He came to us in June and he leaves us in June. Sadly, Reverend Anthony J. Sansone, the pastor of Sacred Hearts – St. Stephen’s Church is leaving the parish this month. Bishop DiMarzio has appointed Father Sansone to the post of Administrator of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Ridgewood, Queens.
Most parishioners received the news with heavy hearts. Remembering the days of old when pastors stayed put in parishes until retirement (or death), many questioned why a pastor who is so well-loved and hard-working must be transferred. Alas, times have changed and now six year terms have been imposed, not usually to be exceeded by two terms. Father Sansone is nearing the end of his second 6-year term.
I, for one, will miss Father Sansone terribly. To be honest, when he first arrived, I thought him to be quite serious and rather quiet. Well, I had a lot to learn about him. Yes, Father is serious when necessary but he is also warm, loving, humorous, generous, concerned, compassionate, a great conversationalist, and a little hard-headed, very much like a regular father. Oddly enough, on the Sunday he announced he was leaving, the gospel was about the role of Jesus as the good shepherd. That is just what Father Sansone has been to us – a very good shepherd.
Father has honored older, lifelong parishioners while simultaneously welcoming many new, young families. He has tapped into the talents of the parish community. He has invited our new neighbors, the Community of Koinonia St. John the Baptist from Visitation Church, to worship with us. Father also has an eye for beauty and has restored our church to splendor, both inside and out. Under his watch, the steeple has been illuminated for the first time in history and now shines as a beacon which can be seen from miles around.
Together we celebrated the 125th Anniversary of Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary, the oldest Italian parish in Brooklyn. An entire year of events was planned around that milestone. We also celebrated the 35th Anniversary of Father’s ordination. We’ve had retreats, healing masses, concerts, and lectures, all under his guidance. Father has a great love for the children of the parish and never seems to mind their crying or running down the side aisles during mass. Indeed, we now have an annual mass during which one of the Diocesan bishops blesses all the children of the parish.
Father arrived in the summer of 2001. At his first mass, he recounted how, as a child, he always noticed the steeple of Sacred Hearts - St. Stephen’s, towering over the Gowanus Expressway, when his own father drove on that roadway. A few months after his arrival, on September 11, 2001, the unthinkable occurred. Father, along with the late Father Simon Joseph, watched the horror unfold from the roof of the rectory. Father Sansone was there to memorialize two parishioners who perished that awful day and to comfort their families and all parishioners who felt such profound loss and uncertainty. Last year, we had a moving candlelit vigil to mark the 10th anniversary.
Father Sansone is not afraid of rolling up his sleeves and pitching in. He was there every Holy Saturday and Sunday before Christmas Eve to clean and decorate the church along with his flock. He climbed ladders and hung wreaths. I remember when a couple of trees were donated for the top of the church stairs. They were supposed to be hearty but, in fact, were not doing well. After Sunday Mass, I told Father that they urgently needed to be watered. Instead of finding someone to do it, he rushed to unravel the very tangled hose on the side of the church while still dressed in his beautiful vestments.
Rectories used to be filled with a number of priests but recently there was just Father Sansone and the Ports Chaplain, Father Antonio Camorra. When the kindly and well-loved Father Simon was alive, he was a great help and “brother” to Father Sansone. But since his untimely death, it was left to Father Sansone to celebrate most masses, oversee fiscal matters, visit the sick, coordinate repairs and maintenance…pretty much everything. He has worn many hats but he is always quick to give credit to all those around him.
After special holiday masses, Father Sansone always thanks those responsible for the liturgy, music, decorating, etc. It was usually Father Simon’s job to thank Father Sansone, in his lovely, warm Pakistani accent. So now it is our turn to thank our dear Father Sansone and to bid him farewell. We wish him Godspeed and all the best in his new parish. We hope he is drawn by that steeple that he always noticed as a young boy and visits us whenever he can.
A farewell liturgy will be celebrated on Sunday, June 24th at 11:45 a.m. with a reception in Cabrini Hall to follow.