Murdered Former Cape Pastor’s Funeral Draws Hundreds

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A standing-room-only crowd jammed St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth for the funeral Mass of a former pastor murdered in Texas last month.

Father Bill Costello, 71, was remembered for his sense of humor, kindness, and individualism at the parish where he formed close connections with congregants over a dozen years.

“Bill had many homes, and many families. But this house was clearly among the most special to him. It is reassuring to us that he is in a place where he is well-remembered, safe, and above all, deeply loved,” said Russell Carey, Costello’s cousin, during a eulogy Monday morning at the Cape Cod church.

Costello grew up with four siblings and two cousins “in a crowded, but loving home” in Florence, a village of the city of Northampton in western Massachusetts, Carey said, “in the way of extended Irish-American families — mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings blended together in a shared experience that lasts forever.”

“Even as life unfolded in different and varied paths, and second, third, and fourth generations were added to the mix, the shared values of love, integrity, and caring for each other that were forged in that tiny house have remained strong and constant,” Carey said. “Bill lived those values, and he shared them as gifts with thousands of people over his lifetime, even at great risk to himself.”

Carey said Costello was warm and open.

“He was a connector – the kind of person who even if you hadn’t seen him in years you could talk to, as if the separation had only been for a few minutes,” Carey said. “He knew how important that sense of connection is. And earlier this summer he gave our family one last gift, when he organized a family reunion. We were so grateful for that chance to be together. Time with Bill was precious, especially when he was taken from us such a short time later.”

Carey offered background on a recent photo of the priest that appeared in many places on the Internet.

“Many of you may have seen the photograph of Bill that was used in the desperate weeks when he was missing. That picture was taken at the reunion. And while on the poster, it was just his beautiful, smiling face, the full picture shows Bill holding a giant platter of barbecued chicken, ready to share with his family,” Carey said. “That image, to me, is Bill Costello:  Present in the moment, joyful in what he is doing, thinking of others, feeding the hungry, living his life in service.”

Costello was a popular pastor at St. Anthony’s from 1999 to 2011, when he was transferred to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Seekonk. He wasn’t long there when he ran into difficulty, including an investigation by the Rhode Island State Police that did not lead to charges. Bishop George Coleman, who was the bishop of the Fall River diocese at the time, asked Costello to retire early, saying Costello had made an error in judgment, although the bishop emphasized it had nothing to do with abuse of minors. Neither civil nor church authorities have ever said publicly what the problem was.

A few years ago Costello retired to South Padre Island, Texas, a resort town of about 2,800 people about 28 miles northeast of the city of Brownsville, which is on the border with Mexico. A 580-square-foot condominium he owned there is appraised at about $95,000.

Costello went missing August 1 after going out to walk his dog, Grace, at his condominium complex.

Costello’s body was found by police in a shallow grave August 17 in a rural area in Willacy County in south Texas, about an hour drive away from his home.

A 27-year-old south Texas man, Juan Carlos Baez Escobedo, has been charged with capital murder in the case. Authorities have released few details so far.

“There will be time in another room, thousands of miles from here, for judgment, as to what happened to end his life,” Carey said in his eulogy Monday. “Today, in this room, as we welcome Bill Costello home, to a most well-deserved place of rest, we ask that you join our family in remembering and being grateful for how he lived his life:  giving to others, until he had nothing more to give.”

Monsignor Daniel Hoye, retired pastor of a nearby church, said during the sermon that he knew Father Costello for more than 50 years – which is why when he first heard he was missing he didn’t think much of it, figuring it was “just Bill being Bill.” When Costello turned 50, Hoye said, he disappeared for a time, and only later did Hoye find out that Costello had gone to Alaska on a cruise, alone.

Costello’s body was cremated, which is unusual for a Catholic priest. The Mass took place in the presence of a small box containing his remains.

Hoye recalled Costello saying that he didn’t want to be buried in full priestly vestments, the way most priests are, because it would be a waste of money. “And besides,” Costello told Hoye, “if Jesus doesn’t know that I’m a priest without my vestments, then I’m in trouble.”

