More than 250 people gathered at Our Lady Queen of Peace parish (OLQP) in Arlington, VA on Friday, September 29, to celebrate Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM as Pax Christi USA’s 2023 Teacher of Peace. It was a joyous, loving event, with many old friends and dear colleagues in attendance.

After an introduction from Fr. Joe’s longtime friend, 2022 Teacher of Peace Marie Dennis, and words from Bishop John Stowe (who joined the event via Zoom), National Council Chair Charlene Howard and National Council member Josephine Garnem presented Fr. Joe with his award. Following the prayer service and award ceremony, the OLQP community hosted a reception for attendees.

The staff and community of OLQP did a fantastic job with decor, food, and many other aspects of the evening, and Pax Christi USA is deeply appreciative of all that they provided to make the event a great success.

Fr. Joe is a longtime Pax Christi leader – as a member of the national council in the 1990s, he was part of the initial decisions to move Pax Christi USA to a more deliberate anti-racist, multicultural organization, and helped create the Brothers and Sisters All initiative.

As a Franciscan missionary, he served 15 years in Peru and Bolivia in the 1960s and 1970s, where his experience of ministry with Indigenous communities, the Latin American church transformed by Medellin, the influence of Gustavo Gutierrez and liberation theology profoundly affected his spirituality and vocation.

He returned to the U.S. to address the root causes of the oppression and poverty he saw in Latin America. On October 4, 1986, he co-founded the Assisi community in the Petworth neighborhood in Washington, DC, an intentional, faith-based group of lay persons and vowed religious with a focus on simple lifestyle, social justice and witness, which continues to this day. Fr. Joe served for 12 years as co-director of the Franciscan Mission Service and, from 2011-2017, he was a member of the Provincial Council of the Holy Name province of the Order of Friars Minor. He currently serves in ministry with the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in Arlington, VA.

2023 Teacher of Peace ceremony honoring Joe Nangle, OFM
Remarks of Marie Dennis

I am delighted to be able to introduce my dear friend, Joe Nangle, OFM, Pax Christi USA’s 2023 Teacher of Peace. You all know Joe and you know how much there is to celebrate about the different dimensions of his long faithful journey. 

First, he is a Franciscan Friar – that I believe is central to every other step he has taken – as priest, pastor and radicalized missioner in Bolivia and Peru; in every organization and ministry he has served: Holy Name Province, Pax Christi USA and Pax Christi International; the US Catholic Mission Association, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Sojourners, Franciscan Mission Service, Our Lady Queen of Peace, the Pax Community, Nova Community, Caldwell Community and so many more.

I have known Joe for 48 years, ever since I hired him at St. Luke’s parish in McLean, Virginia to facilitate the “new to our parish” work for social justice. He was just back in the U.S. then from 15 years in Bolivia and Peru and, as you can imagine, had returned to this country with a clear mission given to him by the people he loved and served in Peru, by the Church in Latin America transformed at Medellin – and by Gustavo Gutierrez, the father of liberation theology. Over these almost 50 years, Joe has taken one deliberate faithful step after another to honor totally his commitment to social justice forged in Peru and his commitment to return mission made when he left Peru.

For the first six months that Joe was in the parish at St. Lukes a few of us gathered every Monday to listen to his stories – stories from Bolivia and Peru that were deep, powerful, radical, funny, poignant. You have heard many of those stories over the years as well; and they are still powerful. Through the stories, he shared with us his passion for social justice, his deep understanding of liberation theology, his monumental love and respect for people living on the margins of society in Latin America. Clearly his experience in mission had shaped him, his faith, his worldview, his spirituality, his theology, and who he had become as a Franciscan.

If you have not read his books, especially “Birth of a Church,” a memoir of his years in Latin America, and “Engaged Spirituality,” please do. 

He returned to the United States believing that it was our responsibility to change the U.S. culture, business practices and policies that were killing – literally killing – the people he had grown to love.

He challenged his brother Franciscans and the US Catholic Church, the US government,  men’s religious communities and formators in women’s religious communities. He challenged Pax and Nova and Caldwell and St. Lukes and OLQP and Franciscan lay missioners in formation – to do the social analysis and theological reflection that would help us see and embrace a different, more just way forward.

He challenged our society and the global North whether he was in this country, in Central America, in the Middle East, in the Philippines or elsewhere around the world, and he did so in public, in private, in word and in action. He accompanied public figures in El Salvador and Guatemala when they were threatened by death squads, and Salvadoran refugees when they were ready to return home “en masse” from exile against the advice of the UN, the Church, the government, the Red Cross. He risked arrest here for justice in Central America, in Haiti, in Iraq, on the US Mexico border.

And absolutely always he has been thoroughly pastoral. Joe can give the most radical homilies — thoughtfully, intentionally stirring up “good trouble” — and everyone applauds! We all love his weekly reflections published by Pax Christi USA because they are clear and interesting and challenging, but also because they are written in the voice of a Franciscan pastor who clearly loves with tremendous generosity.  

Beyond that, Joe is a person of great integrity. He himself has faithfully lived what he believes and what he preaches –  about social justice and voluntary poverty – in Bolivia, in Peru, in Boston taking care of his mother in her last years, in his search for a community committed to justice and simplicity. During his years of working for the US Bishops or the Conference of Major Superiors of Men he would go to a conference where he would be expected to stay in a posh hotel and he would always, always find a simpler place to stay – in a friary or a rectory.

