JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – It’s the end of an era for Catholics in New Jersey.
The longest serving priest in the archdiocese of Newark is set to retire.
Pastor James Pagnotta has spent 47 of his 50 years as a priest at St. Joseph’s Church in the Hilltop section of Jersey City. The 75-year-old Hudson County native came to the parish from Hoboken in 1972 and never left.
“Here so long it becomes your life and your parishioners become your friends,” Pagnotta said.
He’s embraced the changing community, welcoming new Filipino and Hispanic immigrants to the church over the decades.
“We celebrate their countries and I hablo espanol un poquito.”
Father Pagnotta said he is extremely proud he’s been able to keep St. Joseph’s School open for all of these years.
It’s one of five remaining Catholic schools in the city.
Pagnotta has run 41 carnivals and countless other fundraising events to get the bills paid and offer scholarships to students.
“It really shows his stamina and his love for that parish,” Rev. Alex Santora of Hoboken’s Our Lady of Grace said. “Smart cookie, he’s a very good priest, he knows his stuff, he’s also a good financial person.”
Although he’s retiring from the church, Father Pagnotta will remain chaplain of the Jersey City Fire Department, as he has for the past 43 years.
“Lost a few firefighters over the years and so he’s important to those families and to those people because he’s there for them at the time when they need him most,” retired firefighter Ed Chmeilewski explained.
St. Joseph’s will hold what’s called a Thanksgiving mass to show appreciation for the pastor.
“He’s kept this parish alive for all these years. I think it would been closed down years ago if it wasn’t for him. I don’t know what’s going to happen when he leaves, I hope it survives,” parishioner James Downey said.
“Huge impact to our community and we really do appreciate him and will miss him a lot… showed the values of family, church, god,” teacher Amanda Orellana added.
“We’re celebrating on Sunday… will be special. It will be hard also and probably tearful,” Pagnotta said.
All of the priest’s supporter’s described Pagnotta as having a tough exterior with a heart of gold.
Pagnotta will retire on July 1. He says he’s looking forward to a vacation and spending more time visiting the sick at hospitals.