OBITUARY

Father Joseph Michael Peek

August 9, 1965March 14, 2016

Father Joseph Michael Peek (“Father Joe”) was born on 9 August 1965, in Corpus Christi, Texas. He survived a miraculous birth in dire condition; he was seven weeks early, black from lack of oxygen, and baptized by the doctor because of danger of death. After a brief stop in Amityville, NY, he and his soon-to-be ten siblings grew up in a bustling Irish Catholic family in the Northlake area of Atlanta.

At home, daily reminders of his family’s Catholic faith surrounded Father Joe. A five-foot tall crucifix hung in the family’s living room behind a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, before which the family would pray the rosary nightly. His parents, Mary and Joseph Peek, emphasized the importance of serving others, and encouraged each of their children to serve their parish and to live their faith on a daily basis. As a child, Father Joe began his service to his church as an altar server at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Even at a young age, Father Joe developed a reputation for looking out for outcasts, long before bullying became such a widespread topic of concern. He was the one who noticed the kid sitting alone at the cafeteria table or soccer field and befriended them. As a soccer referee, he had the reputation for throwing a disruptive player out of a game for misconduct; however, once the game was over, he sought out the player he had removed from the game and scrimmaged with him. He taught himself magic tricks to allow him to entertain, mesmerize, and teach both young and old alike. Father Joe’s journey to priesthood was not a direct one. After graduating from Lakeside High School in DeKalb County (class of 1983), he attended the Georgia Institute of Technology on a Naval ROTC scholarship. He entered the Navy in the late 1980s and served three years as a Search & Rescue swimmer, and anti-submarine air crewman, dipping sonar on board an SH-63 helicopter. He also worked as a substitute teacher and a waiter at Outback Steakhouse. But he kept feeling a pull toward the priesthood and decided to go to seminary with the hopes of becoming a Navy chaplain. He then spent three years with the Oblates of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Boston, attending St. John’s Seminary. Coming back to diocesan life, he spent two years at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Pennsylvania, and finished up his last two years at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. And then, one day in 2002, Father Joe, who as a Navy rescue swimmer was known for his physical endurance and strength, couldn’t reach the top of a hill during his daily run at seminary, where he regularly “tagged” Jesus on the cross. In February 2002, just months shy of his ordination, Father Joe was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. This was the beginning of years and years of severe pain, and ever-so-slow improvements, mixed with setbacks.

Despite his diagnosis, he completed his studies and was ordained to the priesthood on June 22, 2002, by Archbishop John F. Donoghue.

In October 2003, Father Joe received a bone marrow transplant from his sister Kathleen, and while doctors believed the transplant effectively cured Father Joe of the cancer, the procedure created a new series of life-threatening health concerns.

Suffering from what is known as “graft-versus-host disease,” the new immune system attacked Father Joe’s body. The illness ravaged his organs one-by-one, ultimately affecting his flesh—beginning with his back, always invisible to the public, but massive and raw, and often irritated by hugs he never mentioned were an affliction. Over time, the wounds extended from his face and neck to his feet, challenging his life-long ambition of serving as a priest. Open wounds scarred more than 70% of his body, including the soles of his feet. The sores on his body made a good night’s sleep elusive as lying in one spot for a couple of hours resulted in excruciating pain for Father Joe. His bandages on his wounds had to be changed three times a week, and even then several times he contracted MRSA. In 2008, he became septic and almost died.

Despite his life threatening illness, Father Joe asked for and received parish assignments at St. Catherine of Siena, Kennesaw; Sts. Peter & Paul Parish, Decatur; Mary Our Queen, Norcross; and All Saints Church, Dunwoody. However, his parish assignments, while important to Father Joe, became a small part of his ministry as a priest. Father Joe believed that as a priest he needed to be a visible presence of Christ to others. More importantly, Father Joe believed his experience as a patient put him in a special category of priests, and he felt a need to minister to fellow patients at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute and others within Atlanta’s Catholic community. Father Joe became the spiritual advisor to the sickest of the sick. He would regularly visit with patients in the hospital--even though such visits threatened his own health, since his body was covered with open wounds that left him susceptible to infections. He also developed a large on-line ministry, which he would attend to as much as his strength and health would allow.

In 2012, he developed squamous cell carcinoma, which turned several of his wounds into growing lesions. Father Joe had a few procedures to remove these lesions, but eventually, they spread to his lymph nodes. He was told by his doctors in December 2014 that there was nothing more they could do.

