Brother Eli (John) Pelchat, CSC
May 13, 1921 – June 28, 2014
The prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother Eli Pelchat, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in Central Falls, RI, Br. Joseph died in Ghent, NY on June 28, 2014. He was in his 72th year of religious life in the Congregation.
Brother Eli was born in Central Falls, RI on May 13, 1921 to parents of Canadian descent – Hillarie Joseph Pelchat and Marie Jeanne/Eugenie Dupuis. His father was an auto mechanic and also a baker; his mother, a housewife. He was fifth in the family of six children with three older brothers and one sister, and one young brother.
When baptized on May 15, 1921 at Notre Dame du Sacre Coeur, in Central Falls, RI, he was given the name Jean Vincent. His legal name was later known as John. He received the sacrament of confirmation on September 26, 1935 at St. Mary’s Church in Norton, MA.
His elementary and secondary education was in Norton, MA, first at Barrowsille Grammar School and then Norton High School, graduating in 1939.
A few months later, he entered the Congregation of Holy Cross as a candidate on January, 25, 1940 at St. Joseph Juniorate, Valatie, NY and, on August 15, 1940 entered Our Lady of Holy Cross Novitiate in North Dartmouth, MA. He was given the religious name Eli when he professed first vows on September 2, 1941. Brother Eli then professed final vows on September 15, 1944.
For almost 25 years Eli was at Notre Dame, IN, first as a student, but then in the Post Office. Throughout the Congregation of Holy Cross, many remember him because of that assignment. He started as a Postal Clerk in 1942 and after twelve years was promoted to Assistant Postmaster, a position he held for nine years. His postal career ended in 1967 after four years as Postmaster.
Brother Eli’s ministerial focus then shifted to the needs of the young men at Pius XII Youth Services, Chester, NY. For twelve years, he was a staff member and assistant treasurer. He continued to minister to youth when he moved to Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, MD in the summer of 1979. He served there as Administrative Assistant and Registrar/Director of Admissions until 1985. For one year he was on staff at the Holy Cross retirement residence, Christopher Lodge, Cocoa Beach, FL, returning to Bishop McNamara High School in the fall of 1986. He resumed his position as Administrative Assistant and Registrar/Director of Admissions until he retired in the spring of 1993. Although retired, Eli continued as a volunteer in the school office for twelve years until 2005, when he moved to St. Joseph Center, in Valatie, NY. During his eighteen years at Bishop McNamara, his kind and always gentle presence in the school and in the community clearly spoke of his deep relationship with the Lord. Not confining himself to office work, he enjoyed participating in the retreat programs at the school, which provided him with the opportunity to engage with students on a personal level. Just as his biblical namesake did for Samuel, undoubtedly Eli helped the students to discern the voice of God in their lives. In addition to his ministry and presence in the school, Eli was a faithful Eucharistic minister at Mount Calvary Parish, adjacent to the school.
Eli enjoyed his time at St. Joseph Center, participating in various trips and activities. In spite of failing health, he always remained positive. He had an ability to view and experience life calmly.
In the past year, he experienced back pain from an undetermined source. A few months ago tumors were detected in his chest. The tumors developed so rapidly that Eli entered hospice care. Eli found it difficult that his health had declined so quickly. Still, he remained unfailingly a gentleman with all visitors, and – after a lifetime of practice in community – found it easy to join them in conversation and laughter.
A little more than a week before his death, he asked for special rosary beads that were larger and easier to hold. He was most grateful to Br. Joe McDonnell who quickly made him a set. We trust that Eli’s prayers will continue, but now they are all for us, his grateful community, as he passes on to eternal rest.
Br. William Zaydak, C.S.C.
Seeing the Face of God
We’ve come together as a faith community in this Eucharistic celebration to share our memories of Eli and to honor his life. Our memories are about the past, but our time together today provides us more so the opportunity to live in the present and to be with each other.
My hope is that the experience of being together and supporting each other will continue for each of us beyond our time together today.
We are very grateful that Eli’s brother Louis is here today, along with his wife, Alice, and their friend, Carol. I ask you, the family of John, to convey to the rest of the family, the prayers from all of us on the loss of John. I hope that your time here with us has brought some peace and healing to you. Having you with us and hearing about your brother John helps us to appreciate his life and time among us even more.
I want to offer thanks to all who live and work here at St. Joseph Center for your hospitality to Eli’s family, guests and the brothers that have come today. Thank you to Eleanor for your presence to Eli, along with the brothers here at the Center who were able to visit him, and most importantly, to all his brothers here at SJC who kept him continually in your prayers. I offer a “thank-you” especially to Ed Boyer for your pastoral presence to Eli, particularly over the past weeks. As expected as it was to all who live here at SJC, the loss of your brother, Eli, is very difficult. There is an empty place in the chapel. An empty chair at the table. Be assured that I and the other brothers throughout the province share in your sorrow, and your needs are in my thoughts and prayers.
