“Here I am, Lord” was the class song of the deacons ordained on June 8, 1996, at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
As Gregg Dispenza recalled in a written reflection about his father, Deacon Charles “Chuck” Dispenza, the hymn would become his father’s personal anthem and trademark following his 1996 ordination.
Deacon Dispenza, who served at St. Bridget and Immaculate Conception parishes in Rochester, died suddenly June 12, 2008. He was 83.
He had begun his career as a deacon after being a devoted caregiver to his wife, June, who died in 1991. It was a second career; he previously taught English at Gates-Chili High School and the former Madison High School. Deacon Dispenza was a Madison alumnus who was a cheerleader at the school. He also served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was later a toastmaster and emcee for several area dinners.
“He packed more into two careers than most of us will be lucky enough to be able to do in one,” Gregg Dispenza said in the reflection. “But then again, he was always ministering to people, be it on a stage or a ship, in a classroom or a church, on the phone or a piece of furniture (office, kitchen and living room).”
Among other duties, Deacon Dispenza also filled in at other parishes as needed, visited the sick, prepared people to receive the sacraments, organized a monthly holy hour at St. Bridget, led a service at Monroe Community Hospital, and prepared lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. Father Paul Gitau, pastor of Immaculate Conception and St. Bridget, said Deacon Dispenza took a lot of care in teaching people to respect the handling of Christ’s body and blood.
“Whenever I called him to do anything, he was always ready to help,” the priest said.
Father Gitau recalled that Deacon Dispenza always would add “Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us” after a Hail Mary concluding the prayers of the faithful. One time, the priest asked him why.
“I said, ‘Must you tell her once again to pray for us?'” Father Gitau recalled. “It was because he was really devoted to Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Deacon Dispenza often would joke about his lengthy homilies, the priest recalled.
“He was not in a hurry,” Father Gitau remarked.
One thing people might not have known is Deacon Dispenza’s generosity. Whenever the church needed a book, vestment or other item, he would look for the item and buy it with his own money, Father Gitau said.
He also was not known for his cooking skills and would often stop by the rectory to partake in a meal Father Gitau had made.
“Many times we went out to eat, and he made me learn to love Italian food,” said Father Gitau, who noted that Deacon Dispenza helped introduce him to angel-hair pasta.
Father Anthony Mugavero, parochial vicar of Rochester’s Our Lady of the Americas Parish, who has known Deacon Dispenza for many years, said the deacon had unfailing energy and enthusiasm even a dozen years after his ordination. Deacon Dispenza was known for adding phrases and responses during Mass.
“He got the congregation to respond to his spirituality,” Father Mugavero said.
Father Mugavero said Deacon Dispenza had been spiritual throughout his life. The deacon used to tell a story about praying on his knees every night during his time in the Navy. Some of his fellow sailors gave him a hard time, Father Mugavero said.
“He just continued with it, and eventually it worked the other way around,” he said. “They grew to respect that and eventually realized they needed that. God had his hand on Charlie from the very beginning.”
In addition to his son, Deacon Dispenza is survived by his sister, Sally Dispenza; several nieces, nephews and cousins; and many close friends.
Deacon Dispenza will lie in state from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 18, at Immaculate Conception Church, 445 Frederick Douglass St., Rochester. This will include a holy hour from 7 to 8 p.m.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark will celebrate his funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 19, at St. Bridget Church, 14 St. Mark St., Rochester, NY 14605, where memorials in the deacon’s memory may be made. Interment will be private.