Father Bernie Palka, SA, devoted much of his life to helping heal the addicted and those in recovery.
The work of the Franciscan Friar of Atonement, who passed into Eternal Life on January 8, left a positive impact on countless people throughout his life in ministry.
In fact, his reach stretched out far beyond Graymoor, into the eastern part of the world.
The House of Hope on the Hill, a center for alcohol recovery in St. Petersburg, Russia, offered condolences on Father Bernie’s passing in a letter to Minister General Father Brian Terry, SA, sent by Tatiana Kondakova, executive director, on behalf of the center’s leadership, staff, the board of directors and trustees.
House of Hope on the Hill also praised Father Bernie for the several years, starting in 1996, in which he visited the center to provide work as a counselor and give guest lectures.
The letter also detailed the kind words shared about Father Bernie across social media. Among them was Denis Godlevski, who on Facebook shared, “Father Bernie became a spiritual father to me and many, many people in recovery here in Russia.”
Father Bernie, the letter indicated, had been working with House of Hope on the Hill since before its founding. Along with guest lecturing there, he prepared program materials and gained the admiration of the counselors and program alumni.
“Many people in Russia who knew Reverend Father Bernie fully share the grief after hearing of the passing of this wise and kind man,” the letter read. “As one person has written on social networks: ‘Compassion, insight, sense of humor, intelligence, absence of any falseness are his qualities that captivated me.’ Another employee of the house has said, ‘It was a man who brought with his love back to life people who had lost it. Eternal memory! You will be present in my recollection as warmth and light that will help me move on.’”
September, 2008 was one instance in which Father Bernie and Father Bill Drobach, SA, visited House of Hope on the Hill. The center modeled its program after Saint Christopher’s Inn.
“The Russians have a terrible problem with alcoholism,” Father Bernie said at the time. “They came over to this country a number of years ago looking for models. They visited various rehabilitation centers, but when they came (to Saint Christopher’s Inn), they found our no-frills program really attractive and one that could be adapted to their culture.”
Father Bernie was born in Hempstead, N.Y. on July 29, 1944. He first professed his vows in 1964 and professed his final vows in 1968, becoming a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement. From there, he worked at various drug and alcohol recovery centers across different parts of the country, including an 18-year stint as executive director of Saint Christopher’s Inn. Father Bernie also performed mission and pastoral work in Brazil, Indiana and Texas, among other places.
On January 21, Father Bernie’s life was celebrated in a Mass of Christian burial at the Our Lady of the Atonement Chapel at Graymoor. The funeral ceremony is available for rewatch on the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement’s Facebook page.
A memorial fund has been created in honor of Frs. Bernie Palka and Bill Drobach which will continue to support the men in recovery at St. Christopher’s Inn. Learn more about Friend of Father Bill and Father Bernie Memorial Fund here.