O.L. Snows Parish Loses Pastor But Gains Bishop

by Stephen Childs

In April, parishioners of Our Lady of the Snows in North Floral Park were saddened to learn their beloved pastor of 13 years, Msgr. Raymond Chappetto, would leave them on June 30 to take over as pastor of St. Kevin’s in Flushing. Weeks later, on May 2, some of their sadness subsided when they discovered that on July 11 he would be ordained as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

As pastor of Our Lady of the Snows parish, Bishop Ray Chappetto insisted on a strong youth ministry that included the parish school, religious education curriculum and CYO sports program.

Bishop Chappetto’s good news makes losing him easier, say parishioners, because no one deserves the honor more than their “Monsignor Ray.”

“I can accept his leaving so much better now that I know he’s becoming a bishop,” said Regina Moreno, director for religious education and parish pastoral associate at Our Lady of the  Snows. “We’re not just giving him over to another parish, but to the whole diocese.”

Then-Msgr. Chappetto came to Our Lady of the Snows in 1999. Originally scheduled to leave the parish last year, he was permitted by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to stay for a 13th year so that he could enjoy the new church that he helped to build in 2008. Given their pastor’s long tenure, his colleagues say they were prepared for his departure this spring.

“Even prior to his being announced being a bishop, we had resolved ourselves to his getting ready to go,” explained Deacon Matt Oellinger, a parishioner of 28 years.

Resolve did not come easily, however, says Deacon John Warren, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Snows for 21 years and a deacon for three, because Msgr. Chappetto’s ministry assumed many forms – each of which enriched many lives. Involved in CYO, RCIA, evangelization and fundraising activities, not to mention many others in his parish, the bishop also worked outside of Our Lady of the Snows to ensure the well being of senior priests and counsel those still active.

“He’s been wonderful and compassionate to us – a tremendous leader,” said Deacon Steve Borheck, who notes that while training for the deaconate, he profited much from his pastor’s guidance. “Mgsr. Ray is the one who stayed all the way through with me.”

Likewise, Father Patrick Longalong, serving his first assignment as a priest at Our Lady of the Snows,

Bishop Chappetto, Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros and State Senator Frank Padavan were present in 2008 for the blessing of the cornerstone of the new church building at Our Lady of the Snows parish. The construction of a church was one of the major achievements of Bishop Ray’s tenure as pastor at the parish in North Floral Park.

said that working with his first pastor for the past four years has provided him with an invaluable education.

“I lucked out because he’s a great mentor for a newly-ordained priest,” said Father Longalong. “He helped me build confidence in my ministry.”

Not merely a teacher, however, Bishop Chappetto also works tirelessly to comfort the sick, routinely visiting hospitals throughout the diocese, Manhattan and Nassau County, said Father Longalong.

“He’s a great administrator too,” noted Deacon Warren. Not only did Bishop Chappetto pilot the parish’s fundraising campaign for its new church, but he also supervised the building process and has already paid off the loan from the diocese for the building project.

“He really built our church,” Moreno said. “It never would have happened without him – without his leadership, without his foresight. He really took on the headaches of it. He really sacrificed himself.”

And though some point to Our Lady of the Snows’ new church as Bishop Chappetto’s most significant achievement as pastor, Deacon Oellinger disagrees.

“In my eyes, his greatest accomplishment is being the finest priest I ever met,” the deacon said. “He embodies what I’ve always known a priest to be. In the parish, he’s very pastoral, very approachable.”

“He’s a living example of Christ,” said Mike McGovern, director of CYO in the parish.

“A model for Christian living,” echoed Deacon Borheck.

All agree that in light of Bishop Chappetto’s many positive qualities and strong record, both as a leader and a priest, he more than earned his appointment to bishop.

“We’re very happy for him,” Father Longalong said. “It didn’t come as a shock to many of us though, because we knew he could make a big impact on the diocese.”

Bishop Ray is shown with parochial vicar, Father Patrick Longalong, on the day that the new church was dedicated at Our Lady of the Snows.

“I was elated,” recalled Deacon Oellinger about the news that his pastor would be ordained to the episcopacy. “I felt like ‘Wow! Someone who deserves it got it.’ But bishop or not, we’re sad to lose him.”

Yet pointing out that Bishop Chappetto will return to Our Lady of the Snows for confirmations and possibly to officiate at special family events like marriages, Deacon Borheck takes an optimistic view. “We look at it as ‘We’re not losing a pastor; we’re gaining a bishop.’”

Reliable and selfless, the composed, even-keeled Bishop Chappetto has left an indelible mark on Our Lady of the Snows after 13 years of service. Though a sense of sadness still mingles with the happiness parishioners feel for their pastor, at least one person finds some comfort in his loss.

“I was very happy for him and for our parish,” said McGovern. “He’s a saintly man. (Chappetto’s promotion to bishop) strengthened my faith that the church is indeed guided by the Holy Spirit.”