After poem recitals, passage readings and hymns, students from the class of 2017 played Sia’s song “The Greatest” as a reflection of their hopes for the future.
While the parents attending the ceremony listened and some students chuckled, Father Paul closed his eyes and briefly swayed to the beat of the music.
After more than two decades leading the parish at St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration, Father Paul is bidding farewell to the Maspeth churches. Monday’s ring ceremony was his last act as the longtime pastor for the neighborhood.
“I’ve known the kids for nine years, from kindergarten through the 8th grade,” he said. “So I’m sad because I don’t get to be pastor anymore.”
Father Paul spent 11 years as the pastor for St. Stan’s and 14 years leading Transfiguration. But after his leg was amputated last year due to complications from a blood clot, he decided to retire from his duties leading mass and teaching young students.
“The people need someone that’s vibrant and has two legs to walk around,” he said. “It will be good for me, good for the church to have a new pastor. It’s still sad though to be leaving all my friends.
“Preaching to the people, talking to them about Jesus,” he added, “that’s what I’m going to miss the most.”
Before joining the Maspeth community, Father Paul ran the Catholic Newman Center at Queens College, starting in 1993. For 10 years, that was his full-time job.
In 2003, he was asked to take the pastor role at Transfiguration Church. Three years later, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio asked him to take on duties at St. Stanislaus Kostka as well.
He served the Maspeth community until this week, when he officially stepped down from his position. His emotional last mass was this past weekend.
“I was able to hold it together until I was walking out, and then I started to cry a little bit as I was leaving the church,” he said. “This has been my family. This neighborhood has been my neighborhood for 15 years.”
Though the ordeal with his leg sidelined him for many months, Father Paul, now 62, said he considers himself a “miracle child” because he’s had several blood clots in his past.
“Blood clots kill people, and I’ve had them in the heart and the lungs and God has kept me around,” he said. “Before I was ordained a priest in seminary I had a blood clot in my leg.”
He’s just starting to get used to the “fake leg” as he calls it, but not without some slip-ups. Father Paul said he has fallen three times already while learning how to get his balance.
In the meantime, Father Paul has been going to physical therapy twice a week. They teach him how to walk with a cane instead, he said.
“When the new leg comes, it’ll fit better,” he said. “It should be less awkward and less painful.”
Father Paul’s next move is returning to the Newman Center to work full-time with college students again. He said he’ll even proceed over more marriages and baptisms.
“So I look forward to being more active than I have been in the last seven months,” he said. “To be present, that’s the best part of the ministry, meeting people one on one. I haven’t been able to do that. Now I will have time.”
He’s also moving to the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, where retired priests and college seminarians live.
“My sister-in-law has been taking care of me now,” he said. “So when I move there, they will take care of me until I don’t need to be taken care of, when I can move around.”
Reflecting on all of the memories he’s had inside the Maspeth church, Father Paul said he will remember all of the First Communions and Confirmation ceremonies.
Toward the end of the ring ceremony, the Catholic school surprised Father Paul with a gift. Each class also wrote cards for the departing pastor.
Sitting in his chair, Father Paul leaned over and accepted each gift with a smile. He closed out the ceremony by thanking the students for lending their support during his time of need.
“I know during my sickness, you prayed for me,” Father Paul said. “Thank you for your care, support and prayers. I’ll miss you all.”