The following homily was delivered by Father Joseph Marcello, Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Trumbull and Vicar for Clergy, at the Vigil Mass for his friend and mentor, Msgr. Louis DeProfio, on Thursday, August 23, 2018, at St. Theresa Church in Trumbull.
One time, over dinner at Testo’s, a few weeks before his 50th anniversary in the priesthood, I asked Msgr. DeProfio if he had any regrets, as he looked back on his priestly life. His expression turned serious and, looking me straight in the eye, he said, “My only regret is that I don’t have another lifetime to do it all over again.”
The vocation of Louis Anthony DeProfio, Protonotary Apostolic supernumerary, priest of Jesus Christ, began, as every authentic priestly vocation began, in the heart of the Lord Jesus, in the Upper Room, on the evening of Holy Thursday, where Christ gave to His Church the gifts of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, in order to perpetuate in the world, until the end of time, the victory over sin and death which he was about to accomplish on Calvary.
The grace of that sacred Thursday began to mature in the heart and mind of the young Louis DeProfio, who grew up in the section of Bridgeport called “the Hollow,” first through the love and faith which were lived out in his family. He said of them, “We were poor, but we were happy.” Another formative influence in his life was his pastor, Msgr. Emilio Iasiello, who over time became also his mentor and friend. Msgr. Iasiello served St. Raphael Parish for three decades and, as Divine Providence would have it, he passed away 49 years ago today, August 23, 1969.
After high school, the teenaged Louis enlisted in the United States Navy, and spent a year and a half in the Pacific. “I saw the ravages of World War II,” he once said, “and it got me thinking that maybe I could do something good, to bring some love and relief to people’s lives.” And so, following priestly formation first at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, and then at St. Mary’s in Baltimore, on Paca Street and then at Roland Park, he received priestly ordination at the hands of Lawrence Shehan, the first Bishop of Bridgeport, at St. Augustine Cathedral, May 10, 1956 which, that year, was Ascension Thursday.
After two morning Masses for the nuns at St. Raphael’s Convent, he celebrated his First Solemn Mass on May 13th, using the chalice given to him by his family, which we use for Mass this evening. Engraved on Msgr. DeProfio’s chalice is a quote from his model in the priestly life, St. John Bosco: “DA MIHI ANIMAS – CETERA TOLLE.” “GIVE ME SOULS – TAKE AWAY THE REST.” Each day, he saw those words when he celebrated Mass. And from the altar and into daily life, he lived out their meaning day by day. Deeply he knew that, in the end, nothing else that we do really matters: whether it’s building buildings, or writing articles or books, or raising money, or compiling statistics. The only thing that matters eternally is souls, because only souls are eternal, like God himself. Only God knows how many souls were brought to eternal salvation through the 62-year priestly ministry of Msgr. DeProfio. But if I had to make an educated guess, I’d say that it was indeed a harvest worthy of Heaven.
As a newly ordained priest, he carried out his now-legendary work with young people at St. Raphael’s. Following the example of St. John Bosco, he organized among the parish and neighborhood youth an orchestra, a choir and glee club, a hot rod club, several sports teams, and three drum-and-bugle corps, the Buccaneers and the Marionettes. He would march them up and down Grand Street to Nanny Goat Park (now called Lafayette Park) and even today, many of those young people, many of whom are now grandparents, speak of how this young priest with seemingly boundless energy helped to set them on a path to a better life, grounded and confident in their Catholic faith.
Before long, he became the director of the C.Y.O. for the whole diocese, and then Director of Social Action. The Bishop asked him to direct the second Synod of the Diocese of Bridgeport in 1971. In fact, all five Bishops of Bridgeport quickly saw that, in Msgr. DeProfio, they had a priest’s priest, a man who was priestly without being clerical, someone who would respond to any question from his deep love for the Church, always with good humor, and a healthy dose of common sense.
On September 11, 1971, he became Pastor of St. Theresa’s, and here he served for 32 years. For all that time, he was the best of fathers to this parish.
He understood himself, first and foremost, not as an administrator or a plant manager, but truly the father of a family. Years later, Father Joseph Linck, whose illness and death ten years ago this month grieved him deeply, said of Msgr. DeProfio, “After being here for two years, I could really see that Msgr. built a strong sense of family within the parish.”
The fact is, my friends, that a priest has hundreds of children — thousands. And the older he gets, he can see in his mind and in his heart the faces of all the children he held at the baptismal font; he sees the faces of young men and women coming up the aisle to be wed; he sees the faces of young men he has known, now with the hands of a Bishop laid upon their head, and anointing them, and placing a chalice into their hands, as they become new priests.
