A lifetime of service
By, Salvatore Licata
Seeing Monsignor Joseph C. Pfeiffer walk down the aisle to celebrate the 8 a.m. Mass has become a familiar occurrence for parishioners of St. Helen’s parish in Howard Beach. He’s been doing it for 26 years.
As he follows the procession, he greets the familiar faces in attendance and prepares to start his sacred ritual.
“He reminds me of my mentor,” said Wayne McDonnell, a parishioner of eight years. “He is the primary reason why I come to the 8 a.m. Mass.”
“I love him,” said Linda Urban, a long time parishioner. “He’s so personable and always makes me smile.”
These are feelings about Pfeiffer that are shared by many at St. Helen’s. Since his start at the parish in 1988, he has become a staple of the community. At 83, he continues his priestly duties such as saying mass and visiting the sick.
It took more time than average for Msgr. Pfeiffer to realize what his calling was in life. He recalled a conversation from his college years that he had with his cousin who sprung the idea on him that he wanted to join the religious brotherhood of the Catholic Church. This got Pfeiffer, who was always active in the Church, to thinking, he said.
“I wondered if I should try something like that and, honestly, I’m glad I did,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer decided to attend the Immaculate Conception Seminary on Long Island. In 1958, he graduated and became a full-time priest in the Roman Catholic Church.
It was not until 30 years later that Pfeiffer was elevated to Monsignor. Once he assumed this office, he was assigned to St. Helen’s, where he found a home.
“This parish is a great place. The people are so cooperative and pleasant around here,” he said.
Msgr. Pfeiffer says he loves his duties as a priest. Being able to celebrate Mass, distribute Holy Communion, and forgive others’ sins are, he says “a special gift that God has given me.”
In 2005, Monsignor Pfeiffer retired from the active priesthood. He exercised the “privilege,” as he calls it, of visiting the sick of the parish to distribute communion on Sundays, and he says he still loves to do it.
Jim McCosker, a parishioner at St. Helen’s since 1963, said that still having Msgr. Pfeiffer around is a blessing. McCosker is able to make it to the 8 a.m. Mass, but his wife, who is sickly, must have the Sacrament of Holy Communion come to her.
“Monsignor always stops by and visits my wife and me. He sits with us, gives Communion, and just talks like it’s a family gathering,” he said. “He is a priest in the true meaning of the word.”
As he converses with the sick, Pfeiffer offers hope in simple words.
“I just tell them, never stay down or give up on yourself. Always remember that God loves you and will always love you no matter who you are or where you are,” he said.