INTERIM TEAM IN PLACE AT ST. MARY’S
By JIM KEVLIN • The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – On May 30, 1955, little John Rosson, 7, underwent his First Holy Communion at his hometown church, Immaculate Conception in Irvington, on the Hudson River.
As the host – in Catholic doctrine, the small, round wafer is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ – passed his lips, the boy immediately knew: He was destined to be a priest.
Almost 44 years later, Father Rosson, 71, said his final mass at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 31, signaling the end of 19 years as pastor of St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” Roman Catholic Church on Elm Street.
“This is a glorious day, not a day to lament, but to celebrate,” he told 200 parishioners. “One priest had the opportunity to serve.”
He added, “I would do it over again in a heartbeat.”
An interim successor, Father Peter Pagone, 75, who retired last summer from St. Paul the Apostle and Our Lady of Mount Carmel churches in Schenectady, has been assigned to St. Mary’s on weekends, and all of Holy Week.
The Interim Team will also include Karen Walker, parish life coordinator at St. Thomas the Apostle, Cherry Valley, who will spend one or two days a week at the Cooperstown parish.
The Very Rev. Micheal Cambi, episcopal vicar of the Leatherstocking Vicariate, who is serving a temporary assignment in southern Delaware county, will oversee the transition.
In an interview in the rectory Wednesday, March 27, Rosson was looking ahead. He has put a downpayment on a condo in Bethlehem, N.H., and also plans to spend time at the home in Gilbertsville that he and a friend from their seminary days, Father Andrew Cryans, bought many years ago.
He and Father Cryans visited Iceland last year, and were so impressed by their experience Father Rosson has written Bishop David Tencer of Reykjavik, offering their services as missionary priests if the opportunity arises.
Regardless, they plan to travel.
As it happened, Father Rosson’s life remained entwined with Immaculate Conception in Irvington. He underwent his confirmation there and was ordained there in June 1975.
In between, he attended a seminary high school, and earned a bachelor’s and master’s in economics at, respectively, Rockhurst University in Missouri and Fordham. He then earned a master in divinity from Jesuit School of Theology in New York City before his ordination.
As an Augustinian Recollect father, he was a parish priest and high school teacher in Omaha before joining the Diocese of Albany in 1981. He taught at St. Patrick’s High School in Catskills, then spent 10 years – 1985-95 – as campus priest at Hartwick College (where he also taught comparative religions) and SUNY Oneonta.
After five years at St. John the Baptist, Schenectady, he was assigned to Cooperstown to succeed the retiring Father John Roos.
He recalled arriving on the first year of the new century in a different village. “It was idyllic, it was peaceful,” he said.
It was before 9/11 – a parishioner, Cathy Raddatz, lost a brother, a broker in Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 101st floor of the North Tower, in the catastrophe. It was before the Great Recession.
His altar boy at that first mass on June 21, 2000, was Robert Tirrell, who would die young at age 25 in 2012. Other sad events the priest recalled here included the death of young Chris Gentile, the charismatic CCS varsity tennis player who died in a car crash en route to Holy Thursday Mass 12 years ago.
And he also reflected on Good Friday 2010, when Anthony Pacherille, just 16, armed with a rifle, chased a classmate from Cooper Park across Main Street into the Village Police station, where he shot and winged him, then shot himself in the head.
Miraculously surviving, Pacherille served eight years in maximum-security prison; he was release last month in Herkimer County, and is prohibited from returning to Otsego.
Rosson was an ardent advocate of his young parishioner. To this day, he doesn’t believe Anthony had a racial motive in shooting his classmate, who was black. But that Anthony was simply a disturbed young man.
At the pastor’s final mass, the message of the day was The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), which he recounted Charles Dickens, considered the most famous and moving story of all time. It inspired Murillo, and Rembrandt.
The son returns after wasting his inheritance on fast living. His father embraces him. The older dutiful son expresses resentment, but the father tells him, “‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
But then what? Father Rosson asked. “It’s an unfinished story,” he observed tellingly.
In the brunch reception that followed, Jeff Woeppel, a church trustee, offered the priest three presents: A large jar of peanut butter, symbolizing the Lenten food drive to benefit the Cooperstown Food Pantry that Father Rosson spearheaded for years; a sack of potatoes, reflecting his Irish ancestry, and a sizeable cash gift, the second collection from that day’s mass.
Back at the rectory there was an open house through the afternoon. Father Rosson had put up a message on 8½-by-11 paper at several points throughout the house: “Don’t complicate change – just begin.”