First American-born SVD Superior General lives on in memory

Father John Musinski, 1918-2006


Father John Musinsky, 87, died March 2 at Mt. Grace Convent, St. Louis, where he was temporarily serving as chaplain to a community of cloistered Sisters.

Born in Farrell, Penn., in 1918, Fr. Musinsky entered the Society at Sacred Heart Seminary, Girard, Penn., in 1931. He was ordained at Techny, Ill., in 1944 and earned a doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome in 1947. He received a papal award for his doctoral dissertation as the best dissertation submitted for that year. He taught philosophy, lecturing in German at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Sieburg, Germany, from 1947 to 1949.

Following his return to the United States in 1949, he served as prefect of seminarians at Techny and Bay St. Louis, Miss., then as novice director at Divine Word Seminary, Conesus, N.Y. He was spiritual director at Divine Word Seminary, Epworth, Iowa, from 1961 to 1967. In 1967, at the age of 49, Father Musinsky became the first American to be elected superior general of the Society of the Divine Word. He served as superior general of the Society for ten years.

Father Antonio Pernia, superior general of the Society, gave the funeral homily at Techny for Father Musinsky. He said in part, "On March 2, when we heard that our dear Father John Musinsky had died, there was shock and sadness all over the SVD world—from St. Louis to Santiago in Chile, from Chicago to Rome, from Nemi to Steyl, from Mumbai in India to Mozambique in Africa.

"This universal outpouring of grief revealed how much he was loved and respected. We knew him as a truly good person, a generous confrere, a humble priest, an understanding superior and an insightful spiritual guide.

"Moreover, my predecessor in office, Father Henry Barlage, told me that he considered Father Musinsky as probably the greatest among the superiors general of the Society. This was because Father John presided over the Society during one of the most difficult times facing the Society in particular and the Church in general, the times immediately after Vatican II. The reforms introduced by Vatican II were meant to renew the Church and religious life. But these reforms also had the potential to divide religious communities and the Church itself—progressives against conservatives, the young against the old, the left against the right, reformists against traditionalists. Father John’s insightful and effective leadership kept the Society united during those turbulent years after Vatican II.

"I believe Father John was the right superior general at the right time. His twofold challenge for us to be open to the world and to be rooted in the Spirit renewed the Society and kept it united after Vatican II."
In 1977, Father Musinksy became director of the Society’s house of studies at Nemi, near Rome, and also served as spiritual director for religious sisters working in Rome.

Semi-retired in 1990, he remained on the staff at the house of studies. He stayed in Rome long enough to attend the canonization of the Society’s founder, St. Arnold Janssen, on Oct. 5, 2003. Following the canonization, he retired at Techny.

Father Musinsky remained active in retirement, preaching retreats to priests and brothers and presiding at Masses at the Convent of the Holy Spirit in Northfield and at Techny Towers. He is remembered by his confreres as "compassion and graciousness personified."

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