He sees the faces with eyes slowly closing in death, whom he has prepared for the supreme moment of encounter with Christ the Lord. And he also hears the voices of people whose faces he cannot see, saying “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” The names of all those he has baptized and married and prepared for eternity are recorded in the parish sacramental books, but to the priest they are more than just names, because he is their father.
St. John Vianney, the patron saint of the world’s priests, said, “Were we fully to realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not out of fear, but out of love… Without the priest, the Passion and Death of our Lord would be of no avail to us. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth… A priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.”
And, the fact is, Msgr. DeProfio was not a priest for himself. He was a priest for us.
In this regard, allow me to speak more personally. When I was a student at St. Joseph High School in the mid-1990s, Msgr. DeProfio hired me to be the second assistant organist here at St. Theresa’s, and welcomed me warmly into the life of his parish. By and by, as the thought of a priestly vocation was beginning to germinate in my mind and heart, Msgr. DeProfio’s example of living the priesthood in a happy, balanced, and joyful way was of enormous help and encouragement to me, even more than I realized at the time.
Then, as now, there was a lot of bad press surrounding the priesthood, much of it brought on by the treachery and infidelity of some of those who ought to be the Lord’s closest disciples. Without ever saying a word, Msgr. DeProfio demonstrated, by the witness of his own life, that when the priesthood is lived faithfully and well, it is not at all a lonely or troubled existence, but rather a grace-filled life of self gift, given over to the work of bringing Jesus Christ into the world, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
It’s perhaps not widely known that Msgr. DeProfio was scheduled to retire from active ministry in 2002, upon reaching his 75th birthday. But he asked Bishop Lori’s permission to remain as Pastor for one more year, so that he could be the Pastor of St. Theresa’s for my First Mass in May of 2003. The Bishop willingly granted his request, and even held the Ordination Mass here at St. Theresa’s, as a mark of esteem and gratitude for Msgr. DeProfio’s exemplary priestly service.
With a twinkle in his eye, Msgr. had asked me, then still a transitional deacon, to give the homily at his last Midnight Mass of Christmas and at his last Easter Vigil Mass at St. Theresa’s. And I will always look back on my ordination day with gratitude, knowing that it was he who vested me in the stole and chasuble of a priest on May 17, 2003. The next day, at the altar on which he had celebrated the Lord’s sacrifice for three decades, and where I had stood at his side as a seminarian and server countless times, I celebrated the Holy Mass for the first time myself, under his watchful eye, his face beaming with joy.
St. John Vianney said that “a good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.” Certainly, Msgr. DeProfio was that kind of priest. The Mass was the center of his life. He knew that the deepest meaning of his life as a priest was in the Eucharistic sacrifice he celebrated each day.
In the early years of his pastorate here, some suggested to Msgr. that he move the tabernacle from the sanctuary to one of the side altars. Most of the other churches did it. But he never did. One time I asked him why. “No…,” he said. “Then it would be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ The people need to know that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. If they don’t have that, they don’t have anything.”
At the same time, it should not be forgotten that Msgr. lived his priesthood during some very tumultuous and trying times for the Church, which he could never have foreseen when he was ordained in 1956. But through it all, he never lost that smile, never lost that spark, even to the last years of his life. Every fourth Saturday morning, in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church prays Psalm 92, in which the psalmist writes: “Planted in the house of the Lord / they will flourish in the courts of our God / still bearing fruit when they are old / still full of sap, still green, / to proclaim that the Lord is just / in him, my rock, there is no wrong.”
Even in retirement, he was always ready and generous and joyful in celebrating Mass or coming by and helping with a penance service, or as a guest confessor. After one time helping me with confessions, he said to me in the sacristy, “I’m here because I want you to know you have a friend in the priesthood.”
My friends, let me leave you with this: one time, I overheard Msgr. DeProfio casually mention that he had not missed one day of praying the rosary
since he was in high school. He wasn’t boasting. The Rosary had always been an integral part of his life and ministry. So maybe that’s why Our Lord called this good priest from this life on August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And now, with eyes closed, he sees so many of us, whom he has brought closer to the Lord, passing him by, calling him “Father.”
In death, as in life, he remains a priest forever. He would be the first to ask for prayers for the salvation of his soul. So, with confidence and hope, let us pray that this great priest – whose only regret was that he didn’t have another lifetime to do it all over again – may now enter into the eternal life which is promised to those who have served Christ faithfully.