Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Simple Parish Priest'

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Simple Parish Priest'

Article excerpt

Palisades Park police officers and firefighters in dress-blue uniforms stood at attention along the double yellow line cleaving East Central Boulevard to salute their fallen chaplain.

An American flag suspended from the raised ladder of a fire truck fluttered over the scene at St. Michael Church, where the Rev. James F. Reilly had married couples, baptized babies, presided over funerals and warmed countless hearts with his gap-toothed smile.

On Saturday morning, a week after the 69-year-old Reilly died of injuries sustained in a March 10 fire in the rectory, many of the people whose lives he'd touched came to pay him tribute. So many wanted to say goodbye that the church filled to capacity and an overflow crowd of several hundred watched the Mass of Christian Burial on a large screen in the school auditorium next door.

The funeral would have been fit for a cardinal or a king.

But Reilly was just a "simple parish priest," his brother, John Reilly, said from the altar, in a moving 16-minute eulogy that preceded the Mass. He described a scene from the night of the tragedy, when he and his family were keeping vigil at the Burn Center at St. Barnabas in Livingston and a doctor tending to his brother came out to ask how the staff should address the longtime priest.

" 'Do we call him Father? Do we call him Monsignor? Do we call him Bishop?' " Reilly recalled. "I said, 'No, just call him Father Reilly. He's just a simple parish priest, quietly humble about what he does so well.' "

Parishioners described a man who loved music, laughter and the Giants and who, during his more than 15 years at the parish, was there in good times and bad.

"He's a wonderful guy," Pat Giannantonio said, still speaking of her pastor in the present tense.

"If you go to a funeral, he lifts everybody's spirit.

"If you have a christening, he'd lift the baby up. We're devastated, really."

Danny Darragh, who came to the parish around the same time Reilly arrived, remembers that the night before the fire, the priest came to his aunt's wake.

"He was just a warm and gentle person. We all loved him so much," Darragh said. "He went right to heaven."

'Approachable' priest

Claire Sahagian lives in Ridgefield, but would often go to Mass at St. …

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