The ability to look back on a well-lived life and acknowledge
that you’ve spent your days making a difference for others is a
rare blessing. For Rev. Peter Goldbach, C.M., who celebrated his
100th birthday last August, spending nearly 68 years as a
Vincentian priest provides the context that continues to make his
life so incredibly fulfilling.
And he owes it all to his mother!
“My mother determined that I would become a priest before I was
even in the womb,” joked Fr. Goldbach. “She had a very bad
pregnancy with her first child, who was my sister, and the doctors
didn’t expect either of them to live. But God had a way of stepping
in and both my mother and sister survived. My mother was so
grateful, and made a vow right there that her next child would be a
boy and would become a priest. I was born a year and a half later,
and my vocation was sealed from that time on.”
While the road to ordination may have seemed like a foregone
conclusion, there were more than a few twists and turns along the
Fr. Goldbach’s godfather was a priest, who was able to secure a
scholarship for his godson at Cathedral Prep, a preparatory
seminary that educated young men of high school age who were
considering becoming priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn (NY).
Cathedral Prep offered a six-year program, in which the first four
years contained the traditional high school curriculum, followed by
another two years of preparation for entrance into the major
seminary. Everything was going well, until the Great Depression got
in the way.
“My family was never wealthy and the Depression hit us hard,” he
recalled. “I left Cathedral after five years and went to work for
the Equitable Life Insurance Company in New York City. I worked for
them for three years, but during all that time I kept thinking that
I wanted to be a priest, that I didn’t want to spend my whole life
working for an insurance company. Plus, my mother was so determined
that I would be a priest, because she had made that promise to
herself and to God those many years ago.”
left the insurance industry for a management position at The New
York Daily News, and although his commitment to serving God was as
strong as ever, it wasn’t until the pastor of his local parish
introduced him to two visiting Vincentians that his vocation got
the push it needed to get everything back on track. The future
priest was genuinely impressed by the mandate of St. Vincent de
Paul to serve the poor, but he still felt a responsibility to help
support his family during the tough economic times.
“As usual, my mother had something to say about that,” he said.
“She told me that I should take advantage of the opportunity and
answer God’s call. She convinced me that I’d be doing God’s work
and that He would take care of everything else.’
He was ordained in 1944, and although he had hoped to become a
chaplain in the military, he was sent to the Vincentian missions in
Alabama to serve as a summer replacement for the priests
permanently assigned to that location. It was there that he
experienced a transformation that would stay with him for the rest
of his life.
“I remember being called to the home of a dying woman. She wasn’t
Catholic, but still wanted to see a priest before she died. I
remember praying with her and helping to ease her way to meet God,
and at that point I realized that God was working through me and I
was doing His work. It was almost as if God were in the room with
me and together we were making a difference for this dying
woman. From then on I knew that I had chosen the right
Even though he never gave up his desire to become a military
chaplain, Fr. Goldbach came to realize that he could do as much of
God’s work in the classroom as he could on the battlefield. After
11 years of teaching future Vincentians in the novitiate and major
seminary, he was assigned to St. John’s in 1955 as a member of the
Theology and Philosophy Departments. He was among the first faculty
to teach on the Queens campus, and has been here ever since.
“When I came to St. John’s, the only buildings here were St. John
Hall, where it stands today, and an old wooden building called The
Clubhouse, because it really was a clubhouse from the old Hillcrest
Golf Course. That building was located near the corner of Union
Turnpike and Utopia Parkway. “
Having been a part of the overwhelming changes that have taken
place at the University during his more than five decades as a
member of the St. John’s family, he is quick to acknowledge that
the University is a very different place today than it was when he
first arrived. He notes that there are more students, more
campuses, more programs and an international reputation for
excellence that he describes as being “second to none.”
he also points out that among the things that matter most, St.
John’s unique mission is as strong today as it was when he first
decided to follow in the footsteps of Vincent by committing his
life to the service of others.
“As Vincentians and as priests, we do so much good for people,
especially poor people and those who are really searching for God
in their lives,” he said. “That’s what makes St. John’s such a
special place for me. At the end of every day I thank God that I’ve
been given the special privilege of showing people, especially
young people, that by accepting the grace that comes with God’s
love, their time in this world will be happier and much more
Admitting that he’s “slowed down a little” over the past few years,
this beguiling centenarian continues to celebrate Mass every day in
the chapel of the Rev. John B. Murray House [Vincentian Residence]
on the Queens campus. He also hears confessions twice a week and
concelebrates at special occasion Masses in St. Thomas More Church
on the Queens campus.
Rev. Patrick Flanagan, C.M. has lived with Fr. Goldbach in the
Vincentian Residence for the past nine years. In addition to his
role as Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, he
serves as Religious Superior of Murray House, a position that
allows him to interact with Fr. Goldbach on a daily basis.
“I didn’t know him before I came to St. John’s,” remarked Fr.
Flanagan, “but I soon came to realize that I was living with a
person who, despite the fact of his advanced age, or maybe because
of it, enjoys life and has a zest for life that’s unbelievable. He
spends time on the treadmill in the house and really enjoys the
opportunity to work out and keep his blood moving. Whenever he goes
for a walk around campus people stop to talk to him, and I really
think it’s because they recognize him as a very special and very
holy man. His attentiveness to the needs of students is
exceptional, and for me and the rest of the priests living in
Murray House, he’s a real blessing and a treasure.”
As a token of the love and respect that St. John’s has for its most
senior priest, and in recognition of his lifetime of service to
others, St. John’s University President Rev. Donald J. Harrington,
C.M. presented him with the Gold Medal, the highest award given by
the University to a non-alumnus, on the occasion of his 100th
birthday last August.
received another birthday gift when the University established the
Rev. Peter G. Goldbach Endowed Scholarship. The initial principal
amount of $50,000 will be invested as part of St. John’s overall
endowment pool, and the interest generated will be used to award
scholarships in Fr. Goldbach’s name to students who demonstrate
academic achievement and financial need.
While the Gold Medal means a lot to him, he is even more grateful
that the scholarship will continue his life’s work well into the
The students at St. John’s have always been special to me,” he
said. “They’re so hard-working and really go out of their way to
make the world a better place. But with tuition so high, many have
a tough time staying in school, and that’s where my scholarship
comes in. You know, being a priest for so many years, I look at
everything that we do in this world in terms of making the right
choices that will help us get to God when our time here is done.
When I think about how my scholarship will help some wonderful
young people accomplish that, it makes me feel very blessed.”
Looking back over his life, Fr. Goldbach acknowledges that although
at times it hasn’t been easy, his decision to become a priest was
the best choice he ever made. He is adamant that if he had it to do
over again, he probably wouldn’t change a thing.
You know, being a priest is all about God working through me. He
needs people on earth to do His work, and I’ve been privileged to
be one of His workers for so many years. I know that I’ve brought
many people closer to God, and helped to get them back on the road
to heaven. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could ask for a better life
If you wish to make a gift to the Rev. Peter G. Goldbach Endowed
Scholarship, please visit www.stjohns.edu/give, select
“Scholarship” and enter “Rev. Peter G. Goldbach Endowed
Scholarship” in the "Special Designation" field.