrate the witness of all the saints whose lives were shaped by the Beatitudes, form us according to Christ's teaching and their example, that, having shared in the communion of the saints on earth, we might take our place among them in the joy of the kingdom.

—Collect on All Saints in Prayers for Sundays and Seasons

Rev. Peter J. Scagnelli was a Latinist, a humorist, and a lover of the Church, of words, and of hymn texts. He wrote prayers that were poetic and translated Latin texts into fluid prose. He was known not only for his care with language but for possessing a mind that was filled with knowledge of the Church’s history and liturgy, information that he was happy to share in conversation and the written word.

After suffering with a brain tumor for about sixteen months, Scagnelli, 68, died on July 12. At his request, his funeral will be July 19, at St. Tarcisius Parish, the church in Framingham, Massachusetts, where he was baptized and his faith was nurtured as a youth.

He was born January 13, 1949, in Framingham, where he lived at the end of his life. About an hour from his childhood home, he studied Latin at Carmelite Junior Seminary with Frs. Casimir Zielinski and Sylvan Boyle, both of whom he kept in touch with until the end of their lives. Latin studies continued during Scagnelli's first year in college with the Carmelites in Niagara Falls, Ontario, after which he attended the University of Connecticut. After a year of graduate school at Boston College, he entered St. John Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts, receiving his mdiv in 1976. He was ordained for the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, the same year. He received his ma from St. John Seminary in 1995 and his doctorate in theology from Boston University in 2003. As a priest of the Diocese of Providence, he served in the worship office and at parishes.

Scagnelli’s service to the Church had an unusual start years before he entered the seminary. While a college student, he answered a general inquiry from the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and then began the work of translating and developing texts for the 1974 Sacramentary. "Peter found a pamphlet from ICEL in the back of the Newman Chapel asking for suggestions for English translations of Mass texts," his sister Diane Scagnelli explained. "He wrote to ICEL and submitted his suggestions. This began his thirty-year association with ICEL."

Jim Schellman, former associate executive secretary at ICEL, said that Scagnelli contributed toward the Alternative Opening Prayers and a few of the translations in the Sacramentary. Calling that work "a remarkable achievement for one so young," Schellman said, "I felt privileged to have him back and work with him in the ICEL arena in the 80s and 90s." He added, "He now joins a very special choir of liturgical spirits in the heavenly liturgy. May he be welcomed by our Lord with the same combination of gentleness and deep commitment that he brought to us and the life of the Church in this life."

Through many years of working with Scagnelli, editors at LTP, the blog Pray Tell, and World Library Publications (WLP) became well acquainted with their author's vast knowledge and openness to sharing it. Scagnelli wrote and consulted with LTP from the 1980s through the early 2000s. He was the author for many years of Sourcebook: An Almanac for Sundays and Seasons, Celebrating Liturgy (a predecessor to Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, and Paschal Mission, as well as Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Years A, B, and C (© 1998, 1997, and 1996, respectively). Though Prayers for Sundays and Seasons is out of print, some of the prayers he wrote for it continue to be published in At Home with the Word and other LTP resources.

Victoria M. Tufano, one of his editors at LTP, said, "That was quite the education for me. He knew so much about everything. He knew the rubrics and the details down to the semicolon. He also had the history, and the story and the background. It was always very rich and informative." She added, "He was full of life, and he was full of joy and wit. I think that he deeply, deeply loved the Church and her liturgy."

For WLP, Scagnelli wrote homilies, parish materials, and hymn texts. The company is publishing the collection of his hymn texts and translations This Day of God: Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs later this summer. At WLP, editor Mike Novak found that his author was delighted to research topics thoroughly. "Whenever the phone rang and it turned out to be Peter," Novak said, "I knew I had to set aside at least an hour for the conversation. We would dispatch our business rather quickly, and then Peter would be reminded of a story, which would remind him of something from Church history, which would remind him of something that happened to him twenty-five years ago . . . and so it would go for most of an hour. He was a storyteller par excellence, telling each tale with great relish and embellishment. He would preface each Church history item with 'You know about [fill in the blank], don't you?' and then he would proceed to tell me all about it. Phone conversations with Peter were always an education and an adventure, and I treasured them. They were how I got to know Peter as a friend."

As a moderator of Pray Tell, Rita Ferrone’s e-mail conversations with Scagnelli were just as telling. He let her in on not only his thoughts on the Church, but also on the days when he was a disc jockey on the college radio station WHUS and, after graduation, at WILI in Williamantic, Connecticut.

"Oh, the stories Peter could tell," said Ferrone. "I was amazed to discover that in addition to being a noteworthy Latinist and translator of liturgical texts, Peter adored top-40s radio, and had worked his way through college (and into seminary) by serving as a DJ in Connecticut, under the pseudonym of Tom Lyons. He would razz the Catholic teenagers who listened to his station on Saturday nights, telling them they had to get to Mass in the morning."

Though Ferrone met Scagnelli only once, their e-mails were telling. "Peter had a good heart," she said. "He was passionate about the right to life of the unborn. He adored Pope Francis and his witness to 'a poor church, a church of the poor.' He loved animals and delighted in his cat Rex (named for an O Antiphon), a stray he adopted who astonishingly had opposable thumbs."

Ferrone called her sole meeting with Peter "unforgettable." "We talked about everything under the sun, and the time passed too quickly." She added, "Peter has been too soon taken from us. Yet he will be remembered by his students, colleagues, and friends. And those whose lives his work has touched remain in his debt, whether they knew him or not."

Scagnelli's contribution to the prayer life of the Church will live on just as will the memories of the humor, joy, and devotion that he brought friends, family, and colleagues. "Peter was a wonderful brother and a devoted son," said Diane. "He had a big, open heart, was kind, witty, wrote the best cards, and kept my parents laughing during their illnesses."

May he take his place among the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom.

Mary G. Fox
is the Editor of Pastoral Liturgy®. Pastoral Liturgy® is published by Liturgy Training Publications.
 
         
© Copyright 2006-2013
LITURGY TRAINING PUBLICATIONS
privacy  contact us  www.LTP.org