By PETE FONTAINE
Reverend Robert Rochon will never forget his 15 years as Pastor at St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in Johnston.
That’s because the proud parishioners of the small yet close-knit church community expressed their endless love and respect for Father Rochon in form of a Saint Brigid Calendar which was one of many gifts the 70-year-old priest recently received.
On a recent Saturday, Cindy and Mike Pagliaro stopped by the rectory and presented Father Rochon with two boxes he noted “were beautifully tied together with light green ribbon and a huge bow.” He wondered what was in both boxes, simply because one item in a shirt box and the other looked like a recipe box.
The contents, Father Rochon related, “brought tears to my eyes” and was a unique Saint Brigid Calendar dated July 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019 and each of the pages featured messages from the parishioners whose love, people like the ageless Louisa Iannotti will tell you, will never die.
“As I read through each day of each month in the calendar, it brought back so many memories of each one of you,” Father Rochon told the Pagliaro’s and parishioners during Sunday’s unique retirement party held inside the famed Gov. Sprague Manson. “There were memories of good times, memories of personal messages I shared with individuals and memories of laughter and tears.”
For Sunday, many parishioners will tell you, was bittersweet for a number of reasons, the most important being it was the last 9 o’clock mass in the illustrious 103-year history of the St. Brigid’s parish.
St. Brigid’s Church has merged with nearby Saint Rocco’s Church on Atwood Avenue, and will still hold a 10 o’clock Sunday morning mass.
Because the Roman Catholic Church sets a priest’s retirement age at 70 – and Father Rochon recently reached that milestone of his life and is dealing with health issues – he is stepping down from the priesthood after 44 years since he was ordained back in 1974.
When word first surfaced that St. Brigid’s would close as a parish and merge with Saint Rocco’s, women like Iannotti and Pagliaro wanted to have an Open House Reception for Father Rochon, replete with a variety freshments which were prepared and served by Ralph’s Catering.
Perhaps the Legacy Board, which was set up in the foyer of the Cranston-based mansion where people could sign a guest book, best described the extraordinary outreach programs that Father Rochon initiated and carried out during his decade and a half of special service to parishioners and people in need.
As part of the parishioners way of saying “Goodbye” to Father Rochon, pictures of his 15-year tenure were carefully placed in sequence on tables in the church hall for people to view after Sunday’s mass courtesy of Bettie and John Smith.
There were also countless stories at Sunday’s Retirement Reception during which seemingly everyone inside the mansion made it clear that “we are a family community that plans on getting together and some people are already planning reunions.”
“Father Bob made our church one that is admired by many and will never be forgotten,” Iannotti said, her voice cracking with emotion and tears trickling down her cheeks. “Our love for Father Bob is reflected in today’s crowd; we’re not surprised that so many people turned out.”
People turned out in record numbers because each parishioner – no matter what his or her age – followed Father Rochon’s footsteps from the time he arrived at St. Brigid’s which he remembered as an old church building as well as a tired community, both needing much rebuilding, that he asked himself “what did I get myself into?”
“Even the rectory was old and originally uninhabitable because of dirt and bugs,” the priest related. “But, as we grew in trust of each other, we first rebuilt our community into a family; then, we went to work together to rebuild our buildings; and through the years we became a strong, vibrant community of faith, caring for one another and caring for those less fortunate outside our family.”
More importantly, as Father Rochon told people Sunday: “I walk into my retirement feeling the support of your love and friendship and feeling extremely proud of what we have accomplished together through the years. I want to say thank you, I love you, and will carry you always in my heart. Most especially, may we take the love of God with us wherever we go.”