Fr. Robert Prendergast dies; funeral in Kewanee Wednesday

KEWANEE — A funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at St. Francis of Assisi Church here for Father Robert E. Prendergast, 91, a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria who had served as a hospital chaplain in Kewanee and Galesburg.

Father Prendergast died on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013 at his home in Kewanee.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, is the scheduled principal celebrant of the funeral Mass. Concelebrants are to include Father Mark DeSutter, Father James Rickey, and priests from throughout the diocese.

Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at tRux Funeral Home, 507 S. Chestnut, Kewanee, with the rosary recited at 8 p.m. Visitation resumes an hour before the funeral Mass on Wednesday at the church.

Born June 25, 1922, in the Ridgewood section of Brooklyn, N.Y., to Edward and Nellie (Lacker) Prendergast, he was raised in Queens and educated in the public schools of New York City. After two years of college studies, he decided to pursue the priesthood. His home diocese had abundant vocations, so on the advice of his pastor at the time he said a prayer to the Holy Ghost, then opened the Official Catholic Directory — which lists every archdiocese and diocese in the United States. The page that opened first was for the Diocese of Peoria.

“I’ve never regretted it,” Father Prendergast told The Catholic Post in 2010 on the occasion of his 60th anniversary as a priest of this diocese.

He studied philosophy and theology at Christ the King Seminary in St. Bonaventure, N.Y., and on May 28, 1950 was ordained to the priesthood at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Peoria, by Bishop Joseph H. Schlarman.

After serving as assistant at the cathedral parish for three years, Father Prendergast encountered serious health problems that led to his re-assignment as a chaplain at St. Francis Hospital in Kewanee. Sixteen years later, he became chaplain of St. Mary’s Hospital in Galesburg.

Because of declining health, he was granted senior priest status in 1974.

“As a hospital chaplain, you’re part of things,” he told The Catholic Post in the 2010 interview. Calling the work “very gratifying,” he told how people would come up to him in restaurants and recall stories such as “Forty-two years ago my husband died and you were right there with me.”

After his retirement, he served the parishes of St. Joseph and St. Francis of Assisi in Kewanee and offered the Spanish Mass at St. Francis. Despite the challenges of living with Parkinson’s disease the last 17 years of his life, he continued what would be a more than 75-year tradition of praying 15 decades of the rosary daily.

Father Prendergast’s closest surviving relative is Alfred Lacker of New City, N.Y. He also had several close caregivers who provided for him and shared friendship over the years.

Burial will be in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Kewanee.

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