A funeral service for the Most Reverend Peter Esterka, S.T.D., D.D. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Brno, Czechia Titular Bishop of Cefala, was celebrated at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove on Friday, August 20.
Services began with a reception and public viewing, followed by a funeral Mass presided by Bishop Kevin W. Vann.
A native of Dolní Bojanovice, Bishop Esterka died in California on August 10. He was given a final farewell among his community of Czech compatriots here in the U.S., for whom he cared for many years as a priest, and later as a bishop, as part of the Czech Catholic Mission. Following his funeral at Christ Cathedral, his body was to be transported to the Czech Republic where a Mass will be celebrated in his birthplace of Brno, in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. He will be buried in his hometown cemetery.
Peter Esterka was born on November 14, 1935, in Dolní, Bojanovice. He was persecuted as a student for religious-political beliefs and after many difficulties, he graduated in 1956. On June 15, 1957, he escaped to Austria and stayed there for three months in a refugee camp in Glassenbach near Salzburg.
In September 1957, he was admitted to the Pontifical College of Nepomucenum in Rome, and after studying philosophy and theology at the Lateran University, he was ordained to the priesthood in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 9, 1963. After obtaining a theology licentiate in June 1963, he was sent with his compatriots to the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas.
In 1967, he began his academic career at the University of St. Catherine in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he was appointed full professor in 1980. During this time, he helped in the spiritual administration of numerous local parishes.
He became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1968 and joined the Air Force Reserves in 1974 as a military chaplain, retiring after 21 years with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was based in Minneapolis, with the 934th Tactical Airlift Group until 1995.
In 1978, Fr. Esterka began to devote himself more intensively to work among Czech Catholics in the U.S. and Canada. In 1986, Bishop Jaroslav Skarvada, who worked in Rome and cared for our compatriots abroad, appointed him vicar for the U.S. and Canada. In 1994, its operation extended to Australia. In 1987 he was awarded the title of Monsignor and in 1992 he was appointed honorary prelate. In November 1991, he moved to take over the California missions and lived and served in parishes in Fullerton (St. Mary’s) and Orange (St. Norbert’s) until he was able to buy a property as a physical center for the already established Czech Mission.
In 1999, Pope John Paul II appointed Esterka as auxiliary bishop of Brno and titular bishop of Cefala and entrusted him with a mandate for the spiritual care for Czech Catholics abroad.
In 2013 he won the Gratias Agit award, given in Prague, for helping to spread the good name of the Czech Republic abroad. Bishop Esterka retired that same year but continued to do what he could until his replacement for leadership of the Czech Catholic community in California arrived in 2018.
Bishop Esterka is remembered fondly – many who knew him considered him a member of their own family. He is survived by his sister Anezka Hromkova; brother Frantisek Esterka; nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.