By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published November 25, 2010
The vibrant and faithful life of the late Fransalian Father Martin J. Kopchik was remembered at a funeral celebration of the Eucharist on Nov. 12 at St. Jude Church.
Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama presided at the Mass. Nearly 50 diocesan and Fransalian priests were in attendance as well as hundreds of lay people, including family members, friends and those who knew the priest during his years of ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The priest, who most recently served as the director of the Fransalian Center for Spirituality in Snellville, died on Saturday, Nov. 6. He was 61.
Father Kopchik’s priestly brothers offered their touching memories of sharing ministry with the priest, affectionately known as “Father Marty,” bringing both smiles and tears to the gathered assembly.
“I’m honored, privileged and blessed to be here today to celebrate this Eucharist for the last time with Father Marty,” said Father Augustine Tharappel, MSFS, the regional superior of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, who served as the homilist for the funeral Mass.
During his homily, Father Tharappel thanked the family members, his brother priests and Fransalians for attending the liturgical celebration, some of whom traveled from as far as Texas to be there. He also offered a special thanks to the Kopchik family for encouraging Father Kopchik in his faith and vocation, noting what a blessing the priest had been to the Fransalian community and to the people to whom he ministered.
“Father Marty brought great joy to us all,” said Father Tharappel, who served with him for 15 years.
“It is a heavy loss for us because he was our family,” he said in a later interview. “It is a great loss for us.”
Father Kopchik served as superior of the American mission of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales for 12 years. He became vocations director and superior of the local community when the mission was raised to the status of a region in the congregation and director of the Fransalian Spirituality Center.
The priest died at Villa Luyet in Snellville where he lived with two other members of his Fransalian community, Father John DeVore and Father George Puraidam. Father Tharappel said the exact cause of his death has not been determined. An autopsy was performed, but the community will not learn the results for some time, he said.
The superior was touched to see how many people came to a prayer service Nov. 11 and to the funeral Mass for Father Kopchik and how they spoke of his impact on them.
He said the community is grieving this sudden and unexpected loss, but he believes they will send another Fransalian to the archdiocese in the future.
“We will be restructuring and sending someone, but it will take some time,” he said.
During his time in the archdiocese, Father Kopchik served in several parishes, including as pastor of St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville, from 1989 to 1994, as pastor of St. Patrick Church, Norcross, from 1994 to 2000, and as a parochial vicar at St. Jude Church from 2004 to 2008. He was appointed director of the Fransalian Spirituality Center from 2002 to 2004 and again in July 2008.
He was born on Feb. 16, 1949, in Gary, Ind., and after college, while working in Norcross as a computer programmer, became very active at St. Patrick Church both in the St. Vincent de Paul Society and in the charismatic prayer group. At the time the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales staffed both St. Patrick Church and St. Lawrence Church and the example of the priests there led him to enter the congregation.
Father Kopchik was ordained a priest of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales on May 19, 1986 by Atlanta Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan.
“I wanted to be a priest, I guess, for many years, looking back on it,” he said at the time. “God’s call was manifested in living the Christian life in a dynamic, appealing way.”
As director of the spirituality center and in parishes where he served, he conducted classes on spirituality, prayer and Scripture, directed retreats and assisted people in their spiritual lives. In addition to study in philosophy and theology, he had taken graduate study in sacred Scripture at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
In 2002 he spent a sabbatical year in Avila, Spain, studying the Spanish mystics St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, in a program with 50 priests and sisters from around the world.
In 2005, to thank God for his 20 years of priesthood, he backpacked some 10 miles a day for about a month along the rugged “Camino de Santiago” in Spain, an ancient Christian pilgrimage path leading to the shrine of St. James the Apostle. His pilgrimage experience was reported in The Georgia Bulletin on Aug. 4, 2005.
Msgr. James Fennessy, pastor of St. Jude Church, shared a few words about Father Marty at the end of the Mass on Nov. 12.
“I offer his dear mother and brothers and sisters, all family members and the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, our deepest sympathy. We share deeply your sadness and loss for all of us have lost a dear brother, a wonderful friend and priest,” he said.
Msgr. Fennessy said Father Kopchik loved God and the people around him, and it was easy to see in his ministry as he treated his brothers and sister with true hospitality and welcome.
Father Tharappel officiated at the committal services by the graveside in Arlington Memorial Park after the Mass. A reception followed at St. Jude Church.
Father Kopchik was predeceased by his father, Basil. He is survived by his mother, Josephine Marie Kopchik; sister, Stephanie Kopchik of Crown Point, Ind.; brothers, Charles Kopchik of Pfafftown, N.C., Michael Kopchik of Copperas Cove, Texas, and John Charles Kopchik of Minneapolis; niece, Michele Kopchik of Austin, Texas; nephew, Christopher Kopchik of High Point, N.C.; and grandnephew, Thomas.
Condolences may be sent to Josephine Marie Kopchik, 1375 Wright Drive, Crown Point, IN 46307 and to Father John DeVore, superior of the Fransalian Spirituality Center, 3474 Pate Drive, Snellville, GA 30078.