The faithful servant
Father DeMasi remembered as a simple man devoted to all
Published in the Bennngton Banner, May 23, 2009
MARK E. RONDEAU
BENNINGTON — “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”
This verse from the Gospel of Matthew sums up what many feel about the life of the Rev. Michael A. DeMasi, 91, who died Tuesday after being stricken at his home.
Born in Northfield in 1917, DeMasi was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1943. He served as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington from 1965 to 1993, when his mandatory retirement from official assignments became effective. He remained active as a priest in the Bennington area until his death.
Ken Goode, of Bennington, belongs to Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in town and knew DeMasi for about 10 years. Goode brought to the Banner this week a 2004 photo clipped from the paper showing DeMasi at a local orchard gathering windfall apples for the poor.
Goode would see DeMasi at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, where the priest frequently visited patients. “At 4:30 he would sit in the cafeteria and have his dinner, and if I were in the hospital visiting area visiting friends or something, I would join him for a few minutes.” Goode said that a few years ago, the Banner printed a readers’ survey about what’s great in Bennington.
“And one of the things I’ll never forget is Father DeMasi ... appeared in there as one of the highlights ... of Bennington, what was great about Bennington.”
“I was surprised, because I thought he had only a Roman Catholic audience,” Goode said. “He was beloved.”
When the Norshaft Lions Club, a non-sectarian community group, honored DeMasi as its Citizen of the Year a number of years ago, it noted his positive impact on the lives of thousands of people: “He has always been concerned not only for their spiritual, but also for their economic, social and medical well-being.”
The Rev. Vincent Coppola, associate pastor at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales, said DeMasi did everything for other people and nothing for himself.
“He tried to make the community here in Bennington a little bit happier, more God-like and more compassionate,” Coppola said. In addition to gathering apples for the needy and ministering to patients at SVMC, up to the end of his life, despite health problems, DeMasi said Mass and visited patients at the Vermont Veterans Home and other nursing homes. He said the daily Mass on Thursdays at St. John the Baptist. He also conducted funerals for people who died with no religious affiliation.
Jill Levin, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist, remembered how as pastor DeMasi would buy diapers for the children of poor women who asked for them. “That guy knew more about diapers than I did, and I had five kids.”
Red, white or blue
DeMasi made no distinctions in providing aid. “He didn’t care if you were red, white or blue, he would visit everybody in the hospital,” Levin said. “I never heard him complain. I never heard him talk about anybody.”
DeMasi wasn’t much concerned with his own needs, and parishioners spoke of the fried baloney sandwiches he would eat, even if the baloney had been left in the pan too long and had become burnt.
“He was simple,” said Eileen Flynn, another longtime parishioner of St. John the Baptist. “He didn’t like elaborate things.”
“He was a beautiful, beautiful person,” Levin said. “If he doesn’t make it right straight into heaven, you and I don’t have a chance.”
Flynn said that DeMasi loved being a priest. As pastor, he was so energetic and active that “I thought of him as Speedy Gonzalez.” Even into his 80s, DeMasi “just kept on going like a whirlwind.” DeMasi encouraged his parishioners in their activities. “He was for his parishioners,” Levin said.
He hated meetings, however. “That was because he could be doing something he thought was more important,” Flynn said. At times Flynn thought that DeMasi must have slept in his car, he was so quick to respond to calls to the hospital, eager to help people “make their peace with God. ... He was selfless.”
DeMasi also helped many couples make it through rough spots in their marriages by talking with them, Flynn said.
DeMasi seemed to draw his energy and dedication from an intense devotion to God and Mary. Levin said that “the Blessed Virgin Mary was his best friend.” Sitting in his yard while pastor, or going for walks, he always had his rosary beads in his hand.
DeMasi’s strong faith and sense of humor were evident in September 2007, when the parishioners at St. John the Baptist packed the church and its hall to honor him on his 90th birthday.
The priest helped distribute Communion during Mass, and spoke to people at the end of the service. He had recently gotten out of the hospital, and his doctor wanted him to carry a catheter with him. “It gives me a great deal of anxiety — and it doesn’t bother him one bit,” DeMasi quipped, to much laughter.
He then offered a few thoughts that he called “commercials.” “If any of you here have drifted away from the church, I invite you back,” he
said. “Almighty God — as said in the Scriptures many, many times — awaits your return.”
A special love
The Rev. Patrick C. Walsh, the current pastor of St. John the Baptist, said DeMasi was “very, very generous and had a special love for the poor.”
In addition to saying the daily Mass at the church on Thursday, DeMasi frequently assisted him at funerals, giving the homily because he knew the deceased person.
Walsh said of DeMasi, “He’s a person that I hope I could imitate in some small way.”
DeMasi will lie in state at St. John the Baptist Church on Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. At 11 a.m. on Monday, Bishop Salvatore Matano, of the Diocese of Burlington, will lead the funeral Mass at Sacred Heart Church St. Francis de Sales Church.