On March 14, 2016, Father Joe, surrounded by the songs and prayers his parents and siblings, drew his last breath, completed his life on earth, and began his eternal life with Christ. Father Joseph Peek is survived by his parents, Mary and Joseph of Atlanta, his ten siblings, and his thirty-nine nieces and nephews.

The Wake and Viewing will be held all night on Thursday, March 17, starting at 7pm at All Saints Catholic Church, where Father Joe was in residence: 2443 Mount Vernon Road, Atlanta, GA 30338.

The Funeral Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory at All Saints Catholic Church on Friday, March 18, at 11am. Fr. Kevin Peek, the brother of Fr. Joe, will be the homilist. A reception will follow in the parish social hall.

Father Joe’s burial will be at Georgia National Cemetery, 1080 Veterans Cemetery Road, Canton, GA 30114 on Monday, March 21, at 11:30 am.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to either Post Abortion Treatment and Healing (PATH), a ministry near and dear to the heart of Father Joe, or to the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family, 510 East Gore Road, Erie, PA 16509, (814-825-0846) where Father Joe’s sister is a religious sister.

Condolences and cards may be sent to: Ms. Mary Elkins for the Peek Family, 2401 Lake Park Drive, SE, Smyrna, GA 30080.

Services

  • Prayer Service Thursday, March 17, 2016
  • Funeral Mass Friday, March 18, 2016
  • Graveside Service Monday, March 21, 2016
REMEMBERING

Father Joseph Michael Peek

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RECEIVE UPDATES
Alden Parks

September 11, 2017

Truly, you touched many people as you journeyed on God's earth, spreading kindness and love along the way. What an inspiration! Rest in peace among the saints and angels, faithful servant of God.

Ann Howard

April 15, 2016

To all the Peek family my prayers and condolences. Word of your Fr. Joe's death was sent in a letter by Bill Foley.

Know you will grieve in God's arms.

Best, Ann Hardesty Howard

Quriaqos El Meskeen

March 31, 2016

I read your story the other day, on Reddit I believe, but did not know you were from GA. An awe-inspiring story, and I am intrigued by the medical details being a second-year medical student. I will pray for your soul Father, please pray for me also.

Karen O'Sullivan

March 28, 2016

I had the immense privilege of traveling on pilgrimage to Lourdes with Fr. Joe and his family in 2003. This experience changed me in my own spirituality forever. At the time, I accompanied my cousin who also was a young mom fighting cancer. His deep faith and devotion to the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist were so impressive and gave me an understanding of our faith in a way that I had not previously known. On a personal note, I fondly recall one night during a singalong. My cousin and I were singing with a group of Irish pilgrims and Fr. Joe jumped up to join in with us. He was so beautiful - inside and out! I have never met another person or priest like him. Thank God for the time he gave Fr. Joe here on earth for all those that were and are forever and eternally affected by his love of God, faith, and family. Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord. May Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
In Christ,

Karen O'Sullivan

Diana Shertenlieb

March 24, 2016

Dear Father Joseph! He was such a wonderful priest and mentor to so many young people. What a great sense of humor and sense of fun. We will miss him and will continue to pray for him and his lovely family.

joan Koenecke

March 22, 2016

I remember Fr Joe when he was just a boy. He and my son Joe were the best of friends when they lived in our little community in Amity Harbor. We feel sad to hear of his passing but he is in a better place and will be watching over his family and friends.
The Koenecke Family St Petersburg Fl.

Helene Koenecke

March 22, 2016

Fr Joseph and his family are in our thoughts and prayers. It seems like a lifetime ago that we were all living on Gibbs Road, but those years and my friendship with The Peeks are some of my fondest memories.

Leah Anderson

March 21, 2016

I was saddened to hear of his passing. I remember seeing him from time to time at IHM. My prayers are with his family. What a wonderful person and such a compassionate soul he had! He will be missed.

Pam Hussey

March 20, 2016

Fr Joe was an example of faith, hope and courage to me in person when I met him on the 2003 pilgrimage to Lourdes. His love of Our Lord and His Mother and Padre Pio inspired me. My condolences to the Peek family. Thankfully, Pam Hussey

McClain Family

March 20, 2016

Fr. Peek said the rosary at my brother, Steven's funeral in Sept. 2010. He had already accepted the bitter cup offered him. I know it was painful for him to kneel but he knelt through the entire rosary. Over the years he has drank drop by drop from that cup of bitterness until it was empty. And now the good and faithful servant has been called home after suffering immeasurable pain for us. Eternal rest grant unto him and may perpetual light shine upon him and may he rest in peace.