March 2-8, 2006
By Father Donald Bourgeois/ SUN episcopal laison
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Father Greco Pursued a Second Vocation
“Dad always wanted to be a priest,” said Tom Greco to a full congregation at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal, “but he got sidetracked when he met Mom.”
After Communion at the Funeral Mass celebrated Feb. 10 for the 64-year-old priest, the son of Father Michael Greco spoke to parishioners mourning the loss of their beloved parochial vicar who had served the community for just 18 months after his ordination to the priesthood in June, 2004.
Although Father Greco’s life as a priest was brief, the impact he had on people’s lives was great. It was near the end of his seminary studies when the future priest began to experience a decline in his health. But he continued the pursuit of the vocation that had first appealed to him as a young man. Born in 1941, Michael Vincent Greco married Maureen O’Keefe in 1965. Together they raised five children before his wife died in 1995. It was after this tragic loss that the widowed father revealed to his children his unique plans to follow his deferred dream. Tom Greco said that although he and his siblings worried that they would lose their father to a busy life of ministry, they knew they could not stand in his way. Indeed, nothing stood in the way of the man determined to place himself at the service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Father Michael Meagher, the pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Binghamton and the homilist at the Mass, described the influence Father Greco’s short priesthood had on all who knew him.
Father Meagher explained that when the shut-ins saw their frail visitor approaching carrying his oxygen tank, they thought, “He suffers like we suffer,” and they knew they were being looked after by a kindred soul. “He knew what it was to struggle and he reached out to the struggling,” Father Meagher added.
The homilist went on to say, “Father Mike’s prayer was, ‘There must be a reason’ [for his suffering], although, like us, he wondered what it might be.” Father Meagher added, “He was a practicioner of prayer in his suffering, inspired not by the words in the writing of Pope John Paul II but rather by the example of John Paul’s suffering. He, too, like the Holy Father, could take the cross.” In a lighter moment, Father Meagher revealed a small but unique portion of Father Greco’s ministry to several of his brother priests as he quoted the late priest: “You’re all healthy guys. Why are you eating plain food? Let’s try spices!” Meals at the rectory, the priest said, were never the same.
But the food that mattered most to Father Greco was the Body of Christ. “He had a true love of the Eucharist and Eucharistic devotion, especially when he celebrated at home with his family at Christmas,” said Father Meagher. “When he received the Eucharist for the last time the day before he died, in his eyes you could see Mike’s belief that ‘I am the Bread of Life.’” The remark was a reflection of the Gospel passage and a Communion hymn that Father Greco had chosen for his own Funeral Mass. Father Greco had only one regret in his priesthood, said his son in his eulogy after Communion: “He asked us not to take his stuff out of the rectory in Vestal. He wanted so much to come back to his people one more time.” But he returned only so that his grateful parishioners could thank him one last time.
Before presiding over the final commendation, Bishop James Moynihan said he could not imagine that any priest could have done more to serve God’s people in such a short time. “He performed his priestly duties beautifully, inspiringly and in a Christ-like manner,” the bishop concluded.
As the faithful left, many certainly recalled portions of the prayer Father Meagher and Father John Putano, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, prayed over Father Greco just before his death: “Our beloved one, we gather to send you forth on the wings of love….We cradle your love in our hearts and in our memories. You will remain a part of us always. We gather here to bless you for your journey home and to express our gratitude for what you have given to us by your presence in our lives.”