Rev. Joe Pescatello celebrates 25 years as priest

Rev. Joe Pescatello celebrates 25 years as priest

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — It’s not every day that two bishops, several mayors, a university president and more than five hundred people join 50-plus priests for Sunday Mass, but that was the case earlier this fall when faithful guests poured into St. Clare Church in Misquamicut to celebrate a native son.

It was for the 25th anniversary Mass celebration for the Rev. Joseph A. Pescatello, a 1970 Westerly High School graduate who attended grade school at the Immaculate Conception School, and it was quite the event.

“I was a little overwhelmed” said Pescatello with his signature modesty recently on one of his regular trips to town. “It was a nice celebration, although I think half of the people were relatives.”

It was during his early years, said Pescatello, while he was an altar boy at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, that he first thought of becoming a priest. He was inspired by his then pastor, the Rev. Sylva LeCours (“a legend,”) and by his father, a man of great faith, strong convictions and good values. Pescatello comes to Westerly weekly to visit his father who lives at the Apple Clipper on Post Road.

Pescatello, who grew up on the corner of Pierce and Pond Streets in Westerly’s North End in a home where his grandparents spoke only Italian, remembers spending hours playing in the terraced yards of neighbors with his friend Louis Furcolo.

In high school, he chummed around with his classmates Lou Toscano, Tom Liguori and Frank Pendola.

Toscano, a teacher at the Pine Point School, said he admires the way his friend is able to relate his homilies to something tangible, especially at funerals and weddings and especially when he has a connection to the family.

Pescatello, who served as the Catholic chaplain at Bryant University for 12 years, is now the pastor at Mary, Mother of Mankind church in North Providence and the chaplain for the North Providence police and fire departments.

“He’s my favorite priest in all the world and he’s a great guy,” said Dick Fossa, chief of staff for North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, who attended the Mass and reception. “He blended right into this community from the moment he arrived. It’s like he’s been here forever.”

It was during his years at Bryant that Pescatello became close with Bryant President Ron Machtley and his wife, Kathy, both of whom attended the anniversary Mass and reception, along with his many extended family members — Pescatellos, Cillinos and Alfieros and many priests and childhood friends.

“I think Father Joe is one of the most spiritually gifted priests working with young people I know,” said Machtley, a former congressman from Rhode Island. “In his own quiet way he was able to communicate the importance of a spiritual life to our students. He was a wonderful role model.”

After graduating from high school, Joseph Pescatello went off to the University of Rhode Island, then entered Theological College in Washington, D.C., to become a priest, but took a 10-year detour.

During his hiatus, he taught first in Maryland at St. Vincent Pallotti High School, then back closer to home at St. Bernard School. In the meantime he decided to get a master’s degree in counseling, thinking he’d become a hall director at URI. All the while he tended bar at places like Mary’s and the Pumphouse in Peace Dale. Eventually his path led him back to the priesthood and he was ordained in 1989.

The calling was always there, he said, he just needed to make his own way in his own time.

Pescatello said he admires Pope Francis, and applauds him for “making the poor a priority in the church.”

He calls Msgr. Richard Albert, a Catholic priest who ministers to the poorest of the poor in Kingston, Jamaica one of his influences.

Albert, who created a soup kitchen and a chapel in the Riverton City dump in Jamaica, once said that if he were to die or leave Jamaica, at least he could say that he “fed a few people and maybe made a difference.”

Pescatello said he was also inspired by a nun, Sister Joan Mahoney, and a retired priest, the Rev. Randolph Chew of Charlestown.

Chew, who was the chaplain at URI from 1976 to 1989, has known Pescatello for the last 35 years and watched him mature from a graduate student at URI to a diocesan priest.

“Being of service to people is the essence of his priesthood,” said Chew. “He is a very dedicated and conscientious priest.”

The life of a priest can be a good life, an exciting life, said Pescatello, stressing that he feels honored and privileged to minister to people during the most significant moments of their lives — like weddings, baptisms and funerals.

“I believe that true joy, peace and fulfillment can be found in the Gospel,” said the Westerly native. “When Christ said ‘Take up your cross and follow me,’ it wasn’t meant to be just drudgery and negativity.”

Joy can be found in the midst of sorrow and pain, he said, especially when you keep focused on Christ.

The Rev. Kenneth J. Suibielski, the pastor at St. Clare’s, who has known Pescatello since their days in graduate school, said that the homily Pescatello delivered during his anniversary Mass was a wonderful thread that took listeners with him through his 25 years of priesthood and pastoral service.

The reception was festive and fun, Suibielski said, and a fitting atmosphere for a priest celebrating so many years of service.

“Nobody wanted to leave,” he said. “Everyone liked being there.”

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