St. Camillus’s pastor, ‘Brother Chris,’ dies after life devoted to bringing Christ to others
Jul 7, 2020
When people met Franciscan Father Christopher Posch, the pastor of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, he introduced himself as “Brother Chris,” and explained that was how the early Franciscans, and their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, identified themselves.
And in another way, Father Posch – who died on July 5 –-followed the example of St. Francis, who is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
“Chris lived the Gospel in the way he was always concerned with the needs of others. He preached the Gospel with his life,” said Franciscan Father Edgardo “Lalo” Jara, who served with him the past five years at St. Camillus.
The Holy Name Province of the Franciscan Friars announced Father Posch’s death, noting that he had been hospitalized at Holy Cross Hospital since early June with pneumonia. He was 58. The priest was known for living simply and always wearing his brown Franciscan robes in public. In parish correspondence after his name he would write “servant” instead of pastor.
In the weeks before he was hospitalized, Father Posch had joined other Franciscans and staff members of St. Francis International School, which the parish cosponsors, in distributing food to Hispanic families and individuals in Langley Park, a heavily populated apartment complex in Prince George’s County that had become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Maryland, where residents had become sickened by the virus, and many had lost their jobs in the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and the resulting shutdown of businesses and services. The parish also sponsors an emergency fund to support Langley Park families impacted by the crisis.
“The people he was present with at the end were people suffering from this crisis,” said Toby Harkleroad, a Secular Franciscan who is the founding principal of St. Francis International School.
While Father Posch was in the hospital, he was tested for COVID-19, but those tests came back negative. Harkleroad noted that the priest was on a ventilator during most of his hospitalization, sharing the experience of coronavirus patients fighting for their lives there.
“He is the epitome of the Franciscan concept of accompaniment, to be among people just the way Christ came among people,” Harkleroad said, adding that to “Brother Chris,” that meant “to see Christ and to be Christ to anyone he was serving.”
The priest’s loving presence among the people he served could be seen in a photograph taken in mid-May during a food distribution at Langley Park. The photo showed him greeting a mother and her two young children, with the priest and family members all wearing face masks.
In a series of photos taken during a 2017 First Communion Mass for students from St. Francis International School, Father Posch knelt down to be at eye level with each child about to receive his or her First Holy Communion, and the priest smiled as he held the Eucharist before them, offering them the Body of Christ.
Reflecting on those First Communion photos, Harkleroad said, “To him, kneeling down and being at eye level with the children (was him saying), ‘This is me and you and Jesus at a sacred time.’”
The principal noted that this spring marked the 25th anniversary of Father Posch’s ordination to the priesthood, and the priest told him that he had celebrated his first Mass in May 1995 at the Langley Park Catholic Community, which he and the Franciscans had helped establish there to serve the growing population of immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala who lived in those apartments.
Since then, Franciscans from St. Camillus have celebrated Masses at a public school there on weekends. And on the month when he marked his 25th year as a priest, he was once again serving the people in Langley Park.
Harkleroad said that 25 years after Father Posch’s first Mass there, the priest still considered his greatest honor to be “the servant to the poorest of the poor, the immigrant newcomers. He delighted in that ministry.”
And he said that even after being a priest for 25 years, Father Posch’s eyes “would still well up sometimes while saying the Eucharistic prayer.” The principal added, “This man is about the holiest priest I’ve ever encountered in my life.”
After the priest died, the St. Camillus Parish website announced, “With the death of Brother Chris, we have lost a kind brother, a passionate leader, a humble servant, a compassionate companion, a warm welcomer, a tireless man for others, and a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. We know that many of you will want to pay your respects and say goodbye to this good friar.”
The parish website noted that because of limits imposed on gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic and out of a concern for people’s safety, no more than 216 people would be able to attend Father Posch’s Mass of Resurrection on Saturday July 11 at 10 a.m. at St. Camillus Church. People were asked to call the parish office at 301-434-8400 to register to attend the Funeral Mass, which will be livestreamed on the St. Camillus Facebook page.
A wake service for the priest will be held in the vestibule of the church on Friday July 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. The website noted that “all are welcome to pass by and offer a short prayer,” entering by the front door closer to the upper parking lot and leaving by the opposite door.
Harkleroad noted that after Father Posch was appointed as the pastor of St. Camillus Parish in 2016, “he fell in love with this place when he got here.”
