By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published October 15, 2009
The community at St. Thomas the Apostle Church came together on Monday, Oct. 12, for a memorial Mass to celebrate the life of Father Francisco Negri, a Missionary of Our Lady of LaSalette, who died on Sept. 28 at the age of 50.
“We gather together this evening as a community and as a family to pray for a beloved member, our brother, Father Francisco Negri,” said LaSalette Father Jim Kuczynski, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle. The Symrna parish is where Father Negri was stationed when he came to the United States in 2007.
“The warmest of memories draw us together to remember and celebrate the gift that he was to us all as a good man, a good friend, a good priest,” he continued.
Known as an outgoing priest who made friends wherever he went, Father Negri professed his first vows as a LaSalette on Feb. 3, 1998, and was ordained to the priesthood on July 25, 2004, by Bishop Juan Carlos Maccarone at the Parish of Our Lady of LaSalette in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, his hometown.
Born Aug. 24, 1959, to Jose Alberto Negri and Josefina del Valle Alcorta, Father Negri, known as “Father Pancho” to his friends, was a late vocation.
The family moved from Santiago del Estero to the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires where he was raised in the city of Derqui. Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSalette staffed the parish church, and he became involved in the pastoral outreach of the parish.
Father Negri entered the pre-novitiate formation program at the LaSalette House of Studies in Cordoba, Argentina, and completed his novitiate in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He continued his philosophy and theology studies at CEFIT, a major seminary for religious communities in Cordoba.
“I was blessed to meet Father Pancho a few times during his formation,” said Father Kuczynski. “I was struck by his strong desire for community life, to live as a LaSalette religious in our world today, and his hopes to be a minister of reconciliation.”
“I remember praying then that the good work God had begun in Pancho would become fulfilled,” the pastor said. “Today, earlier than we expected, we pray in thanksgiving for the way Father Pancho went about his ministry of reconciliation. In 50 years of life, 11 years of religious profession and five years of priesthood, God’s good work has been accomplished in Father Pancho.”
After ordination, Father Negri was assigned as parochial vicar at the Parish of Our Lady of LaSalette, Cochabamba, Bolivia, before coming to the United States with a few goals in mind: to learn English, to experience parish organization and to function in another culture.
Recently he returned to Argentina after learning that there was no further medical way to treat the lymphoma that he had battled. He died in Argentina.
As Father Negri left the Smyrna parish on Sept. 14, men, women and children lined the roadsides, holding messages and different color roses that signified whether they would offer a Mass, a rosary, or another kind of sacrifice for him in the days ahead. Poignantly, as they surrounded him with this loving farewell, the parish received a phone call informing them that another LaSalette priest serving the parish, Father Leo Cummings, had died at a nearby hospice,
“Father Pancho was an Argentine through and through. He was Argentine in his taste buds. He was Argentine in his accent. Although he was Argentine to the core, he also had the heart of a missionary,” said Father Kuczynski.
“We thank God . . . for our brother and priest, Father Pancho, who walked with us on the road, sharing his life and faith, helping us to recognize the Lord in our lives.”