Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Fencik joins CFCS: ‘I’m passionate about giving back to the Church’
Story and photo by Eric Meisfjord
(From the Aug. 21, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
John Fencik is the new Associate Director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services. (IR photo)
As Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services (CFCS) extends its ministry throughout the Catholic community of Eastern Washington, simple education – the Church’s teachings on proper care of the dead, of the funeral rites – has become a prime objective.
Helping move that goal forward is John Fencik, the new Associate Director of CFCS, who brings with him a long history in administration and education within the context of Catholicism.
Fencik (pronounced FEN-zick) began his work – in a very real sense, a ministry – with CFCS on April 28. He comes to Eastern Washington after six years with the Diocese of Helena, Mont., which covers the western end of the state. There he was diocesan director of faith formation. The job was more intricate that the title might suggest.
“That involved responsibility for religious education programs throughout the (Helena) diocese,” said Fencik during an interview recently in his office at Holy Cross Cemetery in north Spokane. “A lot of adult faith formation,” with presentations “the breadth and width of the diocese. I loved it.”
It also included lay ministry formation and teaching in the diocese’s deacon formation program. He served as the diocese’s ecumenical officer, too, and was director of Legendary Lodge, the diocese’s summer camp and retreat facility, about 45 miles from Missoula. Not to mention his regular column for the diocese’s newspaper, The Montana Catholic.
He’s been a teacher, principal, coach, and administrator in schools, both Catholic and private, on the East Coast, including Florida and North Carolina, before he moved to Helena in 2008.
After accepting the position in Spokane and working now with Catholic Management Services, much of his time will again be focused on education: bringing Catholics up to speed on the Church’s ministry through the funeral rites and rituals.
What intrigued him about the job in Spokane?
It was “something different. A different kind of job or ministry,” he said. With the retirement of Jim Falkner as Executive Director of the cemeteries, Catholic Management Services, which helps guide administration of the Catholic cemeteries in Spokane, was specifically looking for someone with an education background. Fencik has already been reaching out to pastors and parishes with workshops and presentations.
The goal is to “enlighten people,” he said, especially as CFCS moves gradually into offering funeral services, in addition to disposition of remains.
His presentations, he said, have a number of parts, beginning with Catholic rituals of funeral and burial and, in particular, the liturgical aspects of the rituals.
Second come end-of-life issues, especially the legal aspects of that area. Third is the element of Hospice care and what that involves. Last, he acquaints people with the three Spokane cemeteries – Holy Cross in the north, St. Joseph to the east, and Queen of Peace to the south of the city – “plus our funeral services.”
CFCS offers full funeral and cemetery service, said Fencik, “everything, from the moment the person dies, then caring respectfully for the remains, preparing the bodies,” and providing a full-time funeral home. The chapel at Holy Cross cemetery is available for vigils.
Most of his presentations so far have been in the Spokane metropolitan area, he said. But he’s also very cognizant of the fact that “local communities have relationships with their local funeral homes. We’re not trying to take that over.”
There are still questions in people’s minds regarding cremation, and the status of veterans who have passed away: Can they be buried in a Catholic cemetery, and at what cost?
He acknowledged the hard work of his predecessor, Jim Falkner.
“We’ve got a great team” at CFCS, he said, “which is a credit to Jim Faulkner.” He’s already received compliments about the professionalism of Holy Cross’s grounds crew from the staff of other funeral homes.
That sense of teamwork was even more evident after a recent windstorm toppled over 20 trees on the grounds of Holy Cross. Crew members came in on Saturday and Sunday that weekend, “on their own time,” Fencik said, to rope things off for safety and begin cleanup. “Our office manager was here that Saturday night and on Sunday,” he said. “It’s a great crew.”
Besides outreach to pastors and parishes – he said he’s met with almost every pastor now – he’ll be offering faith formation opportunities at Holy Cross, and has also offered his continuing education expertise for adult faith formation programs in parishes. His undergraduate degree was in British literature, with a minor in philosophy, but he also has a master’s degree in Biblical studies from Fordham University in Bronx, N.Y.
Key for him is understanding the Church in part through its history, its roots, its traditions. “I love sitting with people and giving them a different perspective” than they might have already encountered.
“I’m grateful for what the Church has given me,” he said. “I’m passionate about giving back to the church, in whatever I can do.”
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