I remember Peter Scagnelli as a man of brilliant wit. Unsparing in his criticism of pomp and egotism, he had a keen eye for hypocrisy in the Church and lampooned it mercilessly. He could spot the weak points of an argument readily, and was never better than when his laser beam was trained on either clericalism or “traditionalism” and its internet defenders.
His knowledge of Latin and many years of work with liturgical texts at ICEL made him the perfect critic of what became the 2011 translation of the Roman Missal (he published several searing critiques at the Pray Tell Blog under the pseudonym of Xavier Rindfleish). Yet this should not obscure the other contributions he made to church life. Peter not only worked on liturgical prayer texts for ICEL, he also translated hymns, wrote homily and parish materials for JS Paluch, and produced a number of well-loved resources for LTP. He promoted liturgy vigorously and he prayed the liturgy daily with devotion.
Peter had a good heart. He was passionate about the right to life of the unborn. He adored Pope Francis and his witness to “a poor church, a church of the poor.” He loved animals and delighted in his cat Rex (named for an O Antiphon), a stray he adopted who astonishingly had opposable thumbs.
Oh, the stories Peter could tell. I was amazed to discover that in addition to being a noteworthy Latinist and translator of liturgical texts, Peter adored Top-40s Radio, and had worked his way through college (and into seminary) by serving as a DJ in Connecticut, under the pseudonym of Tom Lyons. He would razz the Catholic teenagers who listened to his station on Saturday nights, telling them they had to get to Mass in the morning.
I was in email and phone contact with Peter for a number of years, but only met him once in person. It was an unforgettable experience. I was coming to Rhode Island to visit a friend at Brown, and when he heard that I would be visiting what he called “the land of lobsters and mobsters” he offered to drive down with a friend and meet me for lunch (see photo). We talked about everything under the sun, and the time passed only too quickly.
Alas, this is a metaphor for life. It passes all too quickly, and Peter has been too soon taken from us all. Yet he will be remembered by his students, colleagues, and friends. And those whose lives his work has touched remain in his debt, whether they knew him or not.