Parishioners, Friends Celebrate Life of Former Pastor at Shrine on Hudson

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About 250 people gathered May 20 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Hudson outside Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Port Ewen for a Memorial Mass to remember and celebrate the life of Father Carl Johnson.

Father Johnson, pastor of the merged parish of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Sacred Heart in Esopus since 2015, died Feb. 5 of complications from Covid-19. He served Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as pastor, 2008-2014, and administrator, 2014-2015. 

A Funeral Mass was celebrated in February at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Father Johnson’s family and was livestreamed for friends and parishioners, with Auxiliary Bishop Gerardo Colacicco as principal celebrant and Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne as homilist.

Cardinal Dolan served as the principal celebrant and Bishop Byrne was homilist of the Memorial Mass.

“This is a great place to say farewell to Carl because he loved this place. He loved the Hudson Valley, and he loved the people around here.,” said Bishop Byrne at the conclusion of his homily. The bishop attended St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie with Father Johnson.

“He always shared this beautiful setting with them, but pointed people toward eternity,” Bishop Byrne said. “It was the reason why he was so faithful and prayerful, and zealous in his preaching and celebrating the sacraments. He was helping people on their journey with the Lord, on the journey to eternity. So today we say goodbye to a good friend and very faithful priest, somebody who inspires us by his example.”

Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Byrne were joined on the altar by Bishop Colacicco, temporary administrator at the parish; Auxiliary Bishop Edmund Whalen, vicar for clergy; Msgr. Joseph LaMorte, vicar general and moderator of the curia; and many priests and deacons who knew Father Johnson.

“What a providential occasion to thank almighty God for so many things, to thank God our Father for the gift of his only begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life; to thank almighty God for the life and priesthood of Father Carl; to thank almighty God for the love and loyalty of his family; and to thank almighty God for the great people who he knew, loved and served here at Presentation parish in Port Ewen,” said Cardinal Dolan in opening the Mass. 

The Memorial Mass was celebrated on a field outside the church with a statue of Our Lady of the Hudson facing the congregation from behind the altar. The field is on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.

“When he passed, we couldn’t give him what I feel he deserved and that is this,” Harry VanVliet IV, a 62-year-old lifetime parishioner, told CNY. “We were restricted with a private Mass in church (for family due to Covid-19). What a perfect setting today, beautiful day. He was so dedicated to this shrine that overlooks the Hudson. This is what he would want.”

Born in Mount Vernon, Father Johnson served his entire priesthood in the Hudson Valley. He was pastor of St. Augustine, New City, 2006-2008; and served at Sacred Heart, Monroe, as pastor, 1994-2006; administrator, 1993-1994; and parochial vicar, 1991-1993. Ordained in 1978, he was parochial vicar of St. John the Evangelist, Mahopac, 1982-1991; and Good Shepherd, Rhinebeck, 1978-1982.

“He was a wonderful priest, pastor and he worked so well with the people,” said Paul Jankiewicz, an 82-year-old resident of Ulster Park who has been attending Mass at Sacred Heart since 1983.

Lorraine Cranston, 74, is a parishioner from Kingston who still misses Father Johnson’s presence at the parish.

“You come to Mass and I’m still looking for him to be at the altar,” she said. “Even yesterday we were preparing inside, I kept looking for him to come in and he didn’t. He’s missed a great deal.”

Sherry VanLoan, 70, attended the Memorial Mass with her husband, Vincent, and brother in law, Donald. She gave Father Johnson a Keurig and often purchased him his favorite coffee—Barista Prima Coffeehouse Italian Roast.

“I miss his smile, his jokes and his nice homilies,” she said. 

“This was so special. When we heard about (the Memorial Mass), we couldn’t believe it. We said how special it is that the cardinal is coming to do this. We miss (Father Johnson) a lot and we worry about our parish and whether we’re going to have a priest. So this was special.”

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