Father John J. Nacca, longtime pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Auburn, died Sept. 29, 2007, on the eve of the parish’s centennial-anniversary celebration with Bishop Matthew H. Clark. He was 92.
“Father Nacca passed away so symbolically on the 29th, as we were getting ready to celebrate,” said friend and St. Francis of Assisi parishioner Paolo Saltarello. “Now he got called to his final rest on a perfect time that we can remember him and his service to this parish.”
Father Nacca served the parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi for nearly 40 years, and parishioners will always remember him with love and respect, Saltarello said. His example inspired at least one parishioner — Louis Vasile — to follow in his footsteps and pursue a vocation to the priesthood.
“The reason that I’m a priest today is ultimately because of him,” said Father Vasile, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Auburn.
Father Nacca was born in 1915 in Rochester, where his family belonged to Holy Rosary Parish. He attended Holy Rosary Elementary School, Aquinas Institute and St. Andrew and St. Bernard seminaries. Bishop James E. Kearney ordained him to the priesthood on June 7, 1941.
Bishop Kearney sent Father Nacca to St. Francis of Assisi, where he served as assistant pastor from June 1941 until December 1942, when he became assistant pastor at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Rochester. Two months later, however, he returned to the Auburn parish when its pastor fell ill. He again served as the parish’s assistant pastor, this time from February 1943 until June 1944.
After leaving the Auburn parish for the second time in 1944, Father Nacca became assistant pastor at Church of the Assumption Parish in Fairport. He served there until 1947, when he was again assigned to St. Francis Xavier.
Although this time around he remained at St. Francis Xavier for more than two months, he again left the Rochester parish at the end of his assignment to return to St. Francis of Assisi, where he became pastor in June 1949. This time Father Nacca was able to call the Auburn parish home for a much longer period of time, serving there until his retirement in 1985.
Under Father Nacca’s direction the parish built a school in 1950, a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in 1951 and a new church building in 1958. Parishioners not only planned a banquet for him when he retired after 36 years as pastor, but they also bought him a brand new Chevrolet Caprice, Saltarello said.
Father Nacca loved traveling and was always taking busloads of children and senior citizens on sightseeing trips, Saltarello recalled.
“He was always in awe at the wonders of God and what he created. He just loved to bring people to see that creation,” he said.
Father Nacca also brought the children to parks and other places he knew the children’s parents could not afford to take them, said Father Vasile, who as a child often participated in these outings.
“He really believed that his job was to take care of the people God gave him. He kept a steadfast commitment to caring for the young, the young couples, the middle aged and the elderly,” said Father Vasile, who was ordained at St. Francis of Assisi in 1972.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish was had been founded in 1908 by Italian immigrants, and many of its parishioners today are descendents of those immigrants. Father Nacca embraced this population, but at the same time he endeavored to reach beyond the local Italian Catholics. He was the driving force behind many of the parish’s outreach projects to serve people in the local area and overseas, Saltarello said. Under his leadership, the parish raised enough money to build six mission churches in Africa, South Vietnam and India.
“He was a man with a vision, someone who believed the church needed to move beyond its immigrant foundations. I think he broadened the community’s mission beyond itself,” Father Vasile said. “I think he embodied in many ways the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.”
Father Nacca had been living at St. Ann’s Community in Rochester for the past several years, but St. Francis of Assisi parishioners had not forgotten him: In 2005 the parish hall was renamed the Rev. John J. Nacca Parish Center.
“He left a lot of memories in the hearts of the people,” Saltarello said, noting that Sept. 29 also is the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. “He’ll be watching over us.”
Father Nacca is survived by his nephews and niece, Ronald J. (Mary) Buttarazzi, Patrick J. (Alice) Buttarazzi, Joseph (Judy) D’Angelo and Ann Marie (John) Walter, and many grandnieces and grandnephews and great-grandnieces and great-grandnephews.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark presided at Father Nacca’s funeral liturgy, which took place at 11 a.m. Oct. 3 at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Auburn. Interment was to follow at St. Joseph Cemetery in Fleming.