Rev. Robert Purcell
Rev. Robert H. Purcell, a former pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Margaretville, who was responsible for fostering an interfaith initiative throughout the Catskill Community, died July 17, 2014. Due to his ecumenical efforts, our region was blessed with good will and mutual respect among various religious factions.
The friends enjoyed by the Father were not exclusively to Catholic Parishioners, and his annual Passover celebrations were enormously popular. He was 80 years and resided in Villa Shalom in Roxbury where he had created an adoration chapel in honor of the blessed mother for whom he held a special devotion his entire life.
Father Bob’s path to the priesthood was circuitous one, unique from the typical calling heard by most young men. Born April 13, 1934 to Francis J Purcell and Aldea “Mim” Heroux, who were married in St Joseph’s Church, Cohoes on July 30, 1933, he attended and graduated from St Joseph’s Academy, Cohoes, Christian Brothers Academy, Albany, St. Thomas Prep School, Bloomfield, CT, St. Mary’s University, Baltimore MD, Siena College, Loudenville, Our Lady of Angels, Glenmont, and St Bonaventure University, Olean.
A serious student and academic, he held master’s degrees in English, history, languages, education and theology. Father Bob taught at La Salle Institute, Troy and Queensbury High School, Queensbury. Sought after as an esteemed lecturer, he appeared at the University of Montreal, Canada; the Foreign Exchange School of Gstaad, Switzerland; the American School, Paris, France and the Foreign Exchange School Rome Italy.
In 1970 he left his post as Superintendent of Schools in Averill Park to enter the seminary. His ordination was celebrated at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, Albany in 1975 by Bishop Edwin Broderick and his first assignment as Associate Pastor was to St. Alphonsus Parish in Glens Falls.
Upon his arrival his new parish began to benefit immediately with the initiation of the annual bazaar and the formation of the St Alphonsus Action Group. The Reverend Purcell became President of the Glens Falls interfaith Clergy Association and a member of the St Alphonsus Board of Education, the Executive Board of Warren and Washington Counties Community Action Agency; the Board of Directors for the Emergency Housing Agency in Glens Falls, the Warren County Social Services Advisory Counsel; the Board for the Albany Diocese Council on Aging; the Advisory Council for Warren county day care centers; and Assistant Principal at St Alphonsus School.
He served as Director of Alter Services at St Joseph’s Parish for 14 years; Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Angels Seminary; and Dean of Deaconate Class of Christ the King Seminary in Olean. He was a member of the United Commercial Travelers of America since 1965 as well as the Sectaries of America and was a past counselor of U.C.T.
Appointed Pastor of Sacred Heart in July 1978, upon his arrival in Margaretville “Father Bob”, as he was affectionately known, discovered a rectory in dreadful repair, plagued with collapsing walls, crumbling bathroom facilities, a leaking roof, and a cellar full of unholy water.
As if this situation wasn’t sufficiently challenging, at their first meeting, the reigning Parish Council presented Father with a “wish list” of projects that members were hoping to accomplish. Upon inspecting the three churches that comprised the parish (Sacred Heart, Margaretville; St Ann’s Andes; and Our Lady of Good Counsel, Roxbury), and tallying the total mid-summer collections totaling $300, the good reverend began to have serious questions concerning the sanity of the council members after being ensconced only one short week.
Miraculously, tenacity and good humor prevailed. Last on the original list of goals of presented at the initial Parish Council meeting, The Purcell Center is now the pride and joy of parishioners and the community at large. Utilized for religious instruction, meetings and social functions, the Purcell Center is considered one of the most prominent achievements of Father Bob’s tenure.
Other highlights of his 25 years as Pastor include significant improvements to each church:
St Ann’s, Andes-boasts myriad aesthetic updates including a new roof, interior and exterior painting, a new sanctuary and light fixtures and a new organ.
Our Lady of Good Counsel, Roxbury sold its old rectory to help facilitate cosmetic repairs, including a new paint job and sidewalks as well as a new sanctuary, carillons, public address system and organ.
Sacred Heart, Margaretville undertook roof repairs, the installation of flagstone terraces, carillons, a new organ and public address system. The parishioners are particularly proud of the magnificent stained glass windows. Additionally, the rectory was totally remodeled.
These monumental projects could not have been accomplished without the enormous increase in parish enrollment. In his first 10 years as pastor, the number of families jumped from 180 to 513 and is still growing. During this timeframe, the number of children attending the Religious Education program nearly doubled from 51 to 97.
Rev. Purcell was named Dean of Delaware County in December 1978 through July 2002. Due to medical reasons, he retired as pastor in 2002.
Beloved as a counselor and spiritual mentor to his flock, Father Bob always had uplifting words of reassurance for those seeking guidance. One parishioner crystallized the feeling of many; having suffered the devastating loss of his wife in a tragic accident, the gentleman shared his feelings with a friend commenting, “15 minutes with Father Bob is better than hours of conversation with a therapist.”
In thanksgiving to the community that gave so much to him and his mother, Father Bob donated the new emergency wing to the Margaretville Memorial Hospital in memory of his mother and father, Francis J. and Alde “Mim” Purcell in 2009.
It is appropriate that calling hours will be held at his residence, Villa Shalom, in Roxbury. “Rev. Robert H Purcell will lie in state from noon until 8 p.m. on Saturday July 19, 2014.
A Mass of the Resurrection will be held at 12 noon on Sunday July 20, 2014 at Our Lady’s Chapel in Villa Shalom.
A memorial Mass will be held 11 a.m. on Thursday July 24, 2014 at Holy Trinity Church, 122 Vliet Blvd. Cohoes. Burial will follow at St Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterford.
Funeral arrangements are entrusted to the Miller Funeral Home Roxbury.