Monsignor Weiss celebrates last day as St. Rose pastor

Editor’s note: This story was written by Rob Ryser, Staff Writer at the Connecticut post and was originally published online on Wednesday, January 31, titled “Newtown pastor ‘overwhelmed’ by school children’s tribute n his last day before retirement.”

NEWTOWN — Monsignor Robert Weiss’ last day as pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church was animated by the smiles, cheers and hugs of 260 children from the parochial school, who saluted his 24 years of service and wished him well in retirement with cards, songs and a video tribute.

“This is overwhelming,” Weiss told Hearst Connecticut Media after celebrating a final Mass with the school community and attending a special farewell event at the gathering hall that bears his name in the school building behind the church. “It is just an incredible blessing when you realize on a day like this, for the kids this age to share what they are sharing… it has been a great experience.”

Weiss, a veteran spiritual leader and one of the key figures who helped Newtown navigate the grief and trauma of the 2012 shooting of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has never been one to hide his emotions.

“He’s really emotional and it is easy to talk to him because of that,” said Samantha DiCandido, 13, an eighth grader at St. Rose of Lima School who has known Weiss since kindergarten. “He really listens, and he tries to understand what you are going through when you are going through it and help you. He has always been so generous to everyone. He really doesn’t care about himself. He cares about other people. He is so selfless.”

On Wednesday, the emotion on Weiss’ face alternated between tearful and twinkle eyed as he listened to pre-kindergartners sing, “This Little Light of Mine,” and proclaimed from the lectern that his last day as pastor was a “no homework day,” to the delight of applauding school kids.

“I’m sad, but happy for all the good times we shared,” Weiss said from the lectern.

Weiss, 77, has made no secret of the fact that despite the emotional toll the last decade has taken on him, he would prefer not to retire but to remain the pastor of St. Rose, where he has spent half of his life as a priest.

Weiss submitted his retirement when he turned 75 in obedience to diocesan rules, but his term was extended to allow him to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy with the community that considers him family.

Weiss will retire to a condominium in Newtown and become the pastor emeritus at St. Rose. The new pastor, the Rev. Peter Cipriani, takes over on Thursday.

“It is really hard to say goodbye to someone who is so special,” said Mylene Chawi of Newtown, a mother of two children in St. Rose school, who was among the crowd of parents who attended the farewell Mass on Wednesday. “His presence in the church makes everything so special. The school will not be the same without him, honestly. Everybody will miss him.”

Bardhyl Gjoka, the parochial school principal, agreed.

“Monsignor has been more than a presence at our school — his caring and compassion and love teaches the children how to become better people,” Gjoka said. “Obviously we are a religious institution, but it goes beyond that … by teaching them the value of service, and the value of caring for others in need.”

Weiss’ farewell celebration on Wednesday capped a sequence of goodbye events for the Florida native who had pastoral assignments in Bridgeport, Stamford, Monroe and Shelton before coming to Newtown.

“We had a huge dinner for 600 people, which was incredible, and a (farewell) Mass on Sunday which was just beautiful with a nice reception afterwards, and a staff (goodbye) on Monday and now all this today,” Weiss said.

He said his soul will forever be marked by the shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.

“It made me aware of just how vulnerable we are … and aware of the need to really stay tight and bring people together and celebrate what we have and try to focus on that instead of what happened, you know?” Weiss said. “It was a real awakening of just how vulnerable we are but yet somehow, we have to hold onto the hope that God is watching over us and we are together. Everything we did we did together, you know?”