Diocese Removes Six Priestsschenectady Priest's Sudden Departure Leaves Parishioners Wondering

By Kim Martineau
Times Union (Albany, NY)
June 29, 2002

Three weeks ago, the Rev. Joseph Mancuso announced he would be leaving his flock for a short time to undergo surgery. He never came back.

Mancuso's parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel had been following for months the national scandal over sexual abuse by priests, but until Friday they never dreamed the scandal would hit so close to home.

They gathered on their porches, some in tears, as they shared the news. The priest who had learned Italian so he could continue Mount Carmel's tradition of celebrating Italian Mass on Sundays, the confidante who helped the needy and offered the sick communion by their hospital bed, had been fired. They wondered if there had ever been a surgery. And, if not, how many other secrets Mancuso had kept from them over the years.

"This is a church in crisis," said longtime parishioner Tom Isabella, a former City Council president. "I feel absolutely let down."

Mount Carmel celebrated its first Mass in 1922 in a house on Schenectady Street that was later converted to a chapel. It was the second Italian parish to open in Schenectady and its cornerstone, laid later that year, proudly proclaimed: "Chiesa Italiana" -- Italian church.

As the church grew, it moved to larger quarters on Webster Street and then Pleasant Street in Mont Pleasant. In 1979, Mancuso became the pastor and set to work learning to read and write Italian. He developed a reputation for his hard work and sage advice.

Before Mayor Al Jurczynski married his wife, Maria, Mancuso pulled him aside. "He said, 'You're going to have Italian in-laws. They're going to want to help you and your instinct is going to be to resist. My advice is to let them help you. Just thank them, and they will love you for it.' "

He didn't seem to pass judgment, either. "I didn't go to church all that often, but he was happy to baptize my kids," said Ann Shoemaker, who was also married in front of Mancuso. "Of all the priests who've been here, he was the best one."

In 1995, Mayor Frank Duci named Mancuso a city patroon, Schenectady's top honor, and a year later, Mancuso joined forces with other neighborhood clergymen to fight rising crime in Mont Pleasant. Two years later, Mount Carmel celebrated its 75th anniversary, and a time capsule from the old church was opened. It contained an 1879 silver dollar, an issue of the newspaper Corriere d'America and articles from the Schenectady Gazette and Times Union.

Some of Mancuso's photographs were published in a scrapbook commemorating the church's anniversary. Bill Macejka, a retired photographer for General Electric, would often give Mancuso tips on exposure times and lenses.

"That's what shocked me so bad," he said. "He never seemed like that kind of person."

There seemed to be no hint of the disgrace and disappointment that lay ahead when Mancuso addressed his church in 1997.

"We can look to the future with hope and confidence!" he wrote. "Are we a perfect diamond with perfect facets? By no means! We are a human church that continually needs forgiveness from God and each other."

Forgiveness was not on everyone's minds Friday.

"They're closing schools and now we learn they're paying millions of dollars in settlements," said Isabella. "In church, we were taught to fess up. Now it's time for the bishop to fess up. He needs to come clean. How much money was paid out to these unfortunate victims?"


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