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Archie Gress papers

Identifier: catx-00031

Scope and Contents

Contains materials related to Archie Gress and his wife Joan Penzenstadler’s service organization involvement and their advocacy efforts. The materials include correspondence, programs, presentations, reports, and publications. The bulk of material includes both Gress and Penzenstadler’s organizational involvement. Additionally correspondence, is often sent from Penzenstadler’s email address by Gress or may be addressed to both.


  • Creation: 1973 - 2009


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are available by appointment only. Contact the archivist for details.

Biographical Note

Archie Gress was born in Dickinson, North Dakota in 1933. He attended the University of Portland, Oregon, where he earned a B.A. in business administration and a master of education in school administration. In the early 1960’s, Gress worked as a teacher in Catholic schools in Dallas and Killeen, Texas. Gress later became an area teacher supervisor where he supervised and taught English as a Second Language, Adult Basic Education, and GED classes through Valley Migrant League, an anti-poverty program in Willamette Valley serving local migrant farm workers.

Gress met his wife, Joan Penzenstadler, while serving in the Catholic Lay Mission Corps, formerly Volunteer Mission Service, which he co-founded with Reverend Fred Underwood. Penzenstadler was also an educator and received her Ph.D. in American literature from Texas A&M University in 1988. Gress and Penzenstadler have two children, Freida and Bernie.

Gress founded VESS, Volunteers for Educational and Social Services, in 1972. VESS placed volunteers in low-income parishes, Catholic schools, and social service organizations. After 29 years of service, due to decreased volunteer enrollment and funding, VESS discontinued operations in 2001.

In addition to founding and managing operations of VESS, Gress and Penzenstadler were involved in many charitable, religious, and educational organizations. Among the many issues that were important to the couple were human rights and third world debt relief. Gress volunteered with Amnesty International and helped establish a chapter at St. Edward’s University. He also became a member of Pax Christi in the 1980s and co-founded the Austin Interfaith Tax Force for Central American Refugees in 1982.

Gress and Penzenstadler lived in Taiwan in the 1990s, where they both taught English at Providence University. They also volunteered with the Diocese of Juticalpa in Honduras and lived there for some time in the early 2000s. There they launched the Keeping Kids in School Juticalpa Diocesan Scholarship Program in 2002 to assist Honduran parents with the cost of sending their children to school. Both also taught at the Universidad Católica. Penzendstadler taught faculty workshops and Gress taught English as a Second Language night classes. Throughout their careers and into retirement, the couple remained active advocates for the many issues important to them and continued to be involved in organizations both in Texas and abroad.


4 linear feet (9 containers)

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


Contains materials related to Archie Gress and his wife Joan Penzenstadler’s service organization involvement and their advocacy efforts. The materials include correspondence, programs, presentations, reports, and publications.


The materials are arranged in five series:

1. VESS [Volunteers for Educational and Social Services], 1983-2009 contains material on the organization that Gress founded. This series includes a manuscript of the chapter Gress wrote for the book Why We Serve, which documents testimonies of different VESS members, a program proposal for a VESS chapter in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, correspondence with former VESS members, and information on VESS mini-reunions.

2. Servants to the Severed, 1981-1984 was another organization founded by Gress which provided ministry services to prisoners on parole. This series includes correspondence, reports, legal documents, and financial materials related to the foundation and organizational activities. Also includes the organization’s Articles of Incorporation and by-laws, as well as tax exemption documents and legal information about non-profit and religious charitable organizations in Texas.

3. Other Organizations, 1982-2004 2004 contains materials regarding Gress and Penzenstadler’s involvement with various charitable, political, and religious organizations. Among the organizations they participated in are Pax Christi and Jubilee USA, Values in Action, and Voices of Sudan. Other organizations include those local to Austin, such as the homeless shelter Casa Marianella, Austin Interfaith Coalition, and the San Jose Social Justice Ministry.

4. Diocese of Juticalpa, Honduras, 1973-2008 includes materials regarding Gress and Penzenstadler’s activities in Juticalpa, Honduras. The bulk of the material in this series relates to the scholarship program they established in Juticalpa; also included is background information, an application, correspondence, clippings regarding a trade school the couple helped to establish, and information on the partnership formed between the Diocese of Juticalpa and the Diocese of Austin. Other issues and organizations regarding the couple’s time in Honduras include Pastoral Social, plans for an Austin Community College construction course to take place in Honduras, and other relief efforts and volunteer programs.

5. Correspondence and Personal, 1985-2006 consists of Gress’s day planner from his time in Taiwan, personal correspondence with colleagues and friends, medical records, and a great deal of form letter responses from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and other government representatives in response to letters sent by Gress and Penzenstadler regarding a wide array of political issues. 6. Publications, 1978-2004 contains Hastings Center Reports and other publications regarding ethics in medicine.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Jennifer Perritt and Rachael Zipperer, 2018.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Catholic Archives of Texas Repository

6225 E US 290 HWY EB SVRD
Austin TX 78723 United States