By Jazmin Rosa
Father Joseph A. Gancila, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn who was serving as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, Dyker Heights, passed away on Jan. 6 at age 50. For nearly 19 years, Father Gancila served various parishes and communities in Brooklyn, where he was born and lived.
Father Gancila was born on Oct. 11, 1969, a middle child of three, to a devoutly Catholic family in Dyker Heights.
“He was the last Brooklyn holdout,” joked his younger sister Linda Marioni of their family, who have all since moved away.
“Since he was ordained a priest, we’ve been sharing him with all his parishioners, and we couldn’t be more proud to do that,” said Marioni.
Father Gancila was very close with his family — he married his sister, baptized his three nieces and nephews, and was a sponsor to his nephew.
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa was the main celebrant of the Funeral Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros and nearly sixty priests concelebrated. Father Casper Furnari, O.F.S., pastor emeritus of Holy Family Church, Fresh Meadows, was the homilist.
“What a joy it was to vest in him at his ordination!,” said Father Furnari, who had known Father Gancila since he was an infant. “Whatever society or program was entrusted to him, he worked to make that ministry or project the best it could be. He didn’t brag or make a big thing of his good deeds.”
Father Furani recalled during a trip to Rome with Father Gancila, the two were given an impromptu opportunity to a small mass with then-Pope Saint John Paul II.
“The Pope had Parkinson’s disease, so his hands were shaking. And Father Joe tells me, ‘I was so nervous, both of our hands were shaking!’”
Though Father Gancila was known as a mostly quiet and private person, he touched the lives of those he encountered during his career in profound ways.
“Father Joe was one of the best priests I have ever met, the one who first inspired me to be a priest,” said Father Christopher Bethge, parochial vicar at Incarnation Parish, Queens Village, who was in the seventh grade when he met Father Gancila at Sacred Heart Church in Glendale.
“Part of the beauty of being a parish priest is living among your people. The whole of Glendale knew Father Joe because he shopped at our supermarkets, he walked the streets, he’d be up at the park,” said Father Bethge. “He was really with the people and wanted more than anything else to bring them closer to Jesus.”
“There are stories we’re hearing now that we never even heard before because he was so quietly faithful and a quiet servant to his parishioners,” said Father Gancila’s sister. “It’s so comforting because there are so many things we never knew because he was just quietly serving.”
Father Bethge noted that many of the attendees at the evening service that preceded Thursday’s funeral mass had traveled from different parishes, some that Father Gancila had served at more than 18 years ago.
“I actually followed him, from saint Bernadette to Saint Mary’s… I didn’t get to see him every time he did mass, but I used to try and follow him,” said Camille Forst, a long-time parishioner of Father Gancila’s. “He really had not only a profound impact, but he inspired people to go to church every week. Seeing him in mass was always a joy.”
Father Gancila was ordained a priest on June 2, 2001, at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn, by Bishop Thomas Daily. In addition to his assignments at Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sacred Heart, he served as a parochial vicar at St. Mary Mother of Jesus, Bensonhurst; Our Lady of Angels, Bay Ridge; and St. Bernadette, Dyker Heights. He also served as a part-time chaplain at Bishop Ford H.S.
“Seeing him live out his priesthood every day, never angry, never saying no, always saying yes to whatever the people needed… It was a life that I think is heroic, especially the way he lived it,” said Father Bethge.
“The people see a priest and they see someone that can lead them closer to Jesus. And any way they asked him to do that, he did it joyfully. And anytime they ask me I’m going to try to do the same.”