Persico’s journey turned small-town pastor into bishop at center of controversy

Tribune Review

December 22, 2018

By Deb Erdley

When it snowed, Betty Nemchik always knew the sidewalks outside St. James Roman Catholic Church would be shoveled in time for morning Mass.

The now-retired church secretary said her boss, Monsignor Lawrence Persico, personally cleared a path to the New Alexandria church, where he served from 1998 to 2012.

Those who remember him recall a self-effacing cleric whose serious, gaunt demeanor masked a dry sense of humor that came to the surface when he joined congregants for coffee after morning Mass.

Jeffrey Rouse, an internationally-known art conservator, attended morning services just down the road from his studio. He came to call Persico a friend.

“We just loved him. We had so much fun,” Rouse said.

But Persico, who would become bishop of the Erie Diocese, also played another role in the church — serving as vicar general of the Greensburg Diocese. Responsibilities of that position included investigating claims of horrific clergy sexual abuse.

A searing statewide grand jury report, released in August, detailed rampant claims of Catholic clergy sexual abuse across Pennsylvania. The 900-page document included several cases Persico was a assigned to investigate.

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