Blase Anthony Bonpane
April 24, 1929 – April 8, 2019
Blase Anthony Bonpane, an influential Peace and Justice activist, died on April 8, 2019, 2 weeks prior to his 90th birthday.
For fifty years, Bonpane produced and hosted the popular Sunday radio show, “World Focus”, on the progressive Los Angeles radio station KPFK. Bonpane, a colleague of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the early 1970s, also authored six books and co-founded the nonprofit “Office of the Americas” with his wife, Theresa. Bonpane played a key role in raising awareness of government directed violence throughout Central America during the 1980s by leading delegations of politicians, activists, celebrities, and students on trips to Nicaragua.
“Dad dedicated his life to the cause of peace and justice. He made real, significant change in our world, and he inspired many others to fight injustice at home and abroad. He was the cornerstone of our family, and we will miss him and honor him. But we will also be guided by the word he shared with us during a particularly painful emergency room moment: ‘Exultet,’ which is Latin for ‘let us rejoice,'” said his son, Blase Martin Bonpane.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio on April 24, 1929 to Italian immigrants, Bonpane was the youngest of four siblings and the only boy. His father, who was born Biaggio Augustus Buonpane, served in both World Wars before becoming a Military Judge, then a California Superior Court Judge. With his mother, Florence Inmaculada Marcogiuseppe, father and sisters, Bonpane moved to Los Angeles in 1937. He attended Loyola High School and USC, where he played on the football team and boxed. He was in the Marine reserve; he left in February of 1950 to join the Seminary. The rest of his platoon served in the Korean War, where all but one perished.
Ordained a priest in 1958, Bonpane toured the US as a Maryknoll Regional Director. He received his MA in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University. Bonpane was sent to Guatemala to run a Maryknoll program in Huehuetenango where he spent all of 1967. In his journal that year he wrote, “I do not intend to become accustomed to the poverty and destitution of these poor people. I do not intend to become accustomed to their sickness, ignorance, to the constant injustices they receive. I do intend to do whatever I can to change these evils.”
Bonpane was instructed to leave Guatemala by the Maryknoll Order after it received complaints from the Guatemalan government that he was going beyond his role as a priest and meddling in politics. The Church moved him to a parish in Hawaii where he was given a gag order. He chose instead to return to his parents’ home in Los Angeles and begin his post-church life in political activism.
Bonpane first gained national recognition with a 1968 Wall Street Journal article, exposing the killing of thousands of Guatemalan dissenters by government death squads supported by the United States. He taught as a UCLA professor until he was ousted by then-Governor, Ronald Reagan. He then took a job with the United Farm Workers as Cesar Chavez’s “right hand man.”
In 1983, Theresa and Blase co-founded the nonprofit Office of the Americas with the help of a donation from actor and activist Martin Sheen, a close friend of the family. In 1984, he obtained his PhD from UC Irvine, writing his thesis on Liberation Theology and the Central American Solidarity Movement. During the height of US intervention in the region, Bonpane led the International March for Peace in Central America, marching through seven countries from Panama to Mexico during December 1985 and January 1986.
As Directors of OOA, Blase and Theresa received awards from ACLU chapters, The LA Lawyers Guild, the Unitarian Church, the Cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica, among other awards and honors. A full list of publications, awards, and achievements is available from the Office of the Americas website www.OfficeoftheAmericas.org Additional archives are available in the UCLA Special Collections.
Of his Autobiography, Imagine No Religion, friend and colleague Noam Chomsky wrote, “I am often asked by young people, deeply disturbed by the state of the world, ‘What can I do to make this sad world a better place?’ An eloquent answer now is, ‘Read Blase Bonpane’s autobiography. If you can aspire to a fraction of what he has achieved, you will look back on a life well lived.'”
Bonpane was a dedicated, loving father and grandfather. He loved to walk and boogie board at Santa Monica lifeguard station 26. He played the piano by ear every night and loved to sing. “Guantanamera” was his favorite song, his favorite line being, “Con los pobres de la Tierra quiero yo mi suerte echar” (With the poor of the earth I cast my lot).
Bonpane’s family cited a quote by Blase upon his passing: “Faith for me is more a matter of what we do, what our conduct is. And I think scripturally that’s what faith is about. When Paul speaks about faith, he’s talking about what people did, their willingness to take risks…Don’t wait for the perfect solution before acting or you will never do anything.”
Bonpane is survived by his wife Theresa, daughter Colleen, son Blase Martin and son in law John Londoño, daughter in law Jenoa Briar-Bonpane, and six grandchildren: Ossian, Nola and Blase Scott Briar-Bonpane and Blase Jairo, Chiara and Gianna Londoño.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Office of the Americas; click here for donation information.
A memorial for Blase will be held:
May 26, 4pm
Immanuel Presbyterian church
3300 Wilshire, LA 90010