When Peter Capobianco lost his 30-year-old son because of a brain hemorrhage, the Rev. James Gulley, the pastor of St. Mary’s Church, helped him through it.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful he was,” Capobianco said. “When you go through terrible grief like that, it helps to have a priest by your side to comfort you and get you through.”
The never-say-no priest is now retiring from his work at St. Mary’s Church after 27 years. Capobianco, president of the parish council, said Gulley is the only priest he’s known at St. Mary’s and it’s going to be terrible to see him go.
“The people here are devastated because they love him,” Capobianco said.
At 73, Gulley maintains an aggressive schedule. There are three weekday Masses at St. Mary’s, two on Saturday and three on Sunday morning. However, Gulley is not only responsible for the church but also the parish’s school, cemetery and rectory.
When not handling the immediate concerns of the parish, Gulley is visiting ill parishioners at St. Mary’s Hospital, counseling married couples and those who are preparing for marriage and performing many other duties.
“Father Gulley was always faithful and dedicated to visiting members of the parish who were hospitalized at St. Mary’s,” said Vic Giulianelli, CEO of the hospital, which shares a name but not an affiliation with the parish. “He was here just about every day, raising spirits and bringing the gifts that he had to offer.”
Giulianelli said Gulley was also on the hospital’s advisory board for nearly a decade and was counted on for his “wisdom and guidance, especially on matters relating to the care of patients.”
“He’s a very popular person, and he never says no. That’s been his biggest downfall. He just goes and goes 24 hours, seven days a week,” said Matthew Constantine, building and grounds manager for the parish school, St. Mary’s Institute. “I always kid him because he tries to give us good advice by telling us to take it easy and relax, but he doesn’t follow his own advice.”
Earlier this week, Gulley was called out of his bed at 2 a.m. to tend to a dying man in Johnstown, parish council member George Schuttig said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get a priest, but if you call the right number he’ll be there right away,” Schuttig said. “You don’t find priests like that every day.”
Gulley said his position at the church has been a lively one, in which he has had to deal with a variety of situations.
“When the phone rings and you say ‘St. Mary’s,’ you don’t know who is going to be at the other end,” he said.
Gulley’s main goal was to keep St. Mary’s Institute open.
“He lived that, and a lot of people are very thankful that he’s done it,” said Constantine.
St. Mary’s parishioners feel that people are so thankful that they will want to give back by donating to a Father Gulley Scholarship Fund during a ceremony for Gulley at the school on Sunday, Sept. 21.
The money raised will help children who can’t afford to attend the only private Catholic school in Fulton and Montgomery counties.
While Gulley’s final Mass was supposed to be last weekend, the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese hasn’t said who will be replacing him at St. Mary’s. In the meantime, Gulley has been saying various Masses and did the liturgy at the first day of school at St. Mary’s Institute.
Ken Goldfarb, spokesman for the diocese, said a search is under way to find Gulley’s replacement and one might be in place within the next few weeks.
Coupled with the anxiety over Gulley’s replacement, members of St. Mary’s Church, along with many other Catholics throughout the diocese, are dealing with Called to Be Church, an initiative that is looking critically at all the parishes in the diocese.
Faced with a shortage of priests in the diocese and a dwindling flock of parishioners, churches throughout the area are facing closure.
While there is no indication that St. Mary’s is on the chopping block, Constantine said he expects some changes, especially to the Mass schedule.
“There will be some changes, no question. The people of Amsterdam have been spoiled,” he said.
“I hope and pray for the person who is going to be totally dedicated to the school and parish,” Gulley said. “I think the people will be very helpful to whoever is going to come into the parish.”
Gulley is planning for this to be his last weekend at St. Mary’s before he moves to the Teresian House in Albany on Monday.
Gulley, who has a master of social work degree from New York University, said he will continue doing counseling after he stops saying Mass.
“I’m more blessed than I deserve,” he said.
A community celebration is planned for Gulley on Sept. 21. The Fire Department plans to attend the 11 a.m. Mass and then transport Gulley to St. Mary’s Institute, where more than 500 people are expected to take part in the celebration, which will include a buffet lunch of food representing the various ethnicities in the congregation.
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Categories: Schenectady County