Leaning forward, their hands clasped together in prayer and resting on top of the long wooden pews in front of them, people struggled Saturday to understand what happened to Mary Greco.
She was just sitting in that pew over there, said the Rev. Dominic Isopo, nodding vaguely toward the back of the cathedral.
Rays of sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows of St. Luke’s Church as Isopo painted a picture of the 82-year-old, faithful woman who always sat in the same place for daily or weekend Mass.
“All you had to do was look at her face and you knew that she had an inner spirituality,” he said. “You knew that she was connected to God in a way that many are not able to do.”
At some point in her life, Greco dedicated her life to serving others and stuck to that mission. She was a true disciple, he said.
Greco was killed, found dead New Year’s Day in her apartment at 1402 Stanford St. in the Vale neighborhood. Few details have emerged since as to who could have killed the former nun, or why.
Jim Marcella stayed seated in his pew. As family and friends filtered out of St. Luke’s on Saturday after the Mass of Christian burial was over, Marcella sat with his hands clasped, praying and crying.
“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt her,” he said. “She was such a kind, gentle person. I just can’t imagine it.”
The Niskayuna man met Greco more than three decades ago through a friend of his who was a nun and was always urging him to become a priest. Greco suggested he would make a better bishop or cardinal.
He lost touch with her over the years, but about five weeks ago, he was on his way out of the YWCA on Washington Avenue when Greco spotted him.
“She spotted me, and we had about 10 minutes together,” said Marcella. “It was just nice seeing her, you know, one last time? And I said, ‘Mary, let’s get together some time.’ ”
Greco was born and raised in Schenectady and entered the missionary community of the Daughters of Mary, Health of the Sick, in 1956; she stayed until the community disbanded in 1972.
She lived simply. Marcella and Isopo both spoke in awe of her missionary work teaching children to read and write and caring for elderly, sick people in Guatemala. Sometimes, she would take artifacts back from her trips and bring them to church, pulling them out in the lobby to explain who made them and what they meant.
“When they disbanded her order and she retired from sisterhood, she still wanted to go to Guatemala on her own, and she did,” recalled Marcella. “She went on her own expense. In fact, whatever money she had left after rent and food, she would pay out of her own pocket and give to these people.”
He struggled to choke back tears, muttering that she was the most giving, kind, loving person he knew.
Greco’s death was initially labeled suspicious, but authorities upgraded it to a homicide a day later. Her landlord found her body Tuesday morning; shortly after, her vehicle was discovered a mile away, in the parking lot of St. John the Evangelist Church on Union Street.
Authorities have declined to release the results of an autopsy performed Wednesday, stressing their desire not to disrupt the investigation.
Schenectady police spokesman Lt. Mark McCracken declined to comment on both the cause and time of Greco’s death and said police were still looking into whether the killer was a stranger or someone Greco knew.
“It is incomprehensible that the woman who lived a life as she did would die at the hands of those who have no respect for the dignity of human life,” Isopo said to friends and family at Saturday’s funeral. “The test is that even with these difficulties, we must be people who forgive, who go out of our way to look beyond the circumstances and to see that this daughter of God is at peace in the arms of our God.”
At one point, Isopo asked the crowd to pray for “the shooter” to be reconciled with God.
McCracken and Schenectady County District Attorney Bob Carney both refused to comment Saturday on whether Greco’s death was a shooting. Isopo later confirmed he misspoke and did not know the cause of death; he simply had the recent school shootings in Newtown, Conn., on his mind.
Carney said he is mindful of the public’s concern, but he did not want to jeopardize the investigation by releasing the cause of death.
Police are also still looking for a man who was spotted shoveling snow in the area in the days leading to the discovery of Greco’s body. They stressed that this person is not a suspect.
Marcella lingered in the parking lot after Saturday’s service. Just minutes before, he wondered how he could ever forgive.
“She was just a very special person,” he said, wiping away tears, “gentle, kind, loving, thoughtful, caring, considerate, wouldn’t think of herself first but for the poor. Why did it have to happen? The one thing I’m having a hard time with is forgiveness. How do you forgive somebody for doing such a terrible thing? I can’t. How am I going to forgive? If you knew this woman, she really was a lovely, lovely lady.”