Father Rocco A. Cuomo, a retired priest of the Diocese who died Nov. 21 at age 82, was fondly remembered as a “faithful servant, a great teacher and a kind and holy man.”
Funeral services were held Nov. 25 in St. Leo the Great Church, Lincroft, where Father Cuomo had served as a weekend assistant. Following an hour of visitation, a livestreamed Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and concelebrated by about 10 priests. Father John Folchetti, parish pastor, was homilist.
Bishop O’Connell, in expressing the loss of a brother priest who had served the Diocese for 56 years, said, “As Bishop, I have a special relationship with our priests. It’s like being the father of a family – when we lose a member of the family, we grieve. Yet, we are so confident in our faith in the Resurrection in the Lord Jesus. We pray that [Father Cuomo] may know eternal life.”
In his homily, Father Folchetti spoke of how love has the power to transform. “A man saying ‘yes’ to God transforms all creation, much as Father Rocco did when he said ‘yes’ to the priesthood on May 23, 1964. He entered into a sacred covenant.”
Father Folchetti, who had ministered with Father Cuomo in St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, and St. Leo the Great Parish for about 20 years, spoke of Father Cuomo as “a true prophet.”
“His prayerful, inspiring and thoughtful homilies bore good fruit. He loved talking to the deacons of the parish, and wanted them to serve at his funeral Mass,” he said.
Reflecting on the First Reading that was proclaimed from the Book of Wisdom, Father Folchetti said, “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. [Wisdom 3:1-9] Grant this holy priest peace and eternal rest. … Faith, hope and love are the greatest gifts, and the greatest of these is love.”
Friends of Father Cuomo remembered him as a powerful homilist and spiritual man who lived his faith.
“He loved to be with families and always made time for his parishioners,” said Joyce Kelly of St. Barnabas Parish, whose family knew Father Cuomo for 30 years. “Nothing you ever wanted to talk about was unimportant to him.”
She recalled when Father Cuomo served in St. Barnabas Parish, during which time he started an evangelization team, led Advent and Lenten retreats and held summer reading programs – even pizza and ice cream gatherings to encourage members of all ages to grow in the faith.
“At the end of the summer, there would be 50 kids and their parents involved,” Kelly said. “It was true evangelization – always welcoming, always comforting.”
Looking out for his faith family went beyond spiritual leadership, too. It wasn’t uncommon to see Father Cuomo helping staff or volunteers in removing leaves or snow from the Bayville church parking lot.
“Even after getting a foot of snow, he would be out there shoveling. I have to tell you, never was there an inch of ice outside the church,” she said with a laugh.
Rita Visicaro, former parish secretary in St. Barnabas Parish, expressed admiration for Father Cuomo.
“He had such faith, such great spirituality that showed in almost everything that he did. I got to know him not only as a boss, but as a friend. He was truly a priest in every sense. He was present to his parishioners in all their needs, whether it was leading the parishioners in our Catholic faith or ministering to the dying.”
Visicaro said she and her siblings will be eternally grateful for how he supported their family when their mother became ill. “When Mom was dying, he came to pray with our family, just as we now all pray for him. All I can think is how the angels must be greeting him home because he was such a faithful servant.”
Born in 1938 in Newark, Father Cuomo’s journey to the priesthood began in his second year of high school. He studied at St. Charles College, Catonsville, Md., and St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore, and was ordained May 23, 1964, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, by Bishop George W. Ahr.
Father Cuomo served as parochial vicar in the parishes of St. Ambrose, Old Bridge (now part of the Diocese of Metuchen); St. Anthony, Hamilton (now part of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish); Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Maple Shade; Sacred Heart, Mount Holly; St. Mary, Colts Neck; St. Paul, Princeton, and St. Mary of the Lake, Lakewood (now part of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.)
He assumed temporary administrator duties in parishes including Sacred Heart, Mount Holly; Holy Family, Union Beach; Holy Spirit, Asbury Park (now mart of Mother of Mercy Parish); St. Ann, Keansburg; Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Seaside Heights (now part of St. Junipero Serra Parish, Seaside Park); St. Anthony of Padua, Red Bank, and St. Barnabas. Pastorates at St. Ann and St. Barnabas were followed by a term as parochial vicar in St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, and his retirement from active ministry in 2008. He, however, returned to St. Rose of Lima Parish in June 2009 to serve as temporary administrator until May 2010. Father Cuomo served as weekend assistant in St. Leo the Great Parish from 2012 until his death.
In addition to his parish work, Father Cuomo served on the Continuing Education Committee of the Council of Priests and moderator of the Burlington County Catholic Young Adult Club.
Bishop John C. Reiss permitted him to be the first priest to establish a full-time Catholic chaplaincy in a secular hospital, Jersey Shore Medical Center, Neptune. During a 2014 interview with The Monitor celebrating his 50th anniversary of the priesthood, Father Cuomo described that work as “very rewarding from a spiritual point of view.”
“Those occasions allowed me to develop an intensely deep relationship with some patients and family members at very critical moments in their lives,” he explained. “Facing the mortality of our human existence often allows people to think deep thoughts about here and hereafter.”
In remembering her friend, Kelly also spoke of Father Cuomo’s devotion to hospital chaplaincy. “He held so many hands over the years, and as he would say, ‘just sit with people.’ He always said the most important thing was to just listen.”
Father Cuomo will be buried in Newark. Arrangements are private.
Managing Editor Jennifer Mauro contributed to this article.