He helped imagine and create Assisi Community 37 years ago with a focus on simple living, social justice and witness and he has lived in the community since – with married couples and single lay people,  vowed religious, women and men, often children or teenagers. Joe brings all his gifts and his beautiful spirit to the community every day. At times, as with Sister Dianna Ortiz and a few others, he has helped our community heal deep trauma, some of which, like Dianna’s, was very public, but for several others was intensely private. Ours is a community of equals and he has always been completely at home with that equality – he cooks, cleans and does other house chores when it’s his turn, even at 91. At the same time, his celebration of the Eucharist for Assisi Community is his unique gift of immense value to all of us. 

Joe is constantly growing – intellectually and spiritually. Recently, for example, I have seen him delight in Laudato Si and appreciate the immense mystery of the cosmos that we are just now beginning to see thanks to the Hubble and Webb telescopes. I have seen him read volumes by and come to appreciate Thomas Merton. I have seen him reflect deeply on Gospel nonviolence, then enthusiastically support and promote Pax Christi’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. And I have seen him fully embrace the synodal process. His memory is amazing. I listen in a completely different way because he proclaims the Gospel from memory — and am sure you do as well.

When the pandemic (and a little aging) began to slow him down – when blessing ashes on Ash Wednesday in front of the White House or walking the Way of the Cross across the city of Washington DC on Good Friday became less possible, he figured out ways to do more of his pastoral work from home – by phoning many of you to see how you were doing or by agreeing to do spiritual direction at home, though he has kept up well with Our Lady Queen of Peace and the independent Eucharistic communities he loves.

I am blessed beyond measure to call Joe Nangle my dear friend. Day by day he is showing me how to grow old gracefully — how to move full of grace toward the end of life without ever pulling away from the challenges and joys of doing God’s work here. I am so proud that he is being honored tonight. As a faithful follower of St. Francis, Joe is truly a ‘teacher of peace!’”

Fr. Joe Nangle’s remarks on the occasion of being named the Pax Christi USA 2023 Teacher of Peace

Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, it will suffice.

Si la unica oracion que dices en tu vida es “gracias” sera suficiente.

That has to be my word this evening.

Esta tiene que ser mi palabra ahora.

First a huge thank you to the members and leaders of Pax Christi USA for this wonderful honor. I am deeply grateful.

En primer lugar gracias a los miembros y liderazgo de Pax Christi USA por este honor. Estoy muy agradecido.

Also a heartfelt word of thanks to our bishop president, my Franciscan brother, Bishop John Stowe. Bishop, you are a gift to us – we have found in you the ideal of the truly pastoral institutional leader. Your kind words tonight have touched my heart.

También una muy sentida palabra de gracias al a nuestro obispo presidente, mi hermono franciscano, Bishop John Stowe – henn anmos encontrado en usted el ejemplar del pastoral liderazgo institucional y sus palabras tan cordiales me han tocado en el fondo de mi corazon.

In my years in the Latin American church with its gift to the Catholic world, liberation theology, I was taught that all who struggle for the transformation of the world should so from within community – and in the case of gospel ministers, from what they called a “pastoral base.”

When we were choosing a venue for this evening’s event it was clear to me that it had to be here at Our Lady Queen of Peace parish. This wonderful community, led for its 75 years by members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, has been my pastoral base – my spiritual home for more than three decades.

En largo tiempo en la iglesia latinoamericana con su gran regalo la teología de liberación me enseñaron de que todos los que se esfuerzan por la transformación del mundo tienen que hacerlo dentro de una comunidad – y en el caso de los ministros del evangelio de lo que ellos llamaron “una base pastoral.”

Cuando buscábamos un sitio para este evento era clara de que tenía que ser aca en la parroquia Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz. Esta comunidad maravillosa, servida durante sus 75 años por la Congregación del Espíritu Santo, ha sido mi hogar espiritual, mi base pastoral por más de tres décadas. Mil gracias a ustedes Padre Tim y Padre Martin y a toda nuestra parroquia.

In this regard a towering word of thanks to our Latino sisters and brothers of this parish. You have been my teachers of peace and kept me constantly aware of the struggle for true liberation.

En este sentido una palabra sobresaliente de agradecimiento a ustedes, hermanos y hermanas latinos de la parroquia. Ustedes han sido mis profesores de paz y ejemplos de la lucha por la verdadera liberación.

Finally, all of you who are here this evening. look around at yourselves. You are that cloud of witnesses that St. Paul writes about in his letter to the Hebrews.

Finalmente, ustedes todos que estan aca esta noche. Son aquella “nube de testigos” mencionada por San Pablo en su carta a los Hebreos.

Using the words of Archbishop Saint Oscar Romero: “With people like these it is not difficult to be a teacher of peace.”

En las palabras del Monseñor San Oscar Romero: “Con gente así, no es difícil un profesor de paz.”

4 thoughts on “Joe Nangle honored as 2023 Teacher of Peace

  1. So good to read this! My COVID household kept me from coming. Fr Joe’s words always inspire and find their way into my actions. Thank you.

  2. Congratulations Fr. Joe. I am writing from my home in Atlanta. We are not blessed to have a special person like you here. I remember you and your great witness of a good Christian life. Thank you for your witness and leadership. And your lovely sense of humor.

    I am still connected with OLQP. My Namaste group still meets regularly so I have my sisters to talk to weekly. The internet was a fabulous invention. I have only met one other priest who has inspired me as you have.

    I am sending you blessings so that you can keep being a wonderful priest and a fine example for us all to live as you do. God and I love you and so many others do too.

    Blessings of PEACE, Evie Brown

    PS: If you get to Atlanta come for a visit. My younger brother watches out for me and he is a great guy. He took care of my mother and now he takes care of me. One day he will get back to being a full-time minister.

  3. Congratulations, Fr. Joe!  Thank you for your loving support of our Sr. Dianna Ortiz.

  4. Congratulations Father Joe!  You are truly an inspiration and are truly admired!  Many blessings and warm wishes from New Mexico.  


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