Msgr. Richard J. Guastella, a longtime pastor on Staten Island and one of the most respected priests in the archdiocese, died April 9. He was 73.
According to a letter posted on the St. Clare’s parish website, Msgr. Guastella died early in the morning hours after battling COVID-19, which resulted in his hospitalization.
The letter, remarking on the date of the death on Holy Thursday, said, “It is fitting that the Lord chose to call Father home, after nearly 48 years of priesthood, on the day that we celebrate the Supper of the Lord, the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. He is indeed a priest forever.”
Cardinal Dolan presided at the burial April 14 at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne. A Memorial Mass will be offered at a later date.
Msgr. Guastella had served as a pastor on Staten Island for more than 30 years, first at Holy Rosary, 1987-2008, and then at St. Clare’s, where he became pastor in 2008.
He was parochial vicar of two parishes, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Manhattan, 1983-1987, and Holy Rosary, the Bronx, 1972-1980.
From 1980 to 1983, he served as vocation director for the archdiocese.
Father John Vigilanti, administrator of Church of the Magdalene in Pocantico Hills, was a seminary classmate and friend of Msgr. Guastella. “Richard exemplified what it means to be a pastor” in that his entire priesthood was oriented to being of pastoral service to those entrusted to his care, Father Vigilanti said. “Richard wasn’t looking for anything else, wasn’t interested in anything else. That was his forte. He knew how to reach out” to those he served.
Father Vigilanti described Msgr. Guastella as “accommodating” to reasonable requests and “down to earth” in disposition. “Richard was unflappable. I never saw him get upset, never saw him fly off the handle. He took everything in stride.”
Throughout his priesthood, he was mindful of the primary needs of his people. “We were trained well in the seminary that our preaching to our parishioners on Sunday was probably the most important thing we could do because that’s when you’re going to meet the overwhelming majority of your parishioners,” Father Vigilanti said. In that regard, a priest’s preaching has to be “relevant, on target, focused and brief. I treasure that to this day, and I know Richard did as well.”
His passing on Holy Thursday was poignant. “As priests, we are called to celebrate the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to our people. I can’t think of a day that would have been more important” to any priest than the day remembering Christ at the Last Supper with His disciples, Father Vigilanti said. “It sort of brings to a close the cycle of what it means to be a priest—to go from our First Mass on our ordination to the day that we celebrate, in a sense, the last Mass that Christ would celebrate with His disciples.”
Born in New York City, he attended Cathedral College and St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, where he completed his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by Cardinal Terence Cooke at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1972. He was named a monsignor in 1995.
The letter on the parish website indicated that Msgr. Guastella’s brother Joseph died April 2.