Obituary: Father John E. Sassani, pastor in Newton

A priest loved by his parishioners in two Newton parishes: Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians, and known across the archdiocese for his many years as director of the Office for Spiritual Development, Father John E. Sassani died at Massachusetts General Hospital on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019.

Born in Lynn on Oct. 29, 1954, he was the son of Nicholas and the late Natalie (Cashman) Sassani and brother of Martha Lausier of Salem, his only sibling. He was raised in Swampscott and attended the parish elementary school at St. John the Evangelist and high school at St. John Preparatory School in Danvers.

He completed his seminary formation both college and theologate, at St. John, Brighton. Humberto Cardinal Medeiros ordained him to the priesthood at the Holy Cross Cathedral on June 14, 1980.

His first assignment was as an associate at Sacred Heart Parish, Roslindale. A short three years later, he was assigned to graduate studies in liturgy at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at San Anselmo in Rome. A fine student, he nevertheless really preferred parish ministry and returned to the archdiocese in 1984 and was appointed parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Parish, Winthrop. After seven happy and fruitful years at Winthrop, he was named director of the Archdiocesan Office of Spiritual Development.

Overseeing the office known to many in the archdiocese for its many programs, perhaps best known of those the widely saluted parish retreat program. He had a full time staff of women religious and laity; and an expanded staff of volunteers, including auxiliary bishops, priests, permanent deacons, religious sisters, and brothers and laity who constituted the retreat teams.

He was a much sought after speaker and spiritual director, especially among priests of the archdiocese. He received a master's degree in spirituality from Creighton University as well.

He was possessed of a wonderful preaching ability and an equally developed sense of humor. And he could laugh at himself readily and easily.

While serving as director, he lived in residence at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Newton until 2003, when he took on the added responsibility of administrator of St. Therese of Lisieux, Sherborn, while remaining as Spiritual Development Office director.

In April 2006, he returned to Newton briefly as moderator of a Team Ministry and then as pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish. Named pastor of the parish later that year, he has served with his usual mild demeanor and enduring patience gaining him high marks from parishioners and visitors to the highly visible parish, a landmark along the Massachusetts Turnpike. In 2013, he was named as pastor of Sacred Heart in Newton while remaining as pastor at Our Lady's.

Once again, his considerable talents served well to bring about a smooth transition as two large parishes began to share one pastor and parochial vicar and several resident priests.

Within the past two years, he developed memory problems, but was able to maintain his regular schedule at the parish, especially with the help of the priests in both rectories. Only a few weeks ago had his health failed to such a degree that he had to move from the rectory to an extended care family.

He suffered a massive stroke during Holy Week and was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital. His condition was so completely compromised that all that could be done was to keep him comfortable.

He died on Easter Sunday returning to the House of the Father in the early morning hours.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was the celebrant of Father Sassani's Funeral Mass at his home parish, St. John the Evangelist, Swampscott on April 26, 2019. Longtime friend from seminary days, Father John J. Ahern, pastor of St. Gregory, Dorchester, served as the homilist.

In addition to many priests who joined the cardinal as concelebrants, family from Swampscott and friends from across the archdiocese filled the Swampscott church for the funeral Mass.

Following the funeral Mass, Father Sassani was buried in Swampscott Cemetery, Swampscott.