St. Christopher’s Inn Mourns the Loss of Father Bernie Palka
Rev. Bernie Palka, SA
(July 29, 1944 – January 8, 2022)
Father Bernie Palka, SA, who embodied the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement’s creed of healing the broken and those who have lost their way, passed into Eternal Life on Saturday, January 8 at the age of 77.
Throughout his life in ministry, he served in several roles at drug and rehabilitation centers, and was also a chaplain for the Connecticut Department of Corrections.
Born in Hempstead, N.Y., on July 29, 1944, Father Bernie attended Lee Avenue School and Hicksville High School before obtaining his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Pius X Seminary at Graymoor. He went on to earn a master’s degree in psychology from Catholic University of America as well as a master’s in theology from St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C.
Father Bernie first professed his vows in 1964 and became a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement in 1968 after professing his final vows. He subsequently performed mission and pastoral work in Jatai and Rio Verde, Brazil, before becoming a parochial vicar at St. Ann Parish in Bovina, Texas, in 1969.
In 1972, Father Bernie returned to Graymoor, where he was ordained into the priesthood. He then served at New Hope Manor, which was formerly part of Graymoor’s drug and rehabilitation program. There, he was responsible for treatment plan development and aftercare plans for women in recovery from addiction.
From 1974-1980, he worked in the United Religious Community of Saint Joseph’s County in South Bend, Indiana, carrying out duties in the city’s Ecumenical Office to establish interreligious cooperation among the community.
As a credentialed alcoholism counselor, in 1981 Father Bernie was appointed as program director of Saint Joseph’s Rehab Center in Saranac Lake, N.Y., where he worked for over a decade. At Saint Joseph’s, Father Bernie facilitated the integration of women into the rehab center, while also expanding the treatment population from 32 residents to 48 residents.
During his time at Saint Joseph’s, Father Bernie also taught as an adjunct professor at North Country Community College, specializing in alcohol and dependency courses.
In 1992, Father Bernie became the executive director of Hawthorne House in White Plains, N.Y., a halfway house that offers early-stage recovery to those suffering from alcoholism. Among his accomplishments, he expanded residency in the house and brought the house up to standards, while supervising the staff and working with residents.
Father Bernie returned to Graymoor in 1993, as the executive director of Saint Christopher’s Inn, managing the care and treatment of men in recovery. He served in that role until 2011.
A year later, Father Bernie began working as the chaplain at the Connecticut Department of Corrections, overseeing four facilities. In 2014, he was elected Second Councilor by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and held that position until 2019.
Father Bernie also acted as the Treasurer General for the Franciscan Friars from 1995-2001, and had previously been recognized as Counselor of the Year by the New York Federation of Alcohol Counselors in 1984. Seven years later, he was honored by the Federal Correctional Institution in Ryebrook, N.Y., for drug and alcohol education for inmates.
Father Bernie is survived by his sisters, Paula Mesick and Bernadine Conden. He is predeceased by his sister Barbara Tebbe and parents Bernard and Delia Palka.
Funeral arrangements will be announced when finalized.