For 25 years Br. Eli served in ministry at the Notre Dame Post Office, and although he rose up the “corporate ladder,” as it was, to the position of Postmaster – and he has a certificate signed by President John Kennedy that testifies to his talents and abilities – I suspect it was no big deal for him. Do you remember that when you would ask Eli a question, or he was making a statement, he would often shrug his shoulders? As quiet and unassuming as Eli was, I wonder if President John Kennedy had personally handed him the certificate when he became Postmaster, would Eli have just shrugged his shoulders when accepting it?
In reflecting on his life, I was struck by the balance or spread of his ministries, which was most obvious to me when I knew him in his time at McNamara. He was not in the classroom; he did mostly administration work. But he balanced that out with participation in the retreat program at the school. He was assistant superior for a period of time and was moderator of the Mothers Club for many years. Meanwhile, he was Eucharistic minister at the nearby parish. That pretty much covers all ministerial territory – from church to school, from students to parents, from paper work to spiritual presence and mentoring!
We all knew him as quiet and unassuming, but there clearly was a depth to him that desired to reach out to others in ways that were not necessarily noticed at the time. I find it interesting – and not surprising – that there are gaps as to what is known about Eli. For example, I was told that while he was at Notre Dame, he was also quite active in St. Augustine’s parish in South Bend. And yet Eli never noted that in his ministerial listing – and he had an opportunity almost every provincial interview to update his list of assignment. It is nowhere in his file. I suspect that for him, it was just ministry to do, it was done, and it simply was no big deal.
As you know, Eli was at Bishop McNamara High School for many years before coming here. The current president of Bishop McNamara is Mr. Marco Clark. He wanted to be here with us today and offered a personal story about Eli that I would like to share with you.
“When I first came to McNamara as a 14 year old student looking to apply, my parents and I entered the main office and the first person to greet us was Brother Eli, who emerged from an office in the back (what I now know was the registrar’s office and later became my office as principal). Eli was very welcoming and warm, walked us through the process, and encouraged me to attend. As one who grew up watching Charlton Heston in The 10 Commandments, I recalled Moses descending from the mountain after seeing the face of God in the burning bush. In the movie, Heston’s hair was silvery gray, and he had this look of joy and contentment in his eyes. When Brother Eli came around that corner in the office, talked with us and spent time with us, I actually thought ‘this man has seen the face of God!’”
I suspect that this was partly due to his similarity to Heston, but more so, just the very person of Eli.
He further wrote:
I shared that story with my parents in the car and told them how much I wanted to be at McNamara to be around people who knew God the way that Brother Eli obviously did. In all of my interactions throughout the years with Brother Eli, he always remained that same person I met as a 14 year old – joyful, helpful, encouraging, and hospitable. He is absolutely one of the holiest people I ever met. He is one of the reasons I love working at a Holy Cross school as much as I do!
We received many emails about Eli from a number of community members, including Fr. Warner, Superior General, and from former community members. I have only two quick portions to share with you.
Br. George Schmitz wrote:
Eli was a very humble man. Anytime I was with him, whether socially or formally sitting down with him, I felt that I was a better person for having been with him. I would characterize him as a Brother who was holy, humble and happy. His holiness and his humility are probably the reasons why he was happy. When visiting McNamara it was easy to see that Eli was a much beloved and respected Brother.
Fr. Tom Bertone, a Holy Cross priest who worked with Eli at McNamara, summed up in one sentence what we could spend all day saying about Eli. Tom first wrote: “I will offer a Mass for his repose.” But then he wrote: “If Eli doesn’t ‘get into heaven,’ I don’t know who will!”
When faced with something as sad as the passing of our Br. Eli, I try to find peace and solace in my faith, in my belief and experience of a loving God. To do that, we need to live in the present with the sorrow, to live to a point where we truly accept that, and accept the cross which is the center of our Holy Cross spirituality.
We believe that our dear Br. Eli is now with our founder of Holy Cross, Blessed Father Moreau. Eli is with the communion of Saints: we call to mind especially St. Joseph and St. Brother Andre. He is with all the deceased members of the family of Holy Cross, along with his parents.
We can now pray to him and ask him to watch over us and to care for us. And so let me close that way with a simple prayer: Brother Eli – may you rest in peace, watch over and protect us! Amen!
– Eulogy delivered by Br. William Zaydak, CSC
Br. Eli Pelchat, CSC served the Lord faithfully in the following ministries:
- 1942-1942 Clerk/Bookstore – Notre Dame, IN
- 1942-1954 Postal Clerk – Notre Dame, IN
- 1954-1963 Assistant Postmaster – Notre Dame, IN
- 1963-1967 Postmaster – Notre Dame, IN
- 1967-1979 Prefect & Assistant Treasurer, Pius XII – Chester, NY
- 1979-1985 Registrar/Admissions, Bishop McNamara HS – Forestville, MD
- 1985-1986 Staff Member, Christopher Lodge – Cocoa Beach, FL
- 1986-1993 Registrar/Admissions, Bishop McNamara HS – Forestville, MD
- 1993-2005 Retired, Office Volunteer, Bishop McNamara HS – Forestville, MD
- 2005-2014 Retired – St. Joseph Center – Valatie, NY