In Memoriam

Richard Paul Poethig, 1925 - 2021

The Rev. Richard Paul Poethig died peacefully on November 22, 2021, at the age of 96. He was born July 13, 1925, into a working-class, German-American family in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan, where his progressive political consciousness began to form. He was the son of Ernest and Henrietta Schölzel Poethig.

Richard was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church in 1952. His path to the ministry began in childhood, with Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church's outreach to the immigrant community. He graduated from The College of Wooster and Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he met Eunice Blanchard. They married in 1952.

Richard devoted his life and ministry to urban and economic justice - a "vision of a society that shares more and consumes less, seeks compassion over suspicion and equality over domination" (Social Creed for the 21st Century, National Council of Churches).

In 1957, Richard and Eunice became fraternal workers in the Philippines under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. There, Richard contributed to the new field of "urban-industrial evangelism," training church and lay leaders to advocate for industrial workers and to improve housing for the urban poor. They arrived in a period of dramatic change, characterized by urbanization, industrialization, and anti-imperialism.

In 1972, the family moved to Chicago where Richard served as director of the Institute of the Church in Urban Industrial Society (ICUIS) and dean of the Presbyterian Institute on Industrial Relations at McCormick Seminary. As globalization began affecting manufacturing jobs, ICUIS reported on the economic dissolution in the Rust Belt around the Great Lakes.

Richard and Eunice moved in 1986 to Buffalo, where Eunice served as Executive Presbyter of Western New York and Richard wrote for Presbyterian Historical Society journals. Richard published nearly fifty articles on urban-industrial issues, and produced a personal memoir, available on this website and On the Sidewalks of New York.

In 1981 Richard visited the hometown of his grandfather in East Germany, and re-established connections with the lay movement of the Protestant Academies in Germany. He was a cofounder, with the German Lay Academies, of a transatlantic interreligious dialogue on the role of religion in modern society to reinforce the global goals of peace, justice, and integrity of creation.

Richard and Eunice retired to Chicago. They joined the Community of Peers, a gathering of Presbyterians embodying a vibrant progressive Christian theology.

Richard was preceded in death by his wife. He is survived by his five children and their partners: Scott (Maja Bucan), Kathryn (Victoria Rue), Johanna (Chris Brown), Margaret (Dick Creps), and Erika (Ray Sendejas), and three grandchildren, all left-handed: Luke (son of Scott and Maja), and Sam and Ben (sons of Erika and Ray), and his sister, Erna Galardi.

The family gathered for Richard’s memorial service on December 11, 2021, at Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the service was also broadcast and recorded on Facebook.

Posthumously, the Presbyterian Historical Society published a lovely remembrance about Richard in “Remembering Richard Poethig,” The Presbyterian Outlook, December 7, 2021.