One of the Greatest

2/24 — 3/2, 2005
One of the Greatest
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Father Costello remembered as part Fred Astaire, part Gene Kelly

Hundreds of former parishioners, friends, family members and religious joined almost 60 priests and deacons to say farewell to Father John “Archie” Costello on Feb. 15 at a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Patrick’s Church in Syracuse. Bishop James Moynihan was the main celebrant with Bishop Thomas Costello, Father Michael Minehan, Father Peter Gleba, Father Peter Reddick, Father William Esposito and Deacon Peter Vanelli assisting.

At the opening of the Mass, Bishop Moynihan called Father Costello a great priest and a great shepherd of his people. “We offer this Mass and join with Archie as he prays with us and for us,” said Bishop Moynihan. Father Costello was born Dec. 10, 1927, the son of the late John Francis Costello and Mary Catherine O’Connor Costello. He received his elementary and secondary education at St. Patrick’s School in Syracuse before entering St. Andrew’s Seminary and St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, N.Y. He studied at Theological College Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and was ordained into the priesthood on May 23, 1953.

For close to 50 years, Father Costello served the Syracuse Diocese as assistant pastor at St. John the Evangelist, Pulaski; St. Matthew’s, East Syracuse; Chaplain of the U.S. Armed Services at Fort Slocum; assistant pastor at St. Francis de Sales, Utica; St. Anthony of Padua, Syracuse; and St. Paul’s Church, Oswego. Father Costello served as pastor of St. Michael’s in Central Square; St. Anthony of Padua, Syracuse; St. Rose of Lima, North Syracuse; Holy Family, Fulton; St. John the Baptist, Syracuse; and St. Helena’s Church in Sherrill, N.Y. He resigned from pastoral responsibility in January 2002.

During the homily, long-time friend Father William Esposito conveyed his sympathy to family members and shared many humorous stories about Father Archie. “When he stands before the Lord, he will introduce himself as Priest Costello,” said Father Esposito. ”Priesthood was not a job or a profession for Archie. It was his life. He was an ambassador of Christ and never had any regrets about his profession other than when his big mouth or short fuse deflected that image of Christ.”

“His priestly ministry was an inspiration to us priests and to his parishioners,” Father Esposito went on. “He was both a priest and a pastor. He was always there with sound advice or to give you a kick in the pants if you needed it.” Father Esposito described a pastor as “one who speaks to your spirit, one who listens to your heart and one who understands what words could never say.” Archie the pastor was one who understood what words could never say, said Father Esposito. “That’s why he was a great confessor. You could open up your soul to him and he knew what you were feeling. His homilies were filled with humor, wisdom, and sound teachings that lifted up your heart.”

During his years at St. Camillus Health and Rehabilitation Center, Father Costello was known to comfort and pray with the residents. “His ministering went on to the very end,” said Father Esposito. “Archie was a real piece of work. When they made him, they threw away the mold. There was no show, no pretenses with Archie. What you saw was what you got. Humble he was not. Like Mohammad Ali, he was quick to let you know, ‘I am the greatest.’” Father Esposito shared that Father Costello had a flag in his room that read, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re the greatest” as well as one that read, “I’m the boss.”

The homily brought laughter to the congregation, many of whom shook their heads in agreement at Father Esposito’s depiction of Father Costello’s personality. “He used to say he was the good looking Costello,” Father Esposito said, glancing back at Bishop Costello who was seated in the sanctuary. “He was Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly rolled into one. But underneath all the boasting and bravado, there was a real humble man. The bravado was just for show. He knew where his strength came from –– God’s merciful and everlasting love for Him. He understood God’s words that ‘without me you can do nothing, but with me, all things are possible.’” “Everything he said was memorable,” said Bishop Moynihan at the end of the funeral Mass. “You got the impression he meant what he said. He certainly gave me that impression. He endeared himself to everyone and I’m sure he endeared himself to the Lord.”

Father Costello is survived by three nieces, two nephews, a brother-in-law, several great-nieces and great-nephews and cousins. In addition to his parents, he is predeceased by a sister. Contributions may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association of CNY, 441 W. Kirkpatrick St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13204.

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