The St. Barnabas Church community loves Rev. James Robert Bocchino.
From the time a four-member search community held a half hour telephone interview with Bocchino on Labor Day, Sept. 2, 2013 until the closing of Sunday’s emotional Celebration of the Ministry, the Episcopal priest – as many people said Sunday – “impacted the lives of truly too many people to number.”
That’s why St. Barnabas, which has been part of the Rhode Island Episcopal Diocese for at least 128 years, was overflowing with people for the 10 o’clock Celebration of the Holy Eucharist that marked Bocchino’s final service as a full-time working priest.
Even during Sunday’s post-service luncheon, dozens of people recanted many memorable moments they shared with Bocchino and his wife Barbara during their 38-month stay at St. Barnabas.
In 2013 St. Barnabas was in need of stability. Father John Pallard, who had come to the Apponaug-based parish from Florida, decided to return to his former parish.
So, as Junior Warden Joseph Rodrigues, who back in 2013 was the senior warden at St. Barnabas, said Sunday, “We knew even after only a half-hour telephone conferences interview that Father Jim was our man.”
Thus, Bocchino, who was born in Warren and once played halfback for the high school football Redskins in his native town, packed up his family in Maine and moved to North Providence to become the priest-in-charge at St. Barnabas. Bocchino was no stranger to Rhode Island, as he was once the rector at All Saints Church and Providence.
Perhaps that’s why Heidi Seddon, the senior warden at St. Barnabas, delivered a message during Sunday’s service that said, in part, “We are thankful that God called you and Barbara here to St. Barnabas. We’ve all loved the way you interact with the children of our parish. It’s no secret that children, especially, fill your heart with joy and you share God’s love with them in such a special way.”
That trait surfaced again at the close of Sunday’s service when Bocchino summoned children to the altar for his special weekly lesson as well as the post-service luncheon when Seddon announced that St. Barnabas created a scholarship in his name at the ECC (Episcopal Conference Center) in Pascoag.
Seddon, while emphasizing the closeness and camaraderie that Bocchino created in his tenure at St. Barnabas, went on about the beloved priest, “You’ve prayed with us for healing and you’ve celebrated blessings with us. We will miss your tireless energy and determination and even your obsessive management style. We’ll miss your sense of humor and your willingness to listen when there is a need. We’ll miss your booming bass voice and, yes, we’ll miss your famous baked ziti.”
Stanley Schofield, who has served in many capacities at St. Barnabas and is currently the parish treasurer, added, “Father Jim is, and has been, a very good pastor here and in other places. He’s the old-school priest who loves to take care of people. He was always available, no matter what the need.”
Schofield, in fact, remembers the day three decades ago when he first met Bocchino.
“I was an acolyte serving on the altar when Father Jim was actually ordained back in 1983,” Schofield said. “Today, 33 years later, I’m here helping to give him the best possible sendoff from the active day-to-day priesthood. We have been blessed to have him at St. Barnabas, even if it was only for a short time.”
Meanwhile, Rodrigues, who took part in Sunday’s special presentation, concluded, “Father Jim is simply a wonderful person; he will surely be missed.”
But Bocchino is only retiring from being an active full-time priest.
“They say a priest is always a priest,” said Bocchino, who mused that he’ll serve as a supplemental priest as another parish for the next four weeks. “Someone once told me once you’re a priest, you never fully retire.”
That’s also the message that Seddon spoke of during her emotional reading during Sunday’s farewell service.
“So Barbara,” Seddon began in a musing-like message to her St. Barnabas choir member, “if you think you’re going to [finally] come first…sorry, I know that until the end, when Jim is called, he will still go. Because Jim, a priest is not what you are, it’s who you are. You are Rev. James Bocchino. Until the end nothing can stop you from sharing God’s word, from sharing God’s love, from looking for and finding Christ in the people that you’ll meet along your amazing journey. We will always remember you both, with love.”
Bocchino, meanwhile, concluded a part of the service Sunday with what was entitled “The Ending of a Pastoral Relationship.”
“A little more than 38 months ago I began my ministry to and with you as your priest-in-charge. Since that time I have, to the best of my ability, exercised the trust you placed in me for liturgical, pastoral and administrative leadership. At this time I want to thank you for the kindness, affection and support you have shown me, and I am grateful for the opportunities we have shared in worship, pastoral care and outreach. I shall carry with me many good memories of our experiences and accomplishments. Do you, the people of St. Barnabas, recognize and accept the conclusion of his pastoral relationship?”
The congregation, in unison replied, “We do.”
Bocchino, who’ll celebrate his 67th birthday in April, said he and Barbara are looking forward to spending more time with their grandchildren as well as fixing up their home. They’re planning to move to the mountain region of New England.
The Rev. Scott R. Lee is the pastor-elect; however, until he is installed by The Right Reverend W. Nicholas Knisely, an interim priest will conduct Sunday services.