After learning of a fire at Paul Mittleman’s Mattituck apartment Friday night, Pastor Tom Murray of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Greenport began to set out west to see if his friend of 18 years was OK.
He said Mr. Mittleman “was somebody that always would try to do whatever he could to help someone else.”
“So, I said I would look for him up and around and helping people [during the fire] and telling people what to do,” he said. “Then I would know he was all right.”
But Father Tom received a call from a detective shortly after police first said they couldn’t provide information to non-family members.
“He said Paul was the casualty,” Father Tom said.
Mr. Mittleman was known in the church, as he was a regular parishioner, Father Tom said.
He and Father Tom were so close, that Mr. Mittleman also took a job at the Greenport church in 2002 when Father Tom first arrived from St. Louis de Montfort Church in Sound Beach, where he was an associate pastor and Mr. Mittleman a parishioner.
The owner of the Main Road building that was destroyed by fire Friday night, Steven Busch, said Father Tom was his closest thing Mr. Mittleman had to family in the area.
“He considered Tom to be his brother,” said Mr. Busch. “And [Paul] said Tom felt the same way about him.”
Father Tom said Mr. Mittleman did have family, though they were in New Jersey.
Mr. Mittleman was a carpenter “working for various different companies” when the first two met at the Sound Beach church in 1996, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Father Tom said.
In Greenport, Mr. Mittleman worked as a cook and a handyman for about two years after coming to the church.
As the years went on, though, he began to suffer more and more from blood clots in his legs.
He wasn’t working and was living on disability at the time of his death Friday night, Mr. Busch said.
“He did a lot of restoration here within the rectory,” Father Tom said. “Painting, carpentry, artistry. He worked on the staircases and railings. He did a lot. He was a very good artist, too. He made pencil sketches for me. He was very talented.”
Father Tom said Mr. Mittleman would be included in the Prayer of the Faithful portion of the services Saturday and throughout the rest of the weekend, which also happens to be Father Tom’s last in the parish before leaving for Montauk’s St. Therese of Lisieux Church on Wednesday.
When asked, Father Tom said he couldn’t locate any of Mr. Mittleman’s sketches Saturday because they were all packed away.
Also packed away were two Adirondack chairs his friend made for him in the run-up to the Greenport church’s 125th anniversary. Those would be going to Montauk too.
Despite Mr. Mittleman’s injuries, Father Tom said he always managed to make it to church every weekend by bus.
“And he always tried to take care of everybody else,” he said. “We’ll pray for him.”