Father Robert Menner, who served six stints in the archdiocese’s Latin America Apostolate in Bolivia, died April 24. In 49 years of active ministry, Father Menner spent almost 30 years in Latin America serving a mostly impoverished area with a lack of priests.
Father Menner, 77, had tested positive for COVID-19. He had pre-existing health complications.
Kim Becvar, interim director of the archdiocese’s Mission Office, said Father Menner was a beloved missionary in South America. “When we visited Bolivia, people would ask about Father Menner. His influence remained after he left,” she said.
Msgr. Francis X. Blood, a former missionary to Bolivia and former director of the Mission Office, said Father Menner was the only priest to serve in all five of the parishes that at one time were part of the apostolate. Father Menner couldn’t stay away from the apostolate long, he said. “He loved the people there so much, he kept coming back.”
He served at a parish established by the apostolate in Chile before it was turned over to the diocese there. It was a difficult assignment because the Spanish spoken there has nuances from what is taught to the missionaries in Bolivia, Msgr. Blood said. It also was a time of unrest in Chile when “terrible things happened politically with tortures and disappearances” of people, Msgr. Blood recalled. “He helped the people through all that turmoil.”
Father Menner was “an outstanding missionary, very faith-filled with a heart as big as the world,” Msgr. Blood said, adding that he was known for drawing on windows a cartoon of Mickey Mouse with the words “paz, amor y alegria (peace, love and joy)” and signed Padre Roberto.
Both Becvar and Msgr. Blood said Father Menner had a larger-than-life personality which also endeared him to the people he served at parishes in St. Louis. A world-class jokester, he used humor to put people at ease. “He always brought the good out of people. He was just a dear friend, a good priest and fun to be around. Wherever he went, he made lifelong friends. He will be dearly missed,” Msgr. Blood said.
Father Menner attended St. Louis Prep Seminary, Cardinal Glennon College, Kenrick Seminary and Saint Louis University Divinity School. He also studied at the Vatican II Institute in Melo Park, Calif., in 1992-93. He was ordained May 11, 1968, by Archbishop John J. Carberry.
Father Menner’s first assignment was as associate pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Hazelwood from 1968-73.
He served the first time in the Latin America Apostolate from 1973-77. He returned from 1979-85, 1986-92, 1995-2004, 2005-08 and 2010-12.
Father Menner also was associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Arnold from 1977-79 and at Assumption Parish in O’Fallon from 1985-86. He was pastor of St. Pius V. Parish in St. Louis from 1994-95 and senior associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Manchester from 2004-05 and 2008-2010 and at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in St. Charles, 2012-16. In some of these assignments he assisted with Hispanic ministry.
Father Menner was named director of the Propagation of the Faith for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, with residence at Regina Cleri Residence for Retired Priests in Shrewsbury from 2016-17. He retired with residence at Regina Cleri in 2017.