The Very Reverend John Robert (Bob) Orpen, Jr. died peacefully at his home in Chicago on Dec. 16, 2021.

Bob was born on March 30, 1921 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was baptized, confirmed, ordained deacon and ordained priest at his family parish: S. Stephen’s Church in Providence. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from Brown University in 1942. After spending three years in the U.S. Army, he received his S.T.B. (Bachelor of Sacred Theology, the equivalent of a present-day Master of Divinity) from General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1948. After his ordination to the diaconate, he assisted at St. Matthew’s Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, while he studied for his master’s degree at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, the Episcopal seminary near Milwaukee. There he earned the S.T.M. (Master of Sacred Theology) in 1949.

Bob spent his first three years as a priest in Fallon, Nevada, serving a series of half a dozen missions within a radius of some 80 miles. After a brief curacy at the Little Church Around the Corner in New York City, he served first as Vicar then Rector of St. George's Church in the Bronx. While there, he and Lavinia (Vinnie) Lutz were married on May 30, 1957.

In 1958, Father Orpen was called as Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Advent, in Logan Square, Chicago. He served there for 27 years until his retirement in 1986, when he was designated Rector Emeritus. During the 1960's, the neighborhood became predominantly Spanish-speaking.

Bob took a Berlitz crash course and also did a language intensive in Cuernavaca, Mexico. After that, all he had to do was put out a sign: La Misa en espanol todos Los Domingos a las doce ("Mass in Spanish every Sunday at twelve"), and the walk-ins began arriving. That congregation grew rapidly, and by the year 2002 numbered over 100 people on an average Sunday.

In 1971, Father Orpen started a new mission in the Diocese of Chicago: Nuestra Senora de las Americas, Chicago. He also worked with the following Spanish-speaking congregations in the diocese: San Pedro, Chicago; Cristo Rey, Chicago; Santa Teresa, Chicago; San Felipe, Palatine; El Redentor, Elgin; El Cristo, Waukegan.

Father Orpen served as Dean of the Chicago-West Deanery from 1974-1986. In 1986, he was made Dean Emeritus.

Vinnie Orpen (nee Lutz) was born in Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. She grew up in Upper Darby and graduated from Radcliffe in 1950. She spent a couple of summers assisting at Galilee, the Episcopal Church camp on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, where Bob was a staff counselor every year. That is where they met. After their marriage, and subsequent move to Chicago, Vinnie earned a master’s in education from Northeastern Illinois University, and resumed teaching after all three of their children were in school. She taught at the Dvorak School in an underserved area of North Lawndale.

They both retired in 1986, and had an active and most enjoyable retirement. After four or five years of doing supply work and three post-interim ministries, Bob was asked to help out temporarily at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Barrington. He served there for over a decade, assisting most Sundays and Wednesdays. He was also an Associate Priest at St. James Cathedral in Chicago where he celebrated the noon Eucharist several times a month, and where Vinnie was an active member.

With Vinnie, Bob did a considerable amount of travel; together they visited five continents. Bob visited six: Vinnie did not go with him to Australia and New Zealand. Bob traveled to the Holy Land six times. Two of those were orientation trips to qualify him to lead pilgrimages. He led three, accompanied once by Vinnie.

The Orpens moved to Montgomery Place Retirement Community in Hyde Park in 2001, where they have both been active participants in the chapel community, and have persevered in prayer, taking literally the apostle Paul’s exhortation in First Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Bob continued to pray for a lengthy list of people every day, right up until the last.

On the occasion of his 98th birthday celebration at Montgomery Place, Bishop Jeffrey Lee, 12th Bishop of Chicago, made Father Orpen an Honorary Canon of the Diocese of Chicago.

Bob is survived by his beloved Vinnie, their son and daughter, a granddaughter, and numerous nephews and nieces. He also leaves behind many friends, colleagues and former parishioners in the Diocese of Chicago who remember him with love. He was preceded in death by his and Vinnie’s oldest son, John Mark Orpen, who is buried in the Cathedral garden, near where Father Orpen’s final resting place will be.

A funeral service for Father Orpen will be held on January 8th, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Cathedral, 65 E. Huron Street, Chicago 60611. Clergy are invited to vest and process (white stoles). 

Memorial contributions may be made to Montgomery Place (memo line should say “Care Assurance Fund.”) This fund helps Montgomery Place to allow residents to remain in their apartments, even when residents have exhausted their material means through no fault of their own.

Update: The funeral service for Father Orpen has been postponed due to concerns about rising COVID-19 cases. The Herald will include information about the new plans for the service when they become available. 

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