American GI Forum National and Texas State Chaplain, Father Richard Peña Passed Away

American GI Form of Texas, Inc. Report: SAN ANTONIO, Texas –It is with great sadness that I report that Father Richard Peña, the Official Chaplain of the American GI Forum of Texas, Inc. and the American GI Forum of The U.S., a retired priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, died Wednesday June 26 at the age of 75.

After an official request from the American GI Forum of Texas, Inc. Father Richard Peña became the official Chaplain of Texas and later also for the National Organization in August 2000. He was appointed by Archbishop Patrick F. Flores from the Archdiocese of San Antonio to serve as its Chaplain and provide the American GI Forum with its spiritual needs. Father Richard Pena participated with the American GI Forum as Texas State and National Chaplain serving until poor health forced him to retire.  He is deserving of many accolades for his service, but as a humble individual, he modestly and graciously accepted his role as a tribute to his calling. 

He served for many years in many capacities, including as a Board member of the American GI Forum National Outreach Program (NVOP) for many years. He also served as a board member of the state and national organizations as well as in many other capacities when called upon. He traveled to all State and National conference and events when his official capacity as pastor allowed him. His friendship to many developed into close relationships which he enjoyed. He was a constant companion to those in need. He successfully aspired and aimed at being everyone’s personal friend. His close friendship was always felt.

Father Peña was born in San Antonio on Nov. 6, 1943, the youngest of seven children to Jesus and Elvira Peña.

He attended Sacred Heart School, Irving Middle School, and Holy Cross High School. After graduating from Holy Cross, he attended San Antonio College, earning an associate degree in 1966.

In November of that year he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served until November 1968. Father Peña was a Vietnam veteran who saw combat as an infantryman during the 1968 Tet Offensive. While serving with his unit, the Third Ordinance Battalion, Security Platoon, he was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge and two Bronze Stars. Both his father and his brother Jesse were also combat veterans of World War II and Korea, respectively.

Following his military service, Father Peña had a wide variety of life experiences. He worked for the United States Army/Air Force Exchange Service at Fort Sam Houston, as a claims adjuster for USAA, and a member of the Clerical Division for the San Antonio Police Department.

Father Peña initially joined the Holy Cross Order as a Brother in 1980, and served as a religious education teacher in San Antonio, then with the Spanish Apostolate in Albany, N.Y., and later as a high school teacher in Long Beach, Calif.

Following his time with that religious community, he pursued studies for the priesthood at Assumption Seminary, earning a bachelor’s degree in Theology from Our Lady of the Lake University and a master’s degree in Divinity from Oblate School of Theology.

Father Peña was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Patrick F. Flores on May 29, 1992 at Sacred Heart Church, his home parish, and the newly ordained priest celebrated his first Mass of Thanksgiving there on May 31.

He was initially assigned as parochial vicar of St. Leo the Great Church from 1992 to 1994. Father Peña later served as pastor of Christ the King Church and then St. Gabriel Church, the parish from which he retired.

Father Peña was a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus with Council 1102, spiritual moderator of the Archdiocesan Union of Holy Name Societies, national and state chaplain to the American GI Forum, member of the Disabled American Veterans, as well as a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Catholic War Veterans Post 1891, American Legion Post 0002, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8936.

For those wishing to offer a final salute and farewell to Father Pena, Rosary and visitation will be held at St. Gabriel Church at 747 S.W. 39th Street in San Antonio on Tuesday, July 9, at 10 a.m., followed by the funeral Mass at 11 a.m., with Auxiliary Bishop Michael Boulette presiding. Burial will take place at Fort Sam Houston Cemetery on Wednesday, July 10, at 11 a.m.