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Father Francis Filice: A life of many chapters

August 14, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

If you wandered by the Panhandle in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district at the right time five years ago, you would see a sea of white and blue habits and a tall priest in his 80s saying Mass among the mostly young homeless gathered on the greenway just east of Golden Gate Park.

That priest was Father Francis Pasquale Filice who died a month short of his 93rd birthday at Nazareth House July 17, leaving behind his sister Gloria Pizzinelli, six children, 33 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren as well as many who knew and loved him from the many different times and parts of his life.

Father Filice’s life was very unusual because the first part of his adult life was as husband, father and University of San Francisco biology professor and the last 36 years were as a priest – a priest whose creative mind and desire to spread the faith meant he was involved in a variety of ventures.

Father Joseph Previtali said in the homily at his funeral that his grandfather frequently prayed the prayer from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

“This was actually one of the main points of advice that he would often give – that whenever we feel bothered, attacked, upset in any way that we ought to proclaim out loud ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’” Father Previtali said. Father Filice would say “The devil who is bothering us has to bow down and worship the holy name of Jesus and when he has to do that, he goes away,” his grandson, parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Pillar in Half Moon Bay, said.

Father Filice’s first vocation as a husband and father: He was a University of San Francisco biology professor with a Ph.D. in zoology from UC Berkeley, married to his childhood sweetheart Barbara Fate Filice from 1947 until her sudden death in 1976. The couple was involved in the pro-life movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s and with the Monastery at Cristo Rey for many years before Barbara’s death.

Upon her death the sisters began praying for his vocation to the priesthood, Father Filice’s sister Gloria Pizzinelli and his son Michael Filice said. A Spanish Jesuit priest, Father Segundo Llorente, was very instrumental, Michael said.

“To me, it wasn’t totally unexpected. He was a very spiritual person,” his son said, noting his father had been a Third Order Carmelite since 1961. Father Filice, who had been a candidate for the permanent diaconate program when his wife died, entered the seminary to study for the priesthood in 1977 and was ordained a priest by Archbishop John Quinn May 19, 1979. In the mid-1970s, Father Filice also joined with Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio to found the St. Ignatius Institute of classic Catholic thought at USF.

Upon ordination, he served from 1979 to 1987 in a series of parish assignments as parochial vicar, at St. Raphael’s, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and St. Anne’s. In 1987, Father Filice received permission from Archbishop Quinn to found the Holy Family Oratory of St. Philip Neri in the archdiocese and for three years until 1991 was chaplain at San Francisco State University. In 1991, he moved the oratory to Tijuana, Mexico, where he worked closely with the Missionaries of Charity and their orphanage returning to the archdiocese in 1996.

He was a graduate of St. Anne of the Sunset, Sacred Heart High School and University of San Francisco. He was a co-founder of United for Life in the late 1960s; and in 1991 with the late Father Robert Cipriano founded Priests for Life. He served as chaplain at the Veterans Administration Hospital at Fort Miley in San Francisco, and was in ministry to the men and women in the county jails in San Francisco and San Bruno.

In addition to remaining close to the Missionaries of Charity throughout his priesthood, and to the Carmelites, Father Filice was a chaplain to the cloistered Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and for many years led the Corpus Christi procession through the Haight-Ashbury.

He was a dedicated retreat master and confessor to many. As late as last October, Father Filice’s daughter Marian Previtali brought him to the Rosary Rally where a long line formed where the elderly but sturdy-looking priest with the walker heard confessions in the open air of United Nations Plaza.

When Father Filice’s condition worsened this summer, his sister Gloria suggested having the annual August family reunion at Nazareth House on July 11. Seventy-seven family members and a few friends came by. “People kept dropping in to see him,” Pizzinelli said. “He was fine, he was in his wheelchair. He was blessing everyone. He was telling everyone the most important thing was to get to heaven and the second most important thing was to have fun. He really enjoyed it.”

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