Catholic figures from Washington, D.C. are remembering the legacy of Fr. Arne Panula, former U.S. vicar of Opus Dei, and a beloved leader, mentor and friend of many throughout the city.
“Father Arne Panula is greatly identified with our Archdiocesan Catholic Information Center where he carried out a quiet, effective, evangelizing ministry that touched many including a large number of young professionals,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl Washington D.C. in a statement to CNA.
“Both his erudition and spirituality were inviting qualities that helped so many others come to a deeper knowledge and love of the Lord. His priestly presence will be greatly missed.”
Cardinal Wuerl presided over Fr. Panula’s funeral Mass on Saturday, July 22 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Fr. Panula passed away at his Washington, D. C. home on July 19, 2017 after a long battle with cancer.
Born in Duluth, Minn., Fr. Panula graduated from Harvard University in 1967, before traveling to Rome to study Theology. While there, he lived with St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of the personal prelature Opus Dei.
Fr. Panula was ordained a priest in 1973 before serving as chaplain of The Heights School in Washington, D.C. He later served as the U.S. vicar of Opus Dei from 1998-2002.
Starting in 2007, Fr. Panula became the director of the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The center includes a bookstore and chapel, offering Mass, adoration, confession and spiritual direction, as well as talks from Catholic speakers.
Under Fr. Panula’s guidance, in 2013 the center began offering an educational fellowship, the Leonine Forum, to help young professionals learn more about the Church’s Social Teaching and service.
Members of Washington D.C.’s Catholic community remembered the priest for his influence in their lives. The Embassy of Poland also mourned his death, linking to his obituary and posting a picture of Fr. Panula giving an opening blessing at an event.
Chad Pecknold, theology professor at The Catholic University of America and leader of several Leonine Forum sessions, remembered the priest on Twitter: “Fr. Arne Panula died today. A hero of the Faith, I’m proud to have called him friend & Father. May God’s perpetual light shine upon him. RIP.”
Leonine Fellow and communications professional Elise Italiano commented on social media that Fr. Panula “treated Washington elite, the homeless at his doorstep, and many in between with equal dignity and compassion.”
Another Leonine Fellow, Catherine Szeltner, host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, recalled that “Fr. Arne Panula was a man whose eyes were piercing – but his kindness – even more so. It was an honor to know you. Requiem aeternam.”
George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, noted that Fr. Panula served as a spiritual director to many from all walks of life, many of whom had colorful and difficult journeys to the faith.
Weigel, who is a frequent speaker at the Catholic Information Center, said that Fr. Panula helped turn the center into a “vibrant” source of authentic Catholic life and evangelization amid a city associated more with House of Cards than the House of the Lord.
“He was a man deeply in love with the gift of the priesthood, who was, I would also say, completely unclerical. He fully understood that sanctity is not limited to the sanctuary, that everyone is called by baptism to be a saint and he helped people do that,” Weigel added.
“He was really one of the most remarkable priests I have met.”