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Archives Father Joseph Sestito ‘was a good priest’

March 20, 2024

By Darcy Fargo

He loved his family, his time in the military and his priesthood.

Father Joseph N. Sestito died Wednesday, March 13, at age 95. An obituary is included with this article.

Father Bill Muench was a classmate of Father Sestito’s at Wadhams Hall and the two frequently traveled together.

“He was a good priest,” Father Muench said. “He liked being a priest, and he liked serving as well as he could.

He was only an associate in a few parishes in our diocese, but he loved his time in parishes. Even his military assignments – a lot of them were like parishes, serving on bases.”

Father Sestito served as a military chaplain from 1967 to 1991.

From 1967 to 1991, he served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, serving in North Carolina, Washington State, Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin, Alaska, Rhode Island, Illinois and Maryland.

In 1970, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service providing worship and counsel to U.S. troops and aiding in the distribution of food and clothing to Vietnamese orphanages, schools and hospitals.

In addition to coordinating and celebrating Masses and other religious programs, and providing counsel to U.S. troops, Father Sestito’s Bronze Star Medal citation noted the priest “participated in the Civic Action Program and was instrumental in distributing large volumes of food and clothing to local orphanages, schools and hospitals.”

“His religious fervor and compassionate spirit inspired all who observed him and were a major factor in the high morale enjoyed by his command,” the citation reads.

In 1973, Father Sestito, then a lieutenant commander and stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin, became the first Navy chaplain to conduct Divine Services aboard all four the nuclear-powered surface ships in the U.S. fleet at the time, the USS Enterprise, USS Truxton, USS Long Beach and USS Bainbridge.

After his time in the military, he served as temporary administrator in two diocesan parishes before retiring and relocating to Manlius, New York, to be near family.

“He was very close to his family,” Father Muench said. “He was very good to them and very involved with them. He was very close to his parents and his two sisters, and he was also close with his nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.”

In retirement, Father Sestito continued to assist at parishes near his residence in the Diocese of Syracuse, and he stayed in contact with families he had met throughout his priesthood.

“He was always very good about keeping his closeness to the families he met along the way,” Father Muench said. “He’d visit them and stay close to them in many ways. That was important to him.”

Father Sestito immersed himself in a hobby, woodworking, in his retirement.

“I think he probably owned every woodworking machine ever invented,” Father Muench said, laughing. “He made a lot of things like chairs and bookcases. I have a bookcase he made in my room still. He made a lot of things for his family and others he stayed close to. He was very happy to do those things.”

While he was originally from outside of the Diocese of Ogdensburg and spent most of his priesthood serving away from the diocese, Father Sestito still enjoyed his connections with the North Country, Father Muench said.
“Every once in a while, he’d come with me up to the North Country for a visit,” he said.

Father Muench also remembered his friend as an avid reader who “had a thousand ideas for making the Church all that it should be. He was a nice guy. We got along very well.”


Funeral Mass is March 22
A Mass of Christian Burial For Father Joseph N. Sestito will be celebrated on Friday, March 22, 2024, at 11 a.m. at St. John the Baptist Church, Rome, New York. Bishop Terry R. LaValley, bishop of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, will be the principal celebrant, and Father Sean O’Brien, of the Diocese of Syracuse, will deliver the homily.

Reception of the Body will be on Thursday, March 21, 2024, at 4 p.m. at the church. Calling hours will follow until 6 p.m., when calling hours will conclude with the Liturgy of the Hours. Additional calling hours will be held Friday morning from 10 to 10:45 a.m.

Burial will be in Saint John the Baptist Cemetery in Rome.

Father Sestito passed away peacefully on March 13, 2024, at the age of 91.

He was born on October 20, 1932, to Joseph and Marianne (Amato) Sestito in Rome, New York. His parents predeceased him, along with brothers-in-law John Stoehr and Edwin Booton, as well as his niece, Celine Kelly McIndoe.

He is survived by his sisters, Marietta Jean Booton Stoehr and Doreen (Brian) Kelly; nieces and nephews, Debra Booton McCoy (Robert McCoy), Edwin Randolph (Sandra) Booton, Ivy (Kevin) McDonough, Bethany (Larry) Robinson, Brian (Deborah) Kelly, Kristin Kelly (Karl Hahn), and Brendan (Rebecca) Kelly; as well as many great nieces and nephews, great-great nieces and nephews, and cousins.

After graduating from Rome Free Academy in Rome, New York, he attended St. Andrew’s Seminary and St. Bernard’s Seminary, both in Rochester, New York. He then went to the Diocese of Ogdensburg, studying at Wadhams Hall from 1954-55 before going on to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland, for his theological studies. In 1959, he earned his degree in Theological Studies from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. On May 16, 1959, he was ordained into the priesthood at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg, New York.

Father Joe began priesthood as a parochial vicar at St. Patrick’s and St. Anthony’s Churches in Watertown, New York, and provided religious instruction at Immaculate Heart Academy during his time there. He later served as parochial vicar at Church of the Sacred Heart in Massena, St. Augustine’s Church in Peru, and St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid.

In 1967, Father Sestito joined the United States Navy and proudly served his country from 1967 to 1991 as a chaplain. He was a Vietnam Veteran who served at numerous naval stations, including New River, North Carolina; Marble Mountain Air Facility, Danang, Republic of Vietnam; Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, Washington; on the USS Bainbridge, Gulf of Tonkin; Naval Submarine Base New London, Connecticut; Naval Air Facility Adak, Alaska; Navy Chaplains School, Rhode Island; Great Lakes Training Center, Illinois; and Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland.

He was awarded the Bronze Star on June 12, 1970. In 1973, Father Sestito, then a lieutenant commander stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin, became the first Navy chaplain to conduct Divine Services aboard all four of the nuclear-powered surface ships in the US fleet at the time. Captain Joseph Sestito retired from the Navy on November 1, 1991.

After retiring from the Navy, Father Sestito returned to the North Country and served as temporary administrator for St. Anthony’s Church in Watertown and then St. Martin’s Church in Port Leyden, New York.

Upon his retirement, he moved to Manlius, New York, and assisted at St. Ann’s Church. After living in Manlius for about 15 years, he returned home to Rome, New York, to be closer to his two sisters. There, he assisted at St. John the Baptist Church, St. Paul’s Church, and St. Joseph’s Church (Lee Center, New York).

Father Joe was a man of many talents. As a young man, he enjoyed working WKAL radio in Rome. During his Navy years, he took classes and enjoyed oil painting. In retirement, he became a prolific woodworker, and he loved cooking. He had quite a sense of humor was always ready with a joke. More than anything, Joseph enjoyed spending time with his family, all of whom will miss him dearly.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to Catholic Relief Services at https://www.crs.org/ways-to-give or by mail at Catholic Relief Services, PO Box 5200, Harlan, IA 51593-0700.

To send condolences, please visit https://barryfuneralhome.com/

Arrangements are Barry Funeral Home, 807 West Chestnut Street, Rome, New York.


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