The Roman Catholic Priest John Vakulskas, who guided celebrations of carnivals, made yearly midnight mass for the abused, fought for the sale of cigarettes, and famously charged worshippers the steepet with the Devil’s smile said Sunday that his parishioners offered him such riches, “you could have given me nada.”
The far from humble Rev. Vakulskas, 76, died on Friday of a heart attack in his priestly robes.
He had served as pastor at an East Side parochial church for more than 15 years and headed special archdiocesan committees to fight the sale of cigarettes and to spread awareness of clerical sexual abuse.
He also wrote a weekly parish column in Catholic weekly The Herald in 2016, and was publisher and editor of Catholic weekly The Herald for 16 years.
Rev. Vakulskas also had for years challenged with fellow priests the Church’s official Catholic Church Scholarly Manual, which essentially insists that all Catholics submit to strict adherence to Church teaching in matters of conscience.
Church dissident Rev. James Martin, SJ, the author of “The Jesuit Guide to Catholic Praying,” called Rev. Vakulskas “a gentle giant who won over his parishioners over his good sense of humor and warm, gentle spirit.”
When he recently wrote an editorial, “Still Believe in the Church,” about his devotion to the institution, he said, “You could have given me nada.”
Instead, he received gifts, “goodly and lavish things,” from parishioners at midnight masses. He also talked about the purchases “when I was in the penitent ministry,” including a cottage in Ocracoke, N.C., that the parish priest once offered in his honor.
The “penitent minister” was part of a community of priests punished after sexual abuse of minors. “But that’s only my story,” he wrote in his editorials. “The story of the penitent minister and the community of saints.”