Volume 74, Number 23 | Octuber 6 - 12 , 2004

Father Joseph A. Cogo at his farewell dinner at Villa Mosconi last week.

Pastor to the city’s immigrants emigrates to assume new post

By Lincoln Anderson

Long associated with Our Lady of Pompei Church in Greenwich Village, Reverend Joseph A. Cogo left the church on Tuesday for his new assigned post in Caracas, Venezuela.

On Sept. 28, friends gave Cogo a farewell dinner at Villa Mosconi, at which City Councilmember Christine Quinn presented him with a Council proclamation.

Cogo, 71, was born in Vicenza, Italy. He served as assistant pastor at Our Lady of Pompei, at Bleecker and Carmine Sts., from 1959-1965, where he worked with Italian immigrants. In 1966, he was appointed executive national secretary of the American Committee on Italian Migration. In 1990, he was made pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Boston, the oldest Catholic church in Boston’s north end. In 1999, he was reassigned as pastor of Our Lady of Pompei.

Reflecting last Friday on his years in the Village at Our Lady of Pompei, Cogo said, “I loved it, because this is where I began back in 1959 and where I stayed most of my priestly ministry days. So it’s like home to me. I tried to make the church open to the community.”

The Scalabrini Fathers, to which Cogo belongs, were founded with the purpose of caring for immigrants, to help them settle and integrate into society.

As Italians moved out of the Village, the church invited in new immigrant congregations. Today there are four Masses, in English, Italian, Tagalog for Filipinos and Portugese for Brazilians.

“It’s the church of immigrants, we call it,” Cogo said.

In Venezuela, Cogo said, he will minister to members of the American community, primarily there in connection with the oil industry, and Italians, who have a strong Italian contingent in Caracas.

Asked what the highlights of his Pompei tenure were, Cogo mentioned two. In 1963, the retired king of Italy, on a visit to the Italians of New York, worshipped there. In November 2003, Italy’s president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, came to Our Lady of Pompei to hold a memorial for 17 Italians who were killed by a suicide bombing in Nasiriyah, Iraq.

The church also hosts the Caring Community’s senior day center, “a wonderful program,” Cogo said.

Leaning against a wall near his desk was a gold-colored model of a commemorative plaque of Father Demo (1870-1936), Our Lady of Pompei’s legendary former pastor, which the church hopes a version of will be included in the renovation of Father Demo Sq.

“We are trying to put his effigy there,” Cogo said. “Square” was spelled “Squeare” on the plaque. “We’ll fix that — it’s an Italian artist,” he explained.

Cogo’s latest tenure wasn’t entirely devoid of controversy. There was the introduction of a vendors’ market that some neighbors feared would cause sidewalk bottlenecks. It’s been operating smoothly, he said. And some Leroy St. residents viewed as practically a sin the church’s felling of two old trees in the church’s rear yard. Cogo said the trees were diseased.

Asked if he’ll miss any particular favorite places or perhaps restaurants in the Village, Cogo said, “There are so many to choose from.” After a brief pause, with a gentle smile he added, “The ones that support our work.”

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