Local News Archive
Print Issue: September 11, 1997
Father Peacock's Life Celebrated
BY KATHI STEARNS
DECATUR--Father Joseph Peacock, an Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism, was laid to rest after a Mass celebrating the victory of the resurrection Sept. 4.
Approximately 60 priests of the archdiocese, family and friends gathered at St. Thomas More Church, where Father Peacock had been in residence since 1992. Archbishop John F. Donoghue was the principal celebrant. Concelebrants included Father Pat Mulhern, pastor of St. Thomas More and Father John Murphy, pastor of St. Peter's Church, LaGrange, who had served at St. Thomas More with Father Peacock. The liturgy was followed by burial at Arlington Cemetery in Sandy Springs.
Father Peacock, who had a history of heart trouble and diabetes, was found dead in his room at the rectory of St. Thomas More Aug. 31. A wake service was held at the church Sept. 3.
During his homily Father Murphy said that God had revealed something of himself in Father Peacock.
"It was only in Jesus Christ that we saw the glory of God fully shining in human form," he said. "And yet it is also true that in the goodness of every human being there is another, if different revelation of God, incomplete, flawed, but nonetheless a mirror of God's love. We are grateful to Father Joe because we have been in the presence of someone who helped us glimpse God."
Father Murphy told the congregation that they are called to reach out like Jesus to heal the world, forgive each other, assist the weak and suffering, love children and oppose evil.
"This is what Jesus asked us to do," Father Murphy said. "And we witnessed this in the struggling life and love of Father Joe. Struggling, because like all of us, Father Joe was imperfect. Yet as Father Joe struggled through life, he learned from God to let go of himself and live for others."
Father Murphy said that Father Peacock was preparing to visit his family in Savannah before he died.
"He packed the few things he needed and put them in his car," he said. "He was prepared for his journey. That Sunday he gave his last homily. He spoke about how we never know the day or the hour when the Lord will call us home. And Father Joe was prepared to go home."
Father Murphy added that consolation comes in the faith that looks past death. "We are consoled in the hope that as Father Joe shared in Christ's way of life he now shares in his death," he said. "So Father Joe will also belong to Christ in his new life."
At the conclusion of the Mass, Archbishop Donoghue addressed the congregation.
"From those moments when I first met and began to know Father Joe Peacock, I realized that here was a gentle soul--kind, considerate and exhibiting one of the most important assets of a good priest--the ability to listen and to listen with involvement," he said. "I never spoke to Father Peacock that I didn't feel comfortable afterwards--and I know that I am but one, and a late one, among the thousands who knew this man's power of consolation. We will all remember him for this--that he channeled easily the love of the Lord that was in him."
The archbishop said that Father Peacock had a side to him that was truly heroic. "It is clearly evident in the courage that allowed him in mid-life, to step beyond his already considerable accomplishments and to embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith in which he died," he said. "For this he must be considered a champion of true ecumenism, that his great love to be within the oneness of the Church directed completely the final phase of his life. We cannot measure all the consequences of his action as God undoubtedly has, but we do know in faith that what he did will have lasting effects, causing much good for the Church and much joy among the saints in heaven."
Father Peacock was ordained a Catholic priest in 1978. Before embracing the Catholic faith he had served as a Episcopal priest.
He served as a parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta. In 1987 he was named founding pastor of the Church of St. Benedict in the developing Duluth area. By the summer of 1990 the fast-growing congregation was worshipping in the first completed building, a large all-purpose structure used for worship, religious education and church offices.
"Father Joe's first love was the Church of St. Benedict," said Marie Trujillo, the director of religious education at St. Thomas More. "As the founding pastor he was sad to retire before the new church was fully built. He kept up with a number of the parishioners over the phone and through the mail; he would also have lunch with some of the men who helped him put together the plans for the Church of St. Benedict. The reports we received after the lunches reflected how pleased he was that the new church building had worked out so beautifully."
Trujillo said Father Peacock had a wonderful gift for communicating with the children at St. Thomas More School.
"He searched out and always found a good story to tell the school children when celebrating the liturgy with them," she said. "Whether an Old Testament story that he had learned from a woman who ironed for his family when he was a boy, or a child's book that he liked, Father Joe knew how to capture the attention of the children."
Father Peacock retired in 1992, leaving St. Benedict to reside at St. Thomas More where he continued to serve in a priestly capacity.
"I believe that of all the parishes in which he served, St. Benedict had the most special place in his affections," Father Mulhern said. "He had been at St. Thomas More for two years before he ceased to refer to St. Benedict as 'his parish.'"
According to Father Mulhern, Father Peacock developed a love for painting during his retirement. "For the first time in his life he had the time to pursue an avocation," Father Mulhern said. "His first completed oil received universal accolades from the parishioners and he was emboldened to attack larger canvases and more ambitious subjects. He recently completed a portrait of a child in the parish which was framed and greatly appreciated by the parents. A second painting of two children of the parish unfortunately was incomplete at the time of his death."
Ann Dugan, pastoral assistant at St. Thomas More, said that Father Peacock was very popular among the parishioners.
"People would call to ask what Mass he would be celebrating," Dugan said. "He was loved not only by the parishioners, but also by the staff and the front desk volunteers who looked forward to his visits and his counsel. His presence will be missed by all."
A native of Blackshear, Ga., Father Peacock is survived by his sister, Marian Bernard of Savannah, a niece and three nephews.