Pope Benedict XVI named Msgr. Peter Libasci the new bishop of the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., on Monday in Washington, D.C. The former pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Montauk, Father Peter, as he was then called, was a beloved member of the community.
The Montauk pastor from 1999 to 2007, he was given the title of monsignor in 2004, but parishioners continued to call him Father Peter. He helped oversee the construction of a new church building through the sometimes nerve-racking process. But he didn’t get much time to enjoy it, as he was transferred from the parish immediately after the new church was dedicated. Parishioners were devastated when they received the news.
Wherever he goes to bring the sacrament of confirmation, he takes with him the story of Montauk, he said yesterday. When he visited the church in New Hampshire for the first time, he spoke to parishioners about the people of Montauk and all the good times they shared.
“It’s a good story, a God story of the love of people for their church and their faith in God. So, I have already brought you with me and you have helped to bring the gospel in a very real and human way to the wonderful people of New Hampshire. God bless you all. Yay, Montauk!” he wrote in an e-mail message.
As pastor he officiated at many weddings, funerals, Masses, and other church activities in the parish center’s basement, which was set up as a church during construction. He always tried to find out a little bit of personal information about a couple being married, or the deceased, so he could add some local flavor to ceremonies. On more than one occasion he visited bars in Montauk to talk to friends or relatives of those who recently died so he’d have a story to tell.
“I just always knew I’d become a priest,” he said in an interview when he first arrived in Montauk. He said it was something that was almost expected of him by his family, something that he had felt inside for as long as he could remember.
He was born in Queens in 1951 and attended Catholic schools. He attended St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana and was ordained in 1978. His first assignment as a priest was as an associate pastor of St. Raymond’s parish in East Rockaway. He served for nearly six years as associate pastor of SS. Cyril and Methodius parish in Deer Park and was an administrator and then pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Inwood for 10 years.
After he left the Montauk parish, he was named an auxiliary bishop by Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese and served as the Episcopal vicar for the Eastern Vicariate of that diocese, which means he was a traveling man and presided over confirmations, communions, and other church celebrations on the eastern end of Long Island.
“As priest, as pastor, as bishop, Bishop Peter Libasci brought a deep sense of the holy to the many pastoral efforts that have marked his tenure in the Diocese which will always be his home,” Bishop Murphy wrote.
He will be formally installed on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, said Bishop John McCormack, who preceded him in the position. “This is a big day for our Diocese and a big day for my successor,” he said, before joking about Bishop Libasci’s allegiance to the Yankees.
He was overwhelmed when he learned he would become the bishop of Manchester, he said in a video recording posted on the Web site of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, drvc.org. In addition to thanking his family, friends, fellow priests, and God, Bishop Libasci said that he was looking forward to seeing the beauty of New Hampshire, its churches, people, and families.
He is expected to be in Montauk to officiate at a confirmation ceremony on Nov. 6 at 1 p.m. There is no doubt that the church will be crowded on that day to welcome the newly ordained bishop back home.