Last year, the owner of an Italian restaurant led the Cutchogue St. Patrick’s Day parade. This year, at 2 p.m. Saturday, the role will be filled by a Polish-German priest: Monsignor Joseph Staudt of Sacred Heart Parish.
And the apparent trend of having non-Irish grand marshals lead the parade, now in its 12th year, has him confused.
“It’s a great thing to be the grand marshal, but I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me,” the monsignor joked. “Quite frankly, and I’m not trying to be falsely humble, but they couldn’t get anybody better?”
The East Meadow native’s religious journey began at St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary in Uniondale. He attended the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor and was ordained as a priest on March 4, 1978.
After stints in Mineola, Medford, Bay Shore and Commack, Msgr. Staudt has spent the past seven years serving as pastor for the people of Sacred Heart. The monsignor, who is three-quarters Polish and one-quarter German, said he was surprised but honored to be chosen as this year’s grand marshal. He recently spoke to The Suffolk Times about his path to the priesthood, the challenges of leading a congregation, and the generosity and support of the North Fork’s laity.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to become a priest?
A: I always wanted to help people. As a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. Then that faded and I wanted to be a counselor, particularly to kids, like in high school. But then I said, “I think I want people to get connected to God. I want to get people connected to God and I think I can do that.”
Q: What do you love most about serving in Cutchogue?
A: Just the people, I would say. They are just so incredibly warm and welcoming and encouraging. It’s not particularly easy being a priest … The parish has been through a rough thing, but when I came out here, they were so supportive. That has made me feel so welcome and so a part of things.
Q: In the past, you’ve spoken about the shortage of Catholic priests across Long Island. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced here?
A: Trying to get people to have an interest in being regular churchgoers. You have people who make the sacraments, you see families, and then you see this phenomenon: After their kids make their confirmations they say, “OK, done,” and they vanish. I don’t make judgments, I don’t go hunting [for more churchgoers] … I want them to know the door is always open. It’s a commitment that you make. It’s a discipline, but it should be something you enjoy doing.
Q: Is there something you find particularly rewarding about being a priest on the North Fork?
A: There are people, the ones who go to church, who will say to me, “I feel so good when I come to church.” “You spoke to me today.” “You gave me hope to keep going.” Those things outweigh the sadness I feel for those who drift away. Every day is different. There will be days, like Monday morning, where I had Mass, then a funeral Mass, and then a meeting. Other mornings I’ll have Mass and then go over to the school and teach a couple of the classes … That’s one of the beauties of this life. Every day there’s something different. No two days are the same.
Photo Caption: Monsignor Joseph Staudt in his office at Sacred Heart Church in Cutchogue. ‘I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me,’ he said. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)