FATHER KARL PATZELT
In 1983, I was studying at San Francisco State University and wanted to attend the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom offered by a priest in union with Rome, as often as I could. I found several places I could go, such as the Ukrainian Catholic Church. But I also found a peculiar little church in the City; Our Lady of Fatima Russian Catholic Church.
I was quite surprised to find the church looking like this :
The church was a large house. Part of it was converted into a chapel. When I went to Divine Liturgy there on a weekday morning, I found an elderly acolyte, a single woman cantor and Father Karl Patzelt, Jesuit.
The first time I saw his face, he had just opened the Royal Doors of the iconostasis, the icon-laden screen that separates the sanctuary from the rest of the church in an Eastern church. He had the same gaze as the picture above, and he looked straight into my eyes. There were only myself and another person in the nave of the little chapel, so it wasn't hard to see me. I got a little nervous when he looked at me with those intense eyes, and I knew nothing about him.
I continued to go to Our Lady of Fatima Russian Catholic Church for divine services on and off during the week and every now and then on a Sunday, and managed to find the nerve to pop in unannounced at the church on a weekday afternoon to see Father Patzelt. I figured he was on in years and not the type to go out much and his congregation was small enough that he wouldn't be called on daily for pastoral needs. Sure enough, I found him quite alone in that big house.
He told me he was Austrian and had worked with Russian Catholics during World War II. We talked about the liturgy and theology and the state of affairs of the Church in 1983. Only later did I find out that he was an exorcist, or at least had done some exorcisms.
I would see him now and then for little talks. In one area of the house, there were books from the floor to the ceiling and I picked up a book and couldn't tell what language it was in. I could already do the Cyrillic alphabet and this was in Roman letters, and it didn't look like a Slavic language. He kept smiling to himself as he saw me struggle to figure it out. It was definitely an Eastern Rite book. Finally he said, "Rumanian!" He enjoyed stumping me that time.
In one serious discussion (he was normally very formal), we talked about the problems of the Church since Vatican II.
He said to me, "Termites."
I said, "What?"
"Termites!" he said. "The problem of the Church today is that our worst enemies are still inside the Church, like termites. They eat away at the inner heart among the faithful, weakening and taking away their faith, but you cannot see them. They are under the wood, covered by it; but deep inside is where all the damage is being done."
"In the past," he said, "at least our enemies left the Church, or Rome suspended or excommunicated them. But now, they remain in the Church to destroy her, or Rome lets them go unpunished."
Of course, he knew and I knew that the Church will never be destroyed. Souls are lost, which is a tragic thing, but the Church will not disappear.
Rest in peace, Father Patzelt. Thank you for teaching me about the termites.