The community is mourning the sudden loss of pastor and friend, Fr. Pete Rossa, who collapsed during Mass Sept. 12 at St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale.
Fr. Rossa died the following day. He was 52.
Fr. Rossa’s vocation was a “late” one by some standards, being ordained at 38. Priesthood actually came fairly quickly, however, considering he went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults only a few years prior to seminary.
Before he was ordained in 2003, he spent several years in the Air Force before dedicating his life to the Church. Fr. Rossa was pastor of St. Bernadette for the last decade.
The Diocese of Phoenix, in a message on its website and social media, called Fr. Rossa “a modern-day missionary, bringing people closer to Jesus Christ.”
“The Catholic community is mourning the passing of the beloved pastor, friend and family member, Fr. Pete Rossa,” it said. “He will be missed by many. Most recently, Fr. Pete devoted much time and energy to building a beautiful church at St. Bernadette in Scottsdale. He is remembered in saying:
“If I were to die tomorrow, it would be my sincerest hope that I not be remembered for this church, but that I would be remembered for brining you closer to Jesus Christ because that is our mission, that is our hope, that is our longing at the core of our faith.”
Fr. Rossa poured his heart into strengthening parish life, most especially by building St. Bernadette’s first permanent church. It was a long-envisioned dream fulfilled exactly 13 months prior to his death. He lovingly chronicled the building and interior decoration on his personal Facebook page. Priesthood and photography had long gone hand in hand.
Fr. Rossa spearheaded the two-man production crew for the annual Seminary Appreciation Dinner video at Mount Angel in Oregon. His partner: a fellow Phoenix seminarian.
“He had a very gentle manner as well as a good eye for a video story and a good photograph as well as a great knowledge of contemporary Catholic music, which was the soundtrack of the video,” said Fr. Kilian McCaffrey.
Hundreds of guests eagerly awaited the annual video and the pair produced three together until Fr. Rossa’s ordination in 2003. He was excited about a new camera on order — he was to break it in during a pilgrimage to Rome next month — and had recently embraced the idea of offering a formal portrait to couples who he marries. He heard about a priest photographer in the Midwest doing the same thing.
The hobby was a distant second to ensuring people of all ages came to know and love the Lord. He echoed God’s call for people to be saints and hoped that “I would be remembered for bringing you closer to Jesus Christ.”
Countless comments and memories the faithful shared on Facebook describe St. Bernadette’s new church and how Fr. Rossa ensured that every detail pointed people back to God. He had no problem hearing a confession before a bride walked down the aisle, had sharp paintball skills and let no obstacle prevent him from helping lead people, teens especially, closer to Christ.
Several people recalled his first Life Teen retreat with St. Bernadette. Fr. Rossa was playing basketball and somehow injured his Achilles tendon prior to the retreat’s Mass and Adoration. Youth leaders wondered what they would do without a priest, when low and behold, they got an email saying he was on his way back from the hospital, crutches and all.
“He always loved to be with the kids. Anything he could do to further the youth ministry,” said Craig Colson, who was music director at that retreat. The pair also served together during the priest’s seminary days at Christ the King in Mesa and knew of each other while at St. Maria Goretti in Scottsdale where Fr. Rossa went through RCIA.
Julie Carrick and her husband, Kurt, knew Fr. Rossa from daily Mass at St. Bernadette and from their visits to his seminary where they offered evenings of reflection with music. That included a semi-private session for seminarians like Fr. Rossa, who missed the session due to commitments with their ministry.
Carrick later sang “Hands of a Priest” at his diaconate ordination. It touched Fr. Rossa so much, that he recently requested it be sung at his funeral someday.
“His greatest gift was how he brought other people’s gifts forward. He allowed the Body of Christ to be exemplified,” Carrick said.
Fr. Rossa spoke fondly of his journey to build St. Bernadette. “It was like watching the groom prepare his house for his bride … he wanted it to be the best.”
It was an encounter at The King’s House, a religious goods store in Scottsdale, where his priestly vocation got a gentle nudge. “He asked me to bless some items he’d bought. We began talking and I suggested he come and visit with me downtown,” said Fr. Rob Clements, who was diocesan director of vocations at the time. He applied to seminary three months later.
Fr. Rossa’s strong principles and love for the Church and spiritual theology even comforted Fr. Clements earlier this year when the pair talked about the phenomena of evil presence. Fr. Rossa reminded him: “The devil’s far more afraid of a priest than a priest is of him. … Don’t be afraid to pray with your people … take courage in Jesus.”
The main “demon” Fr. Rossa dealt with in seminary was his green Saturn. He finally scraped up enough money for a used car, but it seemingly had a mind of its own. Fr. McCaffrey explained that the wipers would work only if the sunroof was open and other oddities both real and imagined.
“He took it all in stride and in good humor. He always loved to be at the center of the fun,” Fr. McCaffrey explained. Just prior to ordination, Fr. Rossa showed up with a brand new silver Honda Accord.
“As he drove by, he had such a joyful expression on his face. He had run the race, he had fought the good fight and he had finished well.”
Fr. Peter Rossa (1964-2017)
Born: Oct. 23, 1964
Ordained: June 7, 2003
Assignments: Parochial vicar at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Scottsdale and St. Timothy, Mesa; pastor at St. Bernadette since 2007.
Died: Sept. 13, 2017
Visitation: 3-7 p.m., Sept. 21 with a Rosary at 7 p.m., St. Bernadette Parish, 16245 N. 60th St., Scottsdale
Funeral Mass: 10 a.m., Sept. 22, St. Bernadette
Memorial contributions: Diocese of Phoenix — Sanctity of Life, (602) 354-2355 or email@example.com