Rev. John Piccione, firemen's chaplain
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
By JAY LEVIN
The Rev. John T. Piccione, the Paterson Fire Department's revered Catholic chaplain, died Sunday. He was 44 and known around city firehouses as "the padre."
He had leukemia, said his order, the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province.
"Whether at 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning, 80 degrees or 8 degrees, he was there with us," said Deputy Fire Chief Joseph A. Murray.
Sometimes Father Piccione showed up in his brown robe. Sometimes he showed up in street clothes. But he always showed up — to minister to first responders at emergency scenes, to offer counseling and to preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Sometimes he visited firehouses just to watch a ballgame with the guys.
"Everything a priest does in his own parish, he did for us, and then some," Murray said. "I once called Father John and got him while he was at a cardiologist's office waiting to take a stress test. He said, 'I'll be there in five minutes.'
"We are never going to fill his shoes."
Father Piccione, also chaplain for the West Paterson Volunteer Fire Department and Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, was known to fire and police agencies throughout Passaic and Bergen counties. When Fair Lawn Police Officer Mary Ann Collura was gunned down in the line of duty in 2003, it was Father Piccione who went to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center to bless her body, Murray said.
Father Piccione was introduced to fire chaplaincy by the Rev. Mychal Judge, a fellow Franciscan who was the New York City Fire Department chaplain.
Judge's death on 9/11 — he was giving last rites to a fireman at the World Trade Center when he was struck by falling debris — deeply affected Father Piccione.
"He'd take me along, and he told me if I had any chance to become a fire chaplain, I should do it," Father Piccione said of Judge in 2003.