As a burgher of the oldest city in the Netherlands, Nijmegen, Fr Chris Penders was entitled to retire there, or with the Assumptionists in the Netherlands, but he chose to stay in New Zealand where he loved the beauty of the country and the people.
Born in 1931, Fr Chris left his wartorn country 28 years later for New Zealand where he taught initially at St Josephs Upper Hutt.
While teaching, and studying at Victoria University, he travelled to Tawa each week to help Fr Leo Connor with the Sunday Masses. He also became choirmaster there and continued this ministry into the 1980s. He had a fine singing voice and loved music, particularly Handel’s Messiah. With little time for modern music, he would appear at school socials wearing the industrial earmuffs he used in his workshop.
Fr Chris joined the staff of Bishop Viard College from teaching at St Patrick’s College in Wellington a year after the college opened in 1968 but he had been working for the college well before that. He and Fr Luke built a large cupboard for every classroom and over the next 21 years he used this carpentry skill to turn little spaces into offices, storage and utility rooms. He made cricket bats for the boys, shields and cup-bases for prizegivings, framed pictures and used his wood-turning and carpentry skills to enhance the college in so many ways. Even the large ‘Bishop Viard College’ sign on the outside of the building was his work.
Fr Chris was an extremely successful principal. He had teaching and academic skills but above all he genuinely cared for the wellbeing of the students, was extremely supportive of all the staff and brought a family atmosphere to the college. He was a compassionate, prayerful and well organised man, with a deep faith in God, whose love he showed in his dealing with others. When Fr Chris retired after 17 years as principal he first worked in the Waikanae Parish then Holy Family Parish Porirua, before becoming parish priest of Tawa from 1993 until 2007. As a member of the Protocol Committee, he showed great integrity, empathy and compassion.
Fr Chris was well-read, intelligent, kind-hearted, prayerful and devoted to God. He was creative and used all his gifts for the good of others.
While I was sitting with him in the hospital I was looking at his big, strong hands and thinking of the good they have done over the years – sacramentally – anointing, absolving, blessing, baptising, giving Communion, celebrating Eucharist; in his wood-turning – making bowls, acorns, furniture, clocks, tables, crucifixes; in every-day life – doing the washing up, making the coffee, changing light-bulbs, fixing things – and in extending the hand of friendship to so many.
Extracted from Sr Anne Phibbs’ tribute at Fr Chris’ funeral on 11 March.