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Remembering Leicester pastor, Fr. Stephen Johnson

Posted By September 22, 2011 | 1:03 pm | Local
WEB johnson, stephen

By Tanya Connor

Father Stephen D. Johnson’s relationship with Jesus and efforts to bring others to Jesus were highlighted at his wake and funeral this week. Packed churches for both services, and an all-night vigil in between, testified to his impact.
Father Johnson, 66, pastor of St. Joseph and St. Pius X Parishes in Leicester, died Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, at Harrington Memorial Hospital in Southbridge, after a long battle with cancer.
“Father Steve had been very sick and we were all worried if he was going to be able to make it through Holy Week,” said Mary Lajoie, of St. Pius, recalling last Holy Thursday’s Mass. “When he went to the tabernacle and he opened the doors…the smile on Father’s face…as he looked at Jesus and Jesus looked at him… He was there with his Lord, and Jesus gave him the strength, that physically he didn’t have, to be able to do all the services.”
“Easter Sunday, even with his oxygen by his side, he had people…joyfully celebrating the resurrection,” said Deacon Michael J. Corby, who serves at St. Joseph and St. Pius. “He was leading them. … He was renewed.”
“He loved being a priest,” Father Michael J. Roy, pastor of St. Roch Parish in Oxford, said in his homily at the funeral Monday at St. Pius. “He loved being your priest.” He was successful because his priority was to be with Jesus, he said. Members of the Fraternity of Priests, to which Father Johnson belonged with him and others, commit themselves to at least an hour of uninterrupted prayer daily, he said.
“He brought Jesus to his people and his people brought Jesus to him,” Father Roy said, seeking and getting the congregation’s affirmation of that.
“Father Roy, you were right; he was a friend of Jesus,” Bishop McManus said at the funeral Mass he celebrated with Bishops Reilly and Rueger and numerous priests. Last week at the hospital he was looking forward to returning to his parishes, the bishop said.
“I considered it an honor to work for him,” said Patricia Rutelonis, secretary and parishioner at St. Joseph and St. Pius. She said she suggested an all-night vigil after the wake.
“The thought of him being alone up there” in the church, she said. “We just put the sheets out and every single slot was filled up.” Her husband, John, said that the night Father Johnson died, an improptu rosary for him brought together 40 people.
Father Johnson is survived by his brother, George “Buzz” Johnson, and his wife, Rachel, and their son, Nick; his step-brother, Francis Allard, and his wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Dr. Leathe Allard. He is predeceased by his mother, Fannie Allard, and her husband, Joseph, and his sister, Barbara Klopotek.
He was born in Wheeling, W.V., Sept. 7, 1945, and reared in Hazardville, Conn. He prepared for the priesthood at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Conn., from 1960-1966, and St. John Seminary in Brighton, from 1966-1972, earning his master of divinity degree.
He was ordained by Bishop Flanagan on May l3, l972, in St.Paul Cathedral.
He was associate pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Northborough, and Our
Lady of the Angels Parish, Worcester.
On July 2, l976, he was appointed to the diocesan Youth Ministry Team and as part-time associate of St. Aloysius Parish, Rochdale. In l984, he was appointed part-time associate of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Clinton, continuing with Youth Ministry. He was named chaplain of the diocesan Scouting program in l977, and chaplain for New England Area I Scouting in l98l.
He brought Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreats, and Residents Encounter Christ (REC) for prisoners, here. He was involved with Dismas House for former prisoners and students and took
youth on mission to Mexico
and to Steubenville conferences.
“The seeds that he planted in all those kids that went through the TEC program is still bearing fruit,” said Elizabeth Miller, who, with her husband, Deacon Gary Miller, got to know him through that. “Their faith is still alive and they’re in their 50s now.”
Pauline Lareau, of St. Aloysius-St. Jude Parish in Leicester, recalled how, through TEC, he got her teaching religious education.
On Feb. 28, l985, Father Johnson was named pastor of St. Catherine of Sweden Parish, Worcester, and on Feb. 22, l988, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish, Linwood. Later he was temporary administrator of St. Anne Parish in Manchaug.
On June 29, 1990, was appointed pastor of Our Lady
Immaculate Parish, Athol, and Our Lady Queen of Heaven Mission, South Royalston. On Sept. 12, 2003, he also became pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Athol, and St. Peter Parish, Petersham, where he had been administrator.
On July 1, 2009 Father Johnson became pastor of St. Joseph and St. Pius.
While chaplain in the Scouting Program he received the St. George Medal. He later received the Gospel of Life Award from the diocese for his pro-life efforts. He participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and helped open a Problem Pregnancy center in Athol.
He was the chaplin for the Knights of Columbus, Athol Council 1182, and the Leicester Council 4528 and he was a BSA Eagle Scout.
Burial was at St. John’s Cemetery in Worcester. Fiske-Murphy & Mack Funeral Home in Orange directed arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Clergy Benefit Fund, Box 498, N. Uxbridge, MA 01538; Problem Pregnancy, 105 Main St., Athol, MA 01331, or Casa de Asis, Juarez, in care of Sister Frances Alonzo, 2400 Marr St., El Paso, TX 79903.