A Johnston staple celebrated a “marvelous milestone” this past Saturday at Our Lady of Grace Church.
The Rev. Peter J. Gower officially marked his 35th anniversary in the priesthood, and there was no shortage of love for the popular pastor. Hundreds arrived for the 4 p.m. Mass, but the fun was only just beginning.
The terrific testimonial that followed spoke volumes about a “wonderful man” who Thomas Ucci Jr., a member of the parish’s finance committee, said is “the best thing that ever happened to Our Lady of Grace Church.
“He revitalized this parish,” Ucci added.
Never before, at least not that any parishioner could recall, has Fioretti Hall ever been so alive – and well decorated – as it was when 350 people turned out to honor Gower during a heartwarming tribute. Department of Public Works Director Arnie Vecchione, who has been a parishioner for four decades, called it “an extraordinary show of this parish family’s love” and “a good sign family unity is alive.”
“I was truly humbled with the amazing tribute bestowed upon me for my 35th anniversary in the priesthood,” Gower offered. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you all.”
It became even more apparent of just how much the parishioners love and care about their pastor, as the organizing committee presented a party that was perfect from start to finish.
The eloquent homily delivered by Monsignor David LiPuma, Gower’s best friend of 41 years, highlighted the milestone Mass. Ambrosiani and talented vocalist Christina Caprarelli later provided music for the evening.
Joe Grasso – who has been at Our Lady of Grace for 54 years and counting – called Gower “a people’s priest. He has brought the people here closer than they’ve been.”
Joe Andreozzi, a longtime volunteer for many events that Gower initiated at the church, said: “He’s like a spark plug; he never stops.”
Perhaps Joe Quartino said it best, noting” “Father Gower loves people. He loves to make them happy and he’ll do anything for anybody.”
Gower was born in Barrington on July 7, 1957. He attended St. Luke’s School there and then enrolled at the now former Our Lady of Providence High School, where he graduated from in 1976.
He then went to college seminary in New York and graduated. After four years, he went to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. He was ordained in 1984.
“My first assignment was St. Joseph’s in Cumberland,” Gower said. “Then I went to St. Aidan’s in Cumberland, then St. Ann’s and St. Raymond’s in Providence, then St. Mary by the Bay in Warren before coming home at Our Lady of Grace.”
Representatives from each of those parishes were in attendance Saturday night and enjoyed the fun, food and fellowship that have become Our Lady of Grace’s trademarks during Gower’s tenure.
Paul Gondreau, a trustee who delivered a special toast, mused: “OK, Father, you’ve got the first 35 years down. Now you’ve only got 35 more to go here at Our Lady of Grace!”