Former Vatican peace and justice administrator, man behind saints’ cause led life of example

Father Robert Pung, 1916-2006


The Rev. Robert Edward Pung, a Divine Word Missionary priest, died on Sept. 28, 2006, at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Ill., at the age of 90. He had been in failing health for several months.

Father Pung was born in Westphalia, Mich., on Jan. 8, 1916, the youngest of John Nicholas Pung and Julianna Simon’s ten children. He entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Techny, Ill., in 1931. He professed religious vows in the Society of the Divine Word in 1939 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1944.

He was assigned to teach at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and remained there for ten years, rising to the position of seminary rector. He was named provincial superior of the U.S. Southern Province in 1955. After three years, he was transferred to Rome, Italy, where he served on the general council of the Society of the Divine Word.

Father Pung spent the next 45 years—from 1958 to 2003—in Rome serving his religious community and the Catholic Church in numerous high-level administrative and leadership positions. From 1971 to 1985, he was the administrator of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace at the Vatican.

In his role as postulator general for the Society of the Divine Word, he promoted the cause of sainthood for Arnold Janssen, the Society’s founder, and Joseph Freinademetz, one of the Society’s first missionaries to China. The culmination of these efforts was the canonization at Saint Peter’s Basilica of Saints Arnold and Joseph by Pope John Paul II in October 2003.

Father Pung retired to Mississippi after the canonization. He was elected as a delegate to the General Chapter and traveled to Rome this summer for six weeks of international meetings to chart the future directions for the more than 6,100 Divine Word Missionary priests and brothers serving in more than 70 countries worldwide.

He became ill in Rome, was treated there and returned to Techny in July. He received care at the Divine Word Residence in Techny and was in and out of the hospital several times prior to his death.

The wake service and Mass of the Resurrection were held at the Divine Word Residence in Techny. At Father Pung’s request and in accordance with the laws of the Catholic Church, his body was cremated after the religious services. The ashes will be interred at the Divine Word cemetery in Bay St. Louis.

Father Pung was preceded in death by his nine sisters and brothers. He is survived by numerous nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

In the reflections offered at the funeral service, Father Joseph Simon, provincial of the U.S. Southern Province, echoed the thoughts of many when he said, "We thank God for Father Pung’s life of leadership and holiness, knowing that his accomplishments and example have positively impacted the lives of every living Divine Word Missionary and those yet to come for many generations."

Memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to: The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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