A Humble and Holy Salesian of Don Bosco

Fr. Occhio Saints Next Door
Fr. Occhio
Mariel Cabrera and Fr. Occhio
Photo by Mariel Cabrera

By Mariel Cabrera, Coordinator of Youth Ministry, St. Benedict’s Parish, Etobicoke, ON

Fr. Joseph Occhio, SDB ministered to my godbrother, Joseph Sigmund Occasion, during his short and intense battle with cancer in 2000. My father, who is a Don Bosco past pupil, knocked on the doors of St. Benedict's seeking for Fr. Kelly, who was pastor at the time, to administer the sacrament of the sick for my godbrother after we all received news of his poor prognosis. Fr. Occhio opened the door, and, to our surprise, this jovial elderly priest was ready, willing, and fit to accompany our family to the hospital where other members were waiting. He first introduced himself as Fr. "Pin" Occhio so it would be easy for us to remember his name. Always traveling with a snack bag of grapes, crackers, and a Rosary, he often spent time with our family in the hospital, where Joseph Sigmund stayed.

Fr. Occhio’s pastoral love for my godbrother and our family, particularly his mom and dad, was pure love in action. They (we) felt a sense of peace whenever he led our family through prayers in the hospital room or Mass in the hospital chapel during Joseph Sigmund’s two-month cancer battle before his passing on May 5, 2000. Fr. Occhio wrote a beautiful article on the short yet blessed life of Joseph Sigmund. There, Fr. Occhio shares how he saw the holy face of Jesus, like on the Shroud of Turin, on Joseph Sigmund’s face, who wore a smile on his face when he died at just 23 years old.

With all this in mind, Fr. Occhio holds a very special place in both my and my family’s hearts. He remains a household name, and we continue to share fond memories of him around family gatherings or when we reminisce about the good old days. His perfect and permanent infectious smile, his full body shake when he laughs, his shuffle when he walks, his expressions like “marvellous” or "well helloooww," and his strong bear hugs are iconic to Fr. Occhio. I was also amazed at how quickly he responded to emails and stayed in touch with youth and young adults. His quick wit and humour truly made him a model Salesian.

Fr. Occhio also gave the best penances. Admittedly, I went to Fr. Occhio for confession because of his gentle nature, wise advice, and easy penance. He knew how occupied and crazy my work schedule was that it would often lead me to sin, to which his penance to me was to turn off my phone and sleep. He knew a person’s heart and saw the entirety of one’s brokenness.

Another one of the many things I fondly remember about Fr. Occhio is his daily intention during vespers with the community. He voiced the same prayer every evening, which is to pray for families everywhere in their struggles and adversities to remember that God remains in the centre of their unit and that families continue to live and spread good family values. Fr. Occhio believed that charity starts at home and in service to one another and the love shared among each other, families, especially children, are able to move the Church in miraculous ways. Thus, he lived as a truly remarkable, humble, and holy Salesian of Don Bosco.

September 29, 2021 - 8:37am

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