Shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 1, Fr. Philip Pascucci was called home to the Lord. He had been hospitalized at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., the previous Thursday with internal bleeding, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure. A member of the Salesian community at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., since June 2010, he was 95 years old and was the senior member of the New Rochelle Province.
|Fr. Phil in 2006|
Fr. Phil was born, the last of eight children, to Joseph and Nicolina Nuzzi Pascucci in the Bronx on May 19, 1919, and was baptized on June 15, 1919, at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in the Bronx.
Joseph Pascucci had immigrated from Casalbore, near Benevento, Italy, in 1893 when he was 13, settled in New York City’s Little Italy, and worked as a shoemaker. Nicolina came to New York with her parents at age three, and they also lived in Little Italy. Some years after he married Nicolina, they moved their young family to the Bronx. When Nicolina came down with tuberculosis, Joseph sent her to an upstate sanatorium. But then he was killed in an accident while crossing Fordham Road in January 1924.
With Nicolina unable to care for all the children, she sent the four youngest to the orphanage of the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt (N.Y.). Phil was four. Nicolina died in August 1925.
Fr. Phil recalls that the sisters cared for about 250 boys and 200 girls. Growing up in an orphanage during the Depression was difficult, and the children “were always hungry, especially on Saturday, when we had no class and were out playing all day.” He attended their grammar school, graduating in 1933, and commercial high school, wherein he excelled. He was an avid reader of the juvenile literature of the day, such as the Tom Swift and Horatio Alger stories. He was confirmed in May 1928 at Holy Rosary Church in Blauvelt.
One of the sisters, knowing that he was interested in the priesthood, suggested in 1936 that he go to the Salesians. So he entered the high school seminary at Newton on June 29, 1936. He notes that he had to undertake “classical studies as a freshman” even though he was 17 years old. With his typically understated humor, he writes, “I didn’t give a thought at all about my age. I looked a much younger boy. I guess I was what they call a late bloomer.”
Phil’s high school class began with 28 boys. Four began the novitiate year at St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton on Sept. 7, 1940. He made his first profession of vows on Sept. 8, 1941, and graduated from Don Bosco College in June 1944.
Bro. Phil began his practical training at Salesian HS in New Rochelle (1944-1946). Like all the Salesian schools in those days, it was a boarding school, “and it was hard,” he writes. “We had to teach, supervise the dormitories, the playground, and the dining room. The boys were city youths and didn’t like being there. Moreover, the Salesians didn’t have vacations in those days. At the end of the school year we went at once to work with the campers in the various camps which the Salesians operated. At the end of the camp season, we cleaned up the place, and then we began a 10-day retreat beginning on the evening of August 28 and ending around noon of September 8.”
In 1946-1947 Bro. Phil was sent to Hope Haven in Marrero, an orphanage for about 80 boys in Grades 5-9.
Bro. Phil did his theological studies at the Salesians’ Theologate of St. Thomas Aquinas in Aptos, Calif., from 1947 to 1951. He was ordained with four others in Aptos on June 17, 1951, by Coadjutor Bishop Aloysius J. Willinger, CSsR, of Monterey-Fresno.
|Undated photo, |
obviously early in Fr. Phil's priestly life
Fr. Phil carried out a teaching apostolate for eight years at Salesian HS (1951-1953), Don Bosco Tech in Boston (1954-1959), and Don Bosco Juniorate in Haverstraw (1959-1960). He also assisted Fr. Peter Lappin with the Salesian Bulletin at the provincial house in 1953-1954 and served as chaplain for the Ursuline sisters at their school on North Avenue.
Several years of parish ministry followed his school work, always as an assistant: Corpus Christi in Port Chester (1960-1961), Sacred Heart in Vancouver (1961-1964), St. Anthony in Paterson (1964-1966, 1982-1983)—where he had perhaps the most exciting moment of his life when the rectory experienced an armed robbery on Dec. 21, 1964. Fr. Anthony Mastroenni of the Paterson Diocese recalls that at St. Anthony “Father [Phil] always offered Mass devoutly and with a certain gravitas and was always well prepared for his preaching.”
