Franciscan Father Chris Posch is being remembered for his welcoming presence, organizational skills and desire to integrate the Hispanic community into the Diocese of Wilmington. The priest, known to everyone as Brother Chris, died July 5 after battling bilateral pneumonia for a month. He was 58.
Al Drushler arrived in the diocese in 1998, the same year Brother Chris took over the Hispanic ministry. Drushler came to Wilmington for the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry program, and Brother Chris invited the volunteers to accompany him to many of the activities he planned for his ministry. Drushler said the volunteers helped provide transportation for immigrant students at St. Paul’s School, taught English as a second language at St. Paul’s and in migrant workers’ homes, and led a religious education program at a local apartment complex with a sizeable immigrant population.
“One of the things I remember the most about Brother Chris was his endless energy and perpetual joy,” Drushler said. “He worked all over the diocese and never seemed to get tired. He was passionate about helping the marginalized and worked tirelessly to bring communities together.”
Brother Chris left the diocese in 2016 to become pastor of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., a large, multicultural congregation in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. His funeral will be celebrated there on Saturday, July 11, at 10 a.m. Bishop Malooly said attendance will be “very limited” because of the coronavirus pandemic; he passed along his condolences to Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington on July 6.
According to a notice on the parish website, a viewing will be held July 10 from 7-9 p.m. in the vestibule at St. Camillus. Mourners will be able to pay respects and are asked to spend no more than a minute at the casket. The funeral Mass will have a maximum of 216 people present; advance registration is required. It will be livestreamed on the St. Camillus Facebook page. Burial will be in the friars’ section of Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Butler, N.J., at a later date.
He was born in Astoria, Queens, N.Y., and graduated from Manhattan College. He entered the novitiate of the Order of Friars Minor in 1989 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1995. He marked 25 years as a priest this year.
Bishop Malooly worked with Brother Chris for 10 years and recalled his dedication to the people he served.
“He would do a tripleheader on Sundays, whatever the need was. Even though he lived with the friars at St. Paul’s, he was all over the diocese,” the bishop said.
Father John Hynes, the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish near Prices Corner, said Brother Chris spent a lot of time at the parish helping expand its Hispanic ministry. During his 18 years as the director of Hispanic ministry, the number of parishes offering Masses in Spanish doubled to 20.
Father Hynes said some of the men in his parish joined a youth group started by Brother Chris years ago. He did that kind of outreach all over the diocese.
“I think Brother Chris established relationships like that in all the Hispanic communities in the diocese. He would seek out little pockets of Hispanic people who otherwise would have been neglected by the church because they weren’t part of a parish,” Father Hynes said.
The Franciscan visited every corner of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He said Mass once a month at Delaware Park for the track workers. He traveled to Dorchester County, Md., to spend time with the female migrant workers who work picking crabs. He acted as a chaplain for Hispanics and other inmates at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington. Father Hynes said Brother Chris would take vacations to Mexico to meet the families of the people he ministered to in Delaware and Maryland.
“He was a wonder in his zeal and in his understanding of people’s souls. He was tireless … in the number of people he influenced,” Father Hynes said.
Brother Chris was involved with the Diocese of Wilmington’s solidarity partnership with the Diocese of San Marcos, Guatemala. The former bishop of San Marcos, Cardinal Alvaro Ramazzini, recalled the Franciscan’s sense of humor and can see him telling jokes in heaven.
“I will never forget his joy in life, his commitment, his love, and his dedication for my fellow Guatemalans,” Cardinal Ramazzini wrote to Father Hynes. “Now he is up there in heaven telling jokes to St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare, and the Guatemalan martyrs. The Lord Jesus will crack up when he hears his friar half mad or completely mad for his Kingdom as embodied in the poor and marginalized.”
Cardinal Ramazzini, who has visited the Diocese of Wilmington several times and now leads the Diocese of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, said he celebrated a Mass for his fellow priest and wishes he could be in the United States for his funeral.
Mary Jo Frohlich met Brother Chris when he arrived in the diocese. She volunteered with the Hispanic ministry office to help build bridges between Hispanics and their communities.
“Brother Chris worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the Hispanic community, and he did it with love and compassion. Mirrored in the ideal of St. Francis of Assisi, Chris changed lives and attitudes for the better. He loved life, he loved people, and he loved God. We wanted to imitate him, and it made us better people,” Frohlich said.
Bishop Malooly said Brother Chris met people where they were in what was a critical time for Hispanics in the diocese. He credited the priest with keeping many of the immigrants in the Catholic Church, providing a priestly presence since many parishes were served by circuit-riding clerics.
Part of his mission was to train others to be leaders in their communities, Father Hynes explained. “He trained people and empowered people to take on those roles themselves. Some of those men are serving in our diocese now.”
One priest, Father Carlos Ochoa, now an associate pastor at St. John’s/Holy Angels in Newark, is in the Diocese of Wilmington thanks to Brother Chris, who visited a seminary in Guadalajara, Mexico, and invited a number of seminarians to visit.
Father Ochoa arrived on a student permit in 2005 and began studying for the priesthood for the diocese, which sponsored him. He was ordained in 2009 and became a United States citizen in 2018.
Father Hynes said Brother Chris was gentle and positive, even when leveling criticism. The number of people he influenced is reflective of his tireless demeanor.
“He was a wonder in his zeal and in his understanding of people’s souls,” Father Hynes said.
Frohlich said she will remember the priest’s “infectious” sense of humor and that he made people happier and more alive.
“I will miss him immensely,” she said.
Drushler, a member of St. Catherine’s, said Brother Chris has had an impact on his life by giving him an understanding and example of the church’s mission of solidarity and support of the marginalized.
“What I will remember the most about Brother Chris is his passion for working with the marginalized and his energy and joyful spirit,” Drushler said. “It was obvious that he dedicated his life to living the gospel and always inviting others to join him. It was not ‘work’ to Brother Chris, it was his life and mission. He exemplified the Franciscan spirit in all that he did.”
Father Posch is survived by his father, Anthony, his brother Michael and two sisters, Elizabeth Kohl and Kathy. Donations in his name can be made to the Franciscan Friars — Holy Name Province, 144 W. 32nd St., New York, NY 10001-3202.