Joseph Pasquenza, 97, ‘Father Joe’ of McBurney Y

BY GABE HERMAN | Joseph Pasquenza, a World War II veteran who was a longtime devoted member of the McBurney YMCA and St. Francis of Assisi Church in Chelsea, died on Feb. 11. He was 97.

Pasquenza belonged to the Secular Franciscan Order. Though he wasn’t ordained, friends called him “Father Joe.”

He attended services at St. Francis of Assisi, at W. 31st St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves., and would often care for and visit homebound people in the area.

Pasquenza was born Jan. 5, 1922, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he lived his entire life. He served in World War II, attaining the rank of tech sergeant and serving under General George S. Patton.

Joseph Pasquenza in later years.

He landed on Omaha Beach during the June 1944 D-Day operations. And he was at the Siege of Bastogne in Belgium in December 1944 as part of the Battle of the Bulge.

Pasquenza did not often talk about his military years, and wouldn’t discuss horrors he had seen, such as combat or going into concentration camps.

But Pasquenza did share some stories in his later years, according to Paul Wisenthal, a longtime friend from the McBurney YMCA who is an expert in alternative and digital education resources for learning-disabled children. Pasquenza once recalled being shot at by German aircraft while riding along a road.

And Father Joe knew Patton and had conversations with him, according to Wisenthal. Pasquenza had a letter signed by the famed general and had direct contact with many senior officers, though Pasquenza didn’t discuss further details about that, Wisenthal said.

Wisenthal called Father Joe a true war hero. In later life, Pasquenza wrote about some of his war years, but Wisenthal said the descriptions often focused more on the beauty of the countryside he saw. When other soldiers went off to party, Pasquenza was interested in visiting local churches.

Joseph Pasquenza sitting atop the “Eagle’s Nest” at Hitler’s compound at the end of World War II.

“He saw the beauty of things, and I think he saw the beauty of other people,” Wisenthal said.

After returning from the war, Pasquenza joined the McBurney YMCA on W. 14 St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves., where he would be a member for 72 years. He also worked for decades at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wisenthal met Pasquenza through an old-timers group at the YMCA, and said the group would have dinners with 20-year members.

Pasquenza’s niece Elaine Villano said he loved to go out with YMCA friends during Restaurant Week, to eat in as many places as they could that would otherwise normally be unaffordable.

Villano said her uncle was also active in a church in Brooklyn. When he came home from Manhattan, he served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg. There, he also ministered to homebound persons, including longtime friends going back to childhood.

Joseph Pasquenza in training at Fort McClellan in Alabama in 1943.

Villano remembered Pasquenza as a very caring person. His father died early, around the time of Pasquenza’s military service, and for years he cared for his mother.

“He was there for whoever needed him,” Villano said.

Pasquenza never married, and is survived by two nieces and a nephew.

Villano said Pasquenza loved the city, and would take his nieces and nephew there to introduce them to spots like the Empire State Building and carriage rides in Central Park. He took her to the classic tea and pastry cafe Rumpelmayer’s on Central Park South.

“He was very into exposing us to the city, because he loved it so much,” she said.

At the McBurney YMCA, Wisenthal recalled friends huddling together in the locker room, like being around a campfire, and Father Joe would laugh and entertain everyone.

Wisenthal, too, described Father Joe as caring, but said he also had a wicked sense of humor.

“He was effervescent, he was fun-loving,” he recalled. “For a guy who was very devout and spiritual, he was a lot of fun to be around. Everyone wanted to be around him.”

He said a memorial service for Pasquenza at the McBurney YMCA drew a large turnout, including many staff members.

Villano remembered Pasquenza as always upbeat and always laughing.

“That’s how he used to answer the phone, with a laugh,” she said. “He was a happy guy.”

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