Fr. Phil had two long assignments in his Salesian life. The first was as librarian at Don Bosco College in Newton (1966-1982) and the second as province archivist in New Rochelle (1983-1989, 1991-2001). He was also archivist at Don Bosco College (1989-1991). He had an unhappy “very brief stay of 2 months in the library of the Università Pontificia Salesiana” in 1982.
Fr. Phil qualified for his library position by earning an MLS from St. John’s University in Queens in 1967. He’d been very reluctant to go into library work or to go back to school but acceded to the urgent request of the provincial.
Subsequently Fr. Phil also earned a master’s in education from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1974 and a doctorate in education from New York University in 1980. In 1984 he took a workshop sponsored by the Marianists for training in managing religious archives.
In Newton, according to Fr. Mastroenni, “Fr. Phil was always quite knowledgeable about current events and ecclesiastical news. He was always a delight to sit with and his conversation was always most interesting. I shall always remember him as a faithful Salesian, a priest who loved the Sacrifice of the Mass, and a scholar.”
As archivist of the province, Fr. Phil carried out a major organizing task for documents of many varieties going back to the province’s founding in 1898. “When I arrived for the job,” he writes, “I found the room and its entire contents one awful mess” which it took him about three years to put into good order, to the benefit of all future users of the archives.
He took advantage of his access to early records to write sketches of some of the first foundations in the province, two of which were published in the Journal of Salesian Studies: “Once upon a Time in Old New York” (Spring 1992) and “Out of Our Past: An American Venture into Seminary Training” (Spring 1996); the latter covered Salesian endeavors from Troy, N.Y. (1903) through Don Bosco College’s demise. Some six other writings remain in manuscript on such works as the parishes in Paterson, Tampa, and Toronto. For the province’s centennial, he collected the obituary letters of almost every Salesian who served in the province and published the collection as Short Sketches of the Lives of Confreres Who Worked in the Province of St. Philip the Apostle During the 100 Years from 1898 to 1998 (New Rochelle, 1998) and he did most of the preparatory work for a second volume, similarly titled Short Sketches of the Lives of Confreres Who Died in the Province of Saint Philip the Apostle Especially during the Years from 1999 to 2009 (New Rochelle, 2011). Over the space of a dozen years he composed 15 parts in a large series of short biographies of Salesian saints, blesseds, and notables for distribution by Salesian Missions.
Fr. Mastroenni reports that he has “used many of his pamphlets about Salesian saints, and the young have always found them inspiring.” Fr. John Puntino pays this tribute to Fr. Phil: “Little as he was, I consider him a giant in the province for his tenacity and for the contribution of the short biographies of significant Salesians that Salesian Missions published in booklet form.”
In 1998 Fr. Phil had a stroke at the provincial house; after hospitalization and then rehabilitation at Burke Hospital in White Plains, he bounced back quite well. But a few years later, he remarks, he “was consigned to Blue Gate in Stony Point” (2001-2004). Evidently wasn’t ready for retirement; he contributed what he could to the work at the Marian Shrine and consequently was moved to Holy Rosary Parish in Port Chester as an assistant (2004-2010). Frailty finally caught up with him, and after a five-month stay at the provincial house, he settled into Don Bosco Prep in June 2010, assisting with sacramental ministry as his health allowed. He was present at almost every school and province celebration until last year. He was fondly loved by the Don Bosco Prep Ironmen as the elder of the school community. Before breathing his last, he remarked, “I am an old man, I did the best I could, and I think my work is done.”
Fr. Tom Dunne wrote to the confreres of the province, “We remember Fr. Phil fondly for his fidelity to Don Bosco over 74 years as a Salesian and over 63 years of ordination.”
Fr. Phil’s wake will be celebrated at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey on Feb. 3 and the funeral on Feb. 4 at 9:30 a.m. with burial in the Salesian cemetery in Goshen, N.Y.
He is survived by several nephews and nieces.