Auxiliary Bishop Anthony F. Mestice, pastor emeritus of Resurrection parish in Rye and the first U.S.-born Italian-American priest to become a bishop of the New York Archdiocese, died April 29 at Mary Manning Walsh Home in Manhattan. He was 87.
He also had been pastor of Holy Trinity and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Poughkeepsie and St. Dominic’s in the Bronx. He continually promoted vocations and served for many years as archdiocesan vicar for vocations.
“I have always been a parish priest,” he once told CNY. “I never wanted to do anything else.”
Archbishop Dolan is to celebrate the Funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday, May 5, at 11 a.m. Father Joseph P. LaMorte, pastor of St. Gregory Barbarigo parish in Garnerville, will be the homilist.
Cardinal Egan was to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Eucharist at Resurrection Church in Rye on May 4. The homilist was to be Father Richard A. LaMorte, chaplain and campus minister at Marist College in Poughkeepsie.
The homilists, who are cousins, grew up the parish where Bishop Mestice was assigned—and spent 20 years—following his ordination in 1949: St. Anthony’s in the Wakefield section of the Bronx. Both served him as altar boys and as parochial vicars when he was a pastor.
Father Richard LaMorte described then-Father Mestice as “a hands-on kind of guy” who loved his weekly softball game with the men of the parish but was just as ready to work alongside them to set up the parish bazaar.
Bishop Mestice was “incredibly down-to-earth” and deeply prayerful, he said. Father LaMorte was a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Poughkeepsie when then-Father Mestice was assigned there as pastor in 1969, and Father LaMorte drove him there for a preliminary visit. When they entered the city limits and saw the sign identifying it as Poughkeepsie, “he stopped talking and he stopped me from talking,” and he prayed, Father LaMorte recalled.
Bishop Mestice also emphasized the importance of priestly fraternity, and as vicar of Dutchess he began a tradition of gathering all the priests of the county for dinner on Palm Sunday evening—a tradition that continues, Father LaMorte said.
Father Joseph LaMorte recalled that then-Father Mestice taught him how to serve Mass.
“That was my first recollection of wanting to be a priest…I wanted to do what he was doing,” he said. Years later he would serve as parochial vicar at Holy Trinity in Poughkeepsie under Bishop Mestice. (Father LaMorte later was pastor there.)
“It was sort of like the realization of a dream,” Father LaMorte said. “I am a priest, and my childhood hero is now my pastor. He was very good; he treated me with respect.”
He said that there was a sense of pride in St. Anthony’s parish and in the Italian community when it was announced that Father Mestice was to be ordained a bishop, but he noted that Bishop Mestice “would probably be the first to say, ‘I want to be a bishop for everybody.’ ”
Born in New York City, he was the third of three sons of Consiglia and Donato Mestice. His parents were born in Italy; his father was a tailor. He grew up in Manhattan, where his family belonged to St. John the Evangelist parish.
Bishop Mestice credited one of his teachers, Sister Mary Petronilla Corbett, S.C., with steering him toward priesthood. He was an eighth-grader at St. John the Evangelist School when she asked him, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” He replied that he wasn’t sure, and she countered with, “I think you’d make a wonderful priest. You go around and tell Father Sheehan I said that.”
Anthony obediently reported his teacher’s words to the parish priest, Father Joseph Sheehan, who said, “I agree with her,” and told Anthony to take the entrance exam the next day for Cathedral College, at that time a six-year, preseminary program that included high school. He attended Cathedral and went on to St. Joseph’s Seminary. He was ordained by Cardinal Francis Spellman June 4, 1949.
He served at St. Anthony’s in the Bronx, 1949-1969, then was pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Poughkeepsie, 1969-1972, and pastor of St. Dominic’s in the Bronx, 1972-1978.
He was ordained a bishop on April 27, 1973, by Cardinal Terence Cooke, who appointed him vicar for vocations a month later; he held the post until 1985. Also in the 1980s he served a three-year term as chairman of the Vocations Committee of what is now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Mestice once told CNY about a memorable incident that occurred while he was in Rome in 1981 to attend the international congress on vocations called by Pope John Paul II. The bishop went to the papal audience on May 13 at which John Paul was shot by the would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca. When Bishop Mestice heard the shots he thought they were firecrackers; then he saw the pope’s white cassock stained red with blood.
After an ambulance had taken the pope to the hospital, a woman from a group of Polish pilgrims ducked under a rope, placed an image of Our Lady of Czestochowa on the pope’s empty chair, then ran up to Bishop Mestice and, gesturing with her hands, indicated that she wanted him to pray. He told the bishops he was with that he was going to begin a Rosary in Latin “so everyone can repeat it.”
After the fifth decade, the bishop heard a report on someone’s portable radio that the pope had not sustained grave injury to any vital organ and had a good chance of recovery. Bishop Mestice announced the news in English and asked fellow bishops to announce it in their languages.
“People were so happy,” he told CNY.
In 1978 he was named pastor of Holy Trinity in Poughkeepsie and episcopal vicar of Dutchess County. He succeeded Bishop Joseph M. Pernicone, who was born in Italy and was the first bishop of Italian heritage in the archdiocese.
In 1990 Bishop Mestice was named pastor of Resurrection parish in Rye and episcopal vicar of Central Westchester. He served until his retirement in 2002.
Bishop Mestice served on many boards of trustees, including those of St. Joseph’s Seminary, St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, St. Agnes Hospital in White Plains and the Astor Home in Rhinebeck (now Astor Services for Children and Families).
Talking with CNY when he retired, he said, “I find myself very much fulfilled as a priest. It’s not because I’m a bishop. It’s because I’m a priest…I thank Almighty God for giving me the strength and love and inspiration to continue to do the work he has called me to do…If I had to make a choice all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to be a priest.”
Burial was at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne.
Ron Lajoie contributed to this article.
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