And the parishioners there loved him, as did the people he served for 18 years in the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, where he worked at the diocese’s Hispanic Ministry Office as director and associate director, supervising Hispanic ministries at 20 parishes, including 12 parish programs that he helped start. The native of Queens, New York, served at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, New Jersey for three years after his ordination.
Harkleroad noted that a simple announcement of Father Posch’s death on the St. Camillus Facebook page was viewed more than 105,000 times within a day after it was posted.
In an interview for a 2017 Catholic Standard profile of St. Camillus, Father Posch noted that the parish has about 5,000 parishioners from nearly 100 countries, and he stressed that it was an intercultural parish.
“It’s an inspiration, so many gifts, so many approaches to life, so much respect and sensitivity for diversity and reverencing other people and their approaches,” the priest said.
Rather than the traditional image of a “melting pot,” Father Posch, who was of Irish and Slovak ancestry, said he liked to think of his diverse parish as a stew.
“I think of a stew pot. Put all the ingredients into the stew and steam,” he said, adding, “Every ingredient has its own flavor and gives its own flavor to the other ingredients. Everyone is giving of themselves and enriching the other, and everyone is receiving from the others, growing, discovering and being edified. At the same time, everyone maintains (their) identity.”
Masses are celebrated at St. Camillus in English, Spanish and French at the church, and in Spanish at its Langley Park mission, where some religious education classes have been taught in a Mayan language spoken by Guatemalan immigrants. Masses at the parish are sometimes also celebrated in Haitian Creole and in Bangla, also known as Bengali, the main language of Bangladesh.
“We’re all the body of Christ. God is revealed in all different cultures,” the priest said.
The neighboring St. Francis International School, which has 443 students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth, is sponsored by four parishes: St. Camillus; St. Mark the Evangelist in Hyattsville; Our Lady of Vietnam in Silver Spring; and St. Catherine Laboure in Wheaton. The parents of students there were born in more than 50 different countries.
Reflecting on Father Posch’s ministry to St. Camillus Parish and its school, Father Jara said, “He really gave his heart to this community.”
He noted on the day before Father Posch drove himself to the hospital, the priest participated in an all-day online Zoom retreat with a St. Camillus intercultural group.
Father Jara said he was inspired by the pastor’s love for people, especially those who are marginalized, like the poor and immigrants, adding that Father Posch’s priesthood was marked by giving everything he had to help those in need.
“We were hoping he would recover and return to the ministry he loved,” Father Jara said.
As a young Franciscan friar, “Brother Chris” in 1992 served a poor parish in Bolivia, where he ministered to street children. A 2015 online profile of Father Posch on the Franciscans’ website noted that in addition to directing the Diocese of Wilmington’s Hispanic ministries, he personally provided Hispanic ministry at six parishes, two prisons and two migrant camps, in addition to visiting all 20 parishes with those ministries. The immigrants he served include workers at chicken farms and processing plants and crab industry workers. The article by Wendy Healy noted that the priest jokingly called himself “a vago, the Spanish word for hobo or wanderer, an itinerant preacher.”
During his years as a Franciscan, Father Posch participated in many advocacy events to help the poor and marginalized, including demonstrations in the Washington, D.C., area advocating for immigrant rights.
Before entering the Franciscan order, Father Posch earned a bachelor of science degree in computer science and religious studies from Manhattan College in New York City. He later earned a master’s degree in theology from the Washington Theological Union and studied philosophy at St. Joseph College and the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
The Franciscan priest known for his joyful demeanor loved visiting the ocean and enjoyed playing the guitar and singing.
The priest is survived by his father Anthony Posch of New Orleans, a brother Michael of Southaven, New York, and two sisters – Elizabeth Kohl of Centerport, New York, and Kathy Posch of New York City. Father Posch’s mother, Eileen Posch, preceded him in death.
Remembering his friend, Father Jara said, “We were completely different, but we had wonderful moments together.” He remembered a day when it was Father Posch’s turn to cook, and the priest’s attempt at a pasta meal resulted in the smoke detector going off and tomato sauce and other ingredients splattered all over the kitchen.
“Everything was everywhere,” said Father Jara, laughing at the memory, and adding, “He knew his limitations.”
The St. Camillus priest said Father Posch’s life and his ministry demonstrated how people’s differences are gifts from God, and as they share the world, they are called to love one another and “ to live together as brothers and sisters.” That, he said, is what “Brother Chris” did.