Priest Mourned
Funeral: The Rev. Peter Covas Was Reinstated As a Retired Priest in Good Standing Last Month

By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise [Riverside]
May 19, 2004

San Bernardino — Hymns of hope and reverence echoed through Our Lady of Rosary Cathedral on Tuesday as hundreds of mourners bade farewell to the Rev. Peter Covas, who died last week after 44 years of ministering to Inland Catholics.

Beloved and praised by tearful parishioners, the 73-year-old priest, remembered for his gentle nature, struggled in his waning years with chronic health problems and accusations that had he sexually abused two boys in the 1970s.

The allegations had led Bishop Gerald Barnes to remove Covas from St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church in Rancho Cucamonga in April 2002. A yearlong criminal investigation ended when prosecutors announced in April 2003 that they would not file charges against the cleric.

Covas, who spent much of the past five months in hospitals, was reinstated by Barnes as a retired priest in good standing in mid-April. Covas died May 9 at an Upland hospital where he had been for five days.

Dan Centurioni, a St. Peter and St. Paul parishioner, said Covas showed great strength and courage as media reports surfaced detailing the accusations against the priest.

"We were worried about him but he was more worried for us," the 53-year-old said. "He would always say to stay firm in your faith and stay close to God."

Ordained in 1957, Covas came to the Inland region in 1960 as a teacher at Notre Dame High School in Riverside. He became the school's principal three years later, and held that job until 1970 when he was named pastor of St. Catherine's of Alexandria Church in Riverside. He remained at St. Catherine's until 1981.

"For 20 years, he was the face of the Catholic Church to the city of Riverside," Monsignor John Ryan, the homilist at Tuesday's services, told mourners.

Barnes, leader of the Diocese of San Bernardino, presided over Tuesday's Mass of Resurrection, as he typically does at funerals for local priests. Dozens of priests in white robes stood at the altar during the 90-minute service.

Ryan described Covas as a kindly man whose gentle nature endeared him to parishioners and priests alike.

"Because of this gentleness, he was in truth the good shepherd," Ryan said.

As Covas' health deteriorated, he remained cheerful, Ryan said.

He described visiting his longtime friend just hours before he died, and how the two prayed together. Covas, too weak to speak, recited the words silently as he held Ryan's hand.

"In the end, death came as friend, a welcome release from the nightmarish events of the recent past," Ryan said.

Born in Pittsburgh, Covas attended several colleges, including UC Riverside, and he held master's degrees in education, history and counseling.

After leaving St. Catherine's in 1981, Covas became pastor at Our Lady of Fatima in San Bernardino and was named chancellor of financial affairs for the Diocese of San Bernardino, created in 1978 to oversee the parishes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Covas resigned two years later after he co-signed a promissory note lending $ 225,000 in diocesan money to a man convicted of fraud. During the 1980s, he was also arrested for public sexual misconduct at a Fontana adult bookstore and for another incident in Los Angeles County.

Covas was assigned to the cathedral from 1983 to 1990, and spent two years as pastor of Holy Family Parish in Hesperia. He was transferred to St Peter and St. Paul in 1992, where he served as pastor for 10 years. He retired in 2002, the same year two men accused him of sexually abusing them when they were teens. Those men are now suing the diocese.

Some gathered at Tuesday's funeral were upset by the public accusations against Covas.

"He did more good than any other Inland priest I have ever known in my life," said Fabbie Razo, 34, a Fontana resident who attends St. Peter and St. Paul Church. "It's been very difficult to lose him."

Orest Stetkevich was among several Notre Dame High graduates from 1969 who visited Covas in recent weeks. The former principal amazed the group of football teammates by recalling details of the pranks they pulled in school, the Yucaipa man said.

"Father Covas is one of our heroes, without a doubt," Stetkevich said.


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