By Conor Burns ‘22
Blessed William Joseph Chaminade once said: “True missionaries should not count on themselves, their talents, or their industry, but they should put all their confidence in the grace of their mission and the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Fr. Philip K. Eichner, S.M. ‘53 embodied this dedication to humble service. Through his diligent efforts and his commitment to always come to the aid of others, he was able to impact the lives of thousands of students for the better and to spread the word of Christ.
Formerly the President of Chaminade and Kellenberg High Schools, his time at the helm was defined by innovative leadership that consistently remained true to Church teachings. He passed from this world on January 1, 2022 at the age of 86, after 67 years of serving as a Marianist and 55 years as a priest. He will be sorely missed by both the Chaminade and Kellenberg communities; his impact on both schools is incalculable.
Fr. Eichner was born in New York City on June 24, 1935 to Ludwig and Anna Eichner. He was the oldest of five children and set an example for his siblings by excelling in the classroom at Holy Ghost School in New Hyde Park and, later, Chaminade, where he began to discover his vocation to the priesthood.
As a student, he also displayed a strong love of learning and was interested in languages, particularly Latin, which he would later go on to teach.
After graduating from Chaminade in 1953, Fr. Eichner went upstate to the Marianist Novitiate in Marcy, professing his vows a year later. He studied at the University of Dayton and then taught Latin at St. Joseph’s High School in Cleveland, Ohio.
Fr. Eichner then spent 1962 through 1966 at the Marianist Seminary in Fribourg, Switzerland. After being ordained on March 26, 1966, he came back to his high school alma mater and was soon appointed school president. This initiated a period of swift growth and expansion for the school, fueled by Fr. Eichner’s passion and will to improve Catholic education.
As Bro. Robert Lahey, S.M ‘65 recalls, “One of his favorite sayings—he had a lot of favorite sayings—was that a successful undertaking is a triumph of enthusiasm…In my personal situation, back in 1978, I was approached by a gentleman who thought it might be a good idea to put a pipe organ in the auditorium. As an organist, something I had always wanted to have was a pipe organ, but it’s a big project…when I spoke to Fr. Eichner about it, he was immediately enthusiastic about it, almost more enthusiastic than I was. He had a great love of music and culture. Not only did he give me the O.K. to do it, but he also worked with me and Bro. Ken (who is over at Kellenberg now), and, with his help, we actually created the chambers on the balcony of Darby Auditorium. That’s just one of many undertakings he was involved with and, with every project, his enthusiasm towards it was infectious. He also helped to create Founders Hall, Powers Hall, the Brothers’ Residence, the swimming pool, and Meribah retreat house. Chaminade would be very, very different now if it were not for him.”
Bro. Rob also remembers Fr. Eichner as a mentor who helped him during his first years of teaching. He says, “He was my first director when I first came out of college and started teaching, and I was amazed and blessed by how well he got to know me in such a short period of time. In my early years, his guidance in…becoming a better teacher and better brother was always helpful. He was always kind—that’s the thing I remember so much about him. He was one of the most insightful persons I’ve ever met: well-read, intelligent, friendly.”
Bro. Thomas Cleary, S.M. ‘81, who now holds Fr. Eichner’s former position, has fond memories of his predecessor’s impact as well. Bro. Tom recalls, “When I was in the eighth grade, I didn’t apply to Chaminade. It was only after the deadline that my dad’s law partner suggested the school. My four older siblings had all gone to Maria Regina—now Kellenberg—and I hadn’t even heard of Chaminade. But when I came that day to speak to him in the office where I now work, he accepted me, for whatever reason. I was just an average student, but it truly changed the trajectory of my life. Nowadays, when a kid who doesn’t get in makes an appeal I’m very soft-hearted towards them—I was that kid once!”
Bro. Tom also fondly recalls Fr. Eichner’s personality and leadership style.
“He’ll be remembered here as a brother among brothers who pledged his humble service to the Blessed Mother and the formation of faith in young men,” Bro. Tom stated. “He was an extraordinarily gifted leader and an excellent behind-the-scenes guy, but his true legacy was in his servant leadership and the strong foundation he set for the school’s future. He was always interested in creative things, whether it was creating a meal or creating a garden for the school; he had a fascinatingly creative mind. His creativity had a way of always bringing people together into a common mission.”
One of Fr. Eichner’s most impactful contributions to Chaminade was the creation of the Torch Fund. First implemented in 1987, it helps to make Chaminade more affordable through alumni donations.
“Fr. Eichner had a vision to create the Torch Fund and to introduce the tradition of philanthropy to keep and support the school,” Bro. Tom added. “Since then, the endowment has been able to contribute over $50 million in student tuition support and over $40 million in campus expansions. On top of that, it has provided merit scholarships and financial aid scholarships. It was really new for Catholic schools to do that and Chaminade was on the cutting edge.”
Furthermore, after the struggling Maria Regina school came under the control of the Marianist Province of Meribah (which Fr. Eichner had helped create and served as head of), he played a major role in helping to revitalize the school. In 1987 it was renamed Kellenberg Memorial High School, and he served as school president from its opening up until 2018. He was also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Catholic League for Religious Rights from 1992 to 2016.
Fr. Philip Eichner will be sorely missed, but his legacy and impact will be felt by generations of future CHS students. RIP