Hoye praised Costello for his commitment to service of others. As a young priest, Hoye said, Costello was once assigned to bring communion to 120 people a month. He did it. As a hospital chaplain in Attleboro, Costello told doctors and nurses to let him know not only about Catholic patients but also anyone else who needed him.

Hoye said that after a natural disaster elsewhere in the world Costello was so moved by the pictures on television that he told his congregation at St. Anthony’s:  “I don’t have a lot of money, but I’m pledging $1,000 to this collection.”

“He urged the folks to be generous, and they were,” Hoye said, saying St. Anthony’s sent more than $38,000 to Catholic Relief Services, an astounding sum for a special collection.

Hoye said the arrangements for the funeral Mass reflected Costello’s personality.

“Bill selected the readings from Scripture that we just heard. And in classic Costello fashion, not one of them is from the list of suggested readings,” Hoye said, to laughter.

The first reading was Ecclesiastes 3:1-11. The second reading was the First Letter of St. John 4:7-16. The Gospel reading was John 21:1-19.

“Ecclesiastes was written by an anonymous Hebrew, but I always say it could have been written by a fatalistic Irishman – ‘There is a time to live and a time to die’,” Hoye said. “I can almost hear Bill say, ‘That’s how it is.’ His time to die, and his way to die, would not be of our choosing. But it is what it is. We gather today not to focus on that, but to thank God for putting Bill into our lives.”

“The Letter of John is Bill speaking to each one of us this morning:  ‘Because love is of God. And this is love:  not that we have loved God, but because God has loved us’,” Hoye said. “God’s love does not depend on what we do, but what God does for us. And Bill knew that he was loved by God.”

Hoye suggested Costello had flaws:

“As several speakers at John McCain’s funeral reminded us, the senator was not perfect. And we don’t proclaim perfection for Bill Costello. But we do proclaim he was much loved by God, and loved by us.”

The Gospel reading from John describes a time when the disciples of Jesus failed at fishing until Jesus told them to put their nets over the right side of the boat, and they caught an astonishing number of fish.

“Not that Bill ever went to the right side of any political issue,” Hoye said, to laughter. “But he did follow Jesus, and how Jesus directed him in his many and varied ministries. We say goodbye and farewell to him today, and ask the Lord to welcome him into paradise, and give him rest now and forever.”

Hymns, which Costello also selected, included “Lord of All Hopefulness” and “How Can I Keep From Singing?”

At the Prayers of the Faithful, Deacon Tom Palanza went to the lectern and started reading from a piece of paper on top. He was three sentences into a passage from the middle of the sermon Monsignor Hoye had just given, when he realized something was amiss.

“I have the wrong paper,” he said, to raucous laughter.

“And I think Bill would like that, too.”

A longtime friend of Costello’s, Father Richard Roy, a pastor in Dartmouth, was the main celebrant of the funeral Mass. More than two dozen priests concelebrated, including the vicar general of the Diocese of Fall River, Father Greg Mathias, who passed along condolences from the current bishop, Edgar da Cunha.

He also told a story about a threadbare and tattered old vestment of his called an alb, which he found a new use for a couple of months ago.

“And I took that vestment and I folded it up and I put it in a box, and I wrote with a sharpie, ‘Bury me in this’,” Mathias said. “That alb was purchased with money Bill gave me about 29 years ago. He wrote me a check for $200 – I was a seminarian — and he said, ‘Go buy an alb.’ And I used that most of my priesthood. … Just a little story about his generosity.”

At the end of Mass the priests sang a cappella a Latin hymn called “Salve Regina.”

Costello’s remains were buried in the clergy section at the back of the parish cemetery of St. Anthony’s, which is behind the church, after a walking procession that included a couple of hundred mourners.


[Editor’s Note:  The first name of the principal eulogist has been corrected from the version of the story originally published. His name is Russell Carey.]