On June 18, 2007, Joseph Staudt arrived in Cutchogue to begin his new role as vicar of the Parish of the Sacred Heart. Later this month, after leading the congregation for 16 years, he will retire and begin a new phase in his life.
Interviews with parishioners indicated that he was very impressed, and his sermons focused on God’s love for everyone, forgiveness, and social justice, as well as his focus on Spanish-speaking parishioners, were well received community to church.
In a conversation ahead of Sunday’s retirement party at the American Legion Post 803 in Southold, known as “Father Joe,” he spoke of the coming to an end of his years as a busy parish priest time expectations.
“When the pastor is away, I’m supporting in various parishes,” he said at a celebratory dinner a week ago at the home of a congregation in Cutchogue. “It’s definitely going to be different than what I’ve been doing as a pastor. I’m going to keep working, but it’s going to be a new role.”
In 2019, the Suffolk Times named Father Joe its Person of the Year for 2019, calling him a “true friend to all” who came to a troubled parish to help heal the wounds of a priest abuse scandal and served as The bishop welcomes the congregation as they leave the church and return to the sheepfold.
In his spare time – which is limited as he is both priest of the Sacred Heart and Church of Our Lady of Ostrabrama RC in Cutchogue – He teaches English as a second language to students who meet him on the second floor of the Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library.
Father Joe, who speaks Spanish as does his successor, Father Michael Bartholomew, has been pastor of the RC Church of the Immaculate Conception in Westhampton Beach and will begin work in the parish of the Sacred Heart later this month.
“Father Mike will continue what we’ve been doing to encourage Spanish speakers to come to Mass and bring their families,” Father Joe said at a recent dinner in Mattituck.
In the 2019 story of Father Joe being named Person of the Year, he talks about serving as a pastor in a parish in Commack and being reassigned to Cutchogue. He said he was terrified of starting over in a new place, worried that he wouldn’t be up to the task.
“I’ve been with Commack for 10 years,” he said at the time. “A lot of things have shifted. Now I’m touched. I’m told they’re having problems there. I don’t think it’s enough.”
Historically, there were two churches in the Parish of the Sacred Heart, the Sacred Heart in Cutchogue and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck. A number of priests who had served in the parish had been identified in a 2002 Suffolk County grand jury report on sexual abuse by priests.
In many key respects, Father Joe is on a mission to restore the trust of a diocese whose trust has been violated. He succeeded by all accounts, and his sermons centered on God’s love, forgiveness, and redemption.
He didn’t tire of talking about the problems and difficulties in his own family — issues familiar to many who sat in the pew and listened to his Sunday sermon.
At a recent Cutchogue dinner, one guest summed up a familiar theme when he said, “Father Joe, we will miss you. We hope you don’t leave us.”