Retired Auxiliary Bishop Robert A. Brucato, who served as vicar general and chancellor of the archdiocese, was pastor of three parishes and a military chaplain, died Nov. 7. He was 87.
A Funeral Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Dolan Nov. 12 at the John Cardinal O’Connor Pavilion Chapel in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Bishop Brucato had lived in retirement at the Cardinal O’Connor Pavilion, part of the St. John Vianney Priests Residence.
“It’s providential, isn’t it, that we would bury Bishop Brucato in this month of November, which is dedicated to the faithful departed, when all of us turn our reflections toward eternal life,” Cardinal Dolan said before the Final Commendation at the Funeral Mass.
“It’s providential we bury him on this Veterans Day as the colonel, so grateful and proud of his 22 years of service as a chaplain.
“And it’s providential that we bury” Bishop Brucato from the Cardinal O’Connor Residence. “He was certainly the patriarch here, he loved it,” the cardinal said, “and the priests here loved him very much.”
Cardinal Dolan then read to the congregation a letter sent to him by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, on behalf of Pope Francis, which included condolences on Bishop Brucato’s passing and an apostolic blessing.
Retired Auxiliary Bishops Gerald Walsh and Dominick Lagonegro were principal concelebrants. Bishop Lagonegro was the homilist. Bishop Brucato’s nephew, Deacon Anthony Bellitto Jr., a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, served as Deacon of the Word and Deacon of the Eucharist. Among those attending were students representing the all-boys’ Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, of which Bishop Brucato was a 1949 alumnus.
Bishop Lagonegro, in his homily, recalled being at Cathedral High School, then the minor seminary of the archdiocese, when “a young priest, Father Brucato, came to my parish of St. Anthony in West Harrison. He became my first spiritual director.”
Each session they would discuss one of the apostles. “I still remember what he said about Peter.
He talked about Peter’s mistakes and his impulsive actions. Father Brucato then said that the difference between Peter and Judas was Judas gave up on the belief that Jesus loved him. Peter never gave up.
“I never forgot what he said,” Bishop Lagonegro said of Bishop Brucato, “and I have used it many times since then.”
Bishop Brucato, he said, was a man who loved God, loved the Church and loved his country, and gave his all to whatever he did.
Bishop Lagonegro later described to CNY Bishop Brucato’s dedication to the priesthood, and their treasured friendship, which continued throughout their priesthood. “For me, it was always a joy just to be in his presence,” he said, acknowledging Bishop Brucato’s attitude toward life. “He was just such a good, good person.”
At the time of Bishop Brucato’s retirement in 2007, he had served as vicar general since 1999. Ordained an auxiliary bishop for New York by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1997, he was vicar for pastoral guidance, 1997-1999, and chancellor, 1994-1997.
At his episcopal ordination on Aug. 25, 1997, Cardinal O’Connor called Bishop Brucato “a tremendous priest of the Church of New York” who knew “every brick and stone, every building of the archdiocese.”
He was pastor of St. John the Evangelist parish, Manhattan, 2001-2006. While pastor of St. Benedict, the Bronx, 1987-1994, he was vicar of the East Bronx. He also served as pastor of Holy Rosary, Staten Island, 1984-1987.
He was parochial vicar of St. Gabriel, the Bronx; St. Ann, Ossining; St. Anthony, West Harrison; and St. Charles Borromeo, Dover Plains.
He was a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years at 12 military installations around the world, including in the United States, the Arctic, Asia, Europe and the tropics. Assignments included director of chaplain services for the Air Forces in Europe and cadet chaplain of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Commissioned into the Air Force in 1960 as a chaplain, first lieutenant, he retired from military service in 1982 with the rank of colonel.
In a statement released by the archdiocese in July 1997 announcing his appointment as an auxiliary bishop, then-Bishop-designate Brucato said: “In 1982 I made the decision to retire from 22 years in the military chaplaincy and take up my priestly work in a parish at home. This was done out of loyalty and love for the Archdiocese of New York as well as loyalty and love for family and friends. May these make up for any lack of talent in me. May these permeate my work as an Auxiliary Bishop and sustain me.”
Born in the Bronx, the second son and middle child of Anthony and Yolanda (nee Vento) Brucato, he attended P.S. 97 and Cardinal Hayes High School, and was active in Holy Rosary parish. He studied for the priesthood at Cathedral College and St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, and was ordained a priest by Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1957. He was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1986.
While serving as an Air Force chaplain, he earned a master’s degree in education with a concentration in psychology and counseling from Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio.
Upon the death of Cardinal O’Connor in May 2000, Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Brucato as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until the installation of Cardinal Edward Egan as archbishop in June 2000. Cardinal Egan reappointed Bishop Brucato vicar general in one of his first appointments after installation.
Bishop Brucato told CNY at the time of his retirement that he couldn’t point to one role he liked best in the diverse assignments he had throughout his priesthood.
“I have liked them all,” he said. “I think I have learned that where you work and live is not as important as with whom you work and live.”
Bishop Brucato served as a consultant to the Committee on Migration and the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
As a migration committee consultant, he was part of a delegation of U.S. bishops who visited Africa in November-December 2002 to study refugee conditions there and urge the United States to receive more refugees.
The following year, he was part of a three-bishop U.S. delegation that participated with African bishops in a service of reconciliation and forgiveness on the island of Goree, Senegal, long a holding depot for African slaves awaiting shipment to Europe and the Americas.
Cardinal Dolan, announcing Bishop Brucato’s death on Flocknote, asked the “family of the archdiocese” to join him “in thanking God for his life, especially his generous and faithful priesthood.”
Survivors include his sister, Joan Bellitto, and numerous nieces and nephews. His brother, Richard, predeceased him.
Bishop Lagonegro said that for many years he has ended Funeral Mass homilies by reminding those assembled of “a beautiful Italian word, ‘Arrivaderci.’ It means until we meet again.
“For Bishop Brucato today is not an end. But a beginning of a new life with Jesus. So, we do not say goodbye to him. But we say ‘Arrivaderci, Robert,’ until we meet again.”
Interment was at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla.