Father Ray says goodbye to St. John Vianney Parish, and Father Joe steps in to lead the Cumberland church

Father Ray says goodbye to St. John Vianney Parish, and Father Joe steps in to lead the Cumberland church

St. John Vianney Church parishioners, including Dave and Phyllis Lambert, center rear, line up to offer best wishes last Sunday to Father Raymond Theroux after he celebrated his final Mass at the church as pastor. “Father Ray,” as he is known, served the Cumberland parish for 28 years and is retiring to St. Clare-Newport, where he will serve as chaplain. The Rev. Joseph Pescatello, from Mary Mother of Mankind Church in North Providence, will now take over in Cumberland. (Breeze photo by Tom Ward)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – The Rev. Joseph Pescatello says he fit right in from the moment he arrived in North Providence seven years ago. The town easily embraced the man whose last name means “little fisherman” in Italian.

Pescatello, who called North Providence one of the best stops of a long career, is leaving Mary Mother of Mankind Parish this week and heading for St. John Vianney Parish in Cumberland. He said though this is a “bittersweet” move, he’s felt a similar welcoming approach from the people of St. John Vianney in his first interactions with them.

For Father Joe, who also served as chaplain for both the North Providence Police and Fire departments while working in town, his final Masses over the past weekend were an emotional goodbye to a town that was so good to him.

“It’s a great community in many ways,” he said.

Pescatello said it’s a “humbling” but “good challenge” to be following in the footsteps of the Rev. Raymond “Father Ray” Theroux, who served at St. John Vianney for 28 years. Theroux is a “good man, a good priest,” and he built a great parish in Cumberland, he said.

Replacing Pescatello at Mary Mother of Mankind is the Rev. Dennis Kieton, former chaplain at St. Antoine Residence in North Smithfield.

At age 66, Pescatello said he could retire in four years if he desires, but is planning to do a six-year term. Initial terms are always six years, he said, and though he had agreed to an extended stay in North Providence, “unforeseen circumstances” necessitating his service in Cumberland arose.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Pescatello said he doesn’t envision having any trouble connecting to the people of Cumberland, having worked in a number of parishes with similar demographics.

North Providence police held an informal luncheon and recognition reception last Wednesday to honor Pescatello, a “small gesture,” said Chief David Tikoian, to expressing appreciation to Pescatello for his service to the department.

Tikoian told The Breeze he only knew Pescatello for a short time, but they immediately had a friendship.

“He was the first person that I met when I came to North Providence, and it was an instant connection,” he said. Father Joe is, a “kind, gentle and humble” person, and he will be greatly missed in North Providence, said Tikoian, who was planning to attend Pescatello’s final Mass on Sunday.

Pescatello said he grew up in Westerly, a town with a large Italian community. North Providence had that same feel, with many families never leaving, but with more diversity mixed in, he said.

“I always felt welcomed wherever I went,” he said.

Mary Mother of Mankind is a unique parish with a warmth everyone who enters its doors seems to notice, he said. Working also as chaplain to the public safety departments was a “wonderful complement,” with “many interconnections and overlappings.”

“I always felt my involvement was always desired and warmly received,” he said, whether he was visiting 5th-graders in a moving-up ceremony, doing ride-alongs with police, or visiting firefighters for a cup of coffee.

A former chaplain at Bryant University in Smithfield, and pastor of Our Lady of Good Help in Burrillville, Pescatello attended the Washington Catholic University Theological College in 1974 and in 1987 earned his master’s in higher education from the University of Rhode Island, which led to the job at Bryant. He has served in numerous other pastoral roles over the years.

Pescatello said he visited Cumberland on May 20 for a farewell concert honoring Theroux. Some 500 people attended that event, allowing him to get to meet many of them. St. John Vianney is a vibrant church, with 2,500 families, 600 children in religious education and 100 youths confirmed last year. Mary Mother of Mankind has about 1,100 families, with 200 in religious education. The church has a very active youth ministry, and Pescatello said he’s heard from some at St. John Vianney that they would like to see him use his experience as a former high school teacher to further develop the youth ministry there.

The Rev. Joseph Pescatello, former pastor at Mary Mother of Mankind Church in North Providence, center, leaves the church after finishing his last Mass there on Sunday. He has been assigned to St. John Vianney Church in Cumberland. (Breeze photos by Bill Murphy)
The Rev. Joseph Pescatello, pastor at Mary Mother of Mankind Church, speaks with members of the parish following his final Mass last Sunday.