Msgr. John G. Woolsey, who served as director of the archdiocesan Office of Christian and Family Development for 17 years, and was a former co-vicar of East Manhattan and pastor there, died July 27 at Mary Manning Walsh Home in Manhattan. He was 78.
Cardinal Dolan offered the Funeral Mass Aug. 1 at Calvary Cemetery Chapel in Woodside, Queens. Among the concelebrants were a number of classmates of Msgr. Woolsey from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, including Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and Msgr. Peter G. Finn, the dean of Staten Island and administrator of Blessed Sacrament parish there, who served as homilist.
Msgr. Finn, in his homily, said Msgr. Woolsey’s friendship “was as big as his heart and as long and certain as his golf swing to the green.”
He was director of the Office of Christian and Family Development from 1979 to 1996, and was assistant director for two years prior to that.
“He was completely dedicated to the families and the unborn,” said Msgr. Finn. “It was his passion to build up and protect family life and, especially, to protect mothers and the unborn, and the fathers.”
A diocesan family life office must blend sociological and theological thought to achieve its fundamental purpose of reinforcing the quality and stability of marriage and family, Msgr. Woolsey told a gathering of bishops from North and Central America at the annual Pope John Center Workshop for Bishops in Dallas in 1994.
According to the same CNY article from that year, Msgr. Woolsey also said that marriage preparation should be the number one program in a diocesan family life office. Noting that the significant determining factor for a successful marriage is a recognition of it as a spiritual vocation, “a sacred calling,” he said that couples often do not understand the theology of marriage. “Our young people should not be deprived of these truths,” he said.
Msgr. Woolsey was an avid reader—he had a particular affinity for history and pro-life material—to the end, Msgr. Finn added.
Msgr. Woolsey was pastor of St. John the Martyr parish on Manhattan’s Upper East Side from 1996 until his resignation in 2004.
In 2006, he was sentenced to one to four years in prison for stealing more than $800,000 from the parish, prosecutors said. He had pled guilty to grand larceny and agreed to a repayment plan.
He was released in 2007 from the Oneida Correctional Facility after serving a year. The decision to free him came after a parole hearing that reviewed his behavior in prison and messages of support from parishioners and others, including the late Cardinal Egan. Before the priest’s sentencing, Cardinal Egan, in a letter, had asked the judge to take into account Msgr. Woolsey’s more than 40 years of service to others as a priest.
After his release, he was assigned to Trinity Retreat House in Larchmont.
He was parochial vicar at Holy Family parish in New Rochelle, 2008-2009, when he retired for medical reasons.
He was parochial vicar of St. John the Baptist, Yonkers, 1973-1977, and St. Margaret’s, Pearl River, 1965-1968. He served on the faculty of Cardinal Hayes High School, the Bronx, 1968-1973.
Born in Kingston, he attended St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, where he received master’s and bachelor’s degrees.
He was ordained in 1965 and named a monsignor in 1986.
Interment was at Calvary Cemetery, Woodside.