All it took was a phone call for Joseph Rodrigues to know Rev. James Robert Bocchino was the man to lead St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Apponaug.
Last July Rev. John Pallard called a meeting with the Wardens at St. Barnabas to announce he’d be leaving at the end of September.
“At that point we started communicating with the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island,” said Rodrigues, who was then the parish’s senior warden, in a recent interview. “Bishop [W. Nicholas] Knisely had just been elected to the office but understood the situation and had a recommendation almost immediately.”
Rodrigues said Bishop Knisely knew a priest serving in Maine who lived in Rhode Island.
“He had been serving there for about eight months and his wife was still living at their residence and working here; we can all imagine what a toll this can take on any family,” said Rodrigues.
The executive committee of St. Barnabas set up a phone interview that was followed a couple of weeks later with a second face-to-face meeting at St. Barnabas.
“It was a wonderful meeting and we all knew right away he was just the person we needed at St. Barnabas,” Rodrigues recalled. “He will only be with us a short time, he will be retiring soon with his wife Barbara but we are thrilled Father Jim and Barbara will be with us for a while.”
On June 22 the St. Barnabas community packed the 125-year-old Episcopal Church for the 30th Anniversary of the Ordination of the Rev. James Robert Bocchino.
Rodrigues – along with former Senior Warden Stanley Schofield – greeted parishioners and guests for the special service conducted by Bishop Knisely.
For Rodrigues, it was a special service to celebrate Father Jim’s 30th anniversary of his ordination and to also honor “a priest that has brought new change to this church.”
“He is very focused on youth,” Rodrigues said. “The first Sunday of each month is Youth Sunday; the children participate in the entire service. They serve as ushers, greeters and even do the ready. We started new ministries and are reaching out to help the community. There are a lot of new changes at St. Barnabas, thanks to Father Jim.”
Bishop Knisely shared his impressions.
“At my very first encounter with Father Jim, I knew that I liked him,” Knisely said. “He struck me as the classic ‘priest’s priest.’ He works hard, loves his people and adores the children in his care. Over the few years that I’ve know him now, my admiration has grown into a deep respect for his wisdom and his commitment to Our Lord and his Church. Jim is a wise and trusted counselor to many in Rhode Island, including the present bishop.”
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, who is active in the Episcopal Diocese in Rhode Island, recalled, “We started working together when I was on the standing committee and he was on the diocesan council.”
“That friendship grew through a process of bringing Bishop Knisely here. That friendship continued to grow and I was really sad when he left Christ Church in Westerly and went to Maine,” he said.
But like Rodrigues and Bishop Knisely, Avedisian sees Father Jim as the perfect fit for St. Barnabas.
“People at St. Barnabas need to be loved,” Avedisian said. “They need someone who’s very pastoral and I can’t think of anyone better than Jim Bocchino.”
The Warwick mayor is elated that Father Jim has come to St. Barnabas for yet another reason.
“We now have great relations between the church and City Hall,” Avedisian continued. “We’re going back to the relationship we used to have.”
Among the things that Father Jim and Avedisian have added to that list is the ground level Schweitzer Hall at St. Barnabas, which will now be used as a polling location.
“That will give people who walk into St. Barnabas a good feeling for what’s going on there,” he said.
St. Barnabas and the city of Warwick, as Avedisian explained, “have a partnership with the adjacent park as well as the parking lot that was formed some 40 years ago.”
The park, the mayor said, “will stay a park. We didn’t want any more asphalt in Apponaug; that will stay as green space. The city has always had a great relationship with St. Barnabas and we’re back to that same relationship again.”
The Rev. Susan M. Carpenter, who was the associate pastor when Father Jim was the interim rector at St. John’s in Barrington, also assisted Bishop Knisely and Rev. Bocchino during the anniversary service.
“As a mentor, Jim offered me so much wisdom and many practical suggestions from his years in the ministry,” said Rev. Carpenter. “We made pastoral calls together and his style of taking care of home-bound parishioners, those in the hospital and those in crisis really resonated with me. His simple advice to me to just love my parishioners rings true over and over again in my parish today.”
Rev. Carpenter, who is the current pastor at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Greenville, added, “Today’s service was really wonderful. It was simple and straightforward and quite appropriate for Jim.”
Sunday was also special – and a reunion for Schofield, who first met Father Jim 30 years ago at his ordination.
“I have known Father Jim for most of the 30 years since he was ordained by Bishop George Hunt on June 23, 1984 at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence,” Schofield said. “In fact, I just discovered by looking at pictures in his scrapbook that I had actually taken part by serving as a Eucharistic minister at that service.”
Schofield, who now serves as parish treasurer, added, “Then last year when Father Pallard left and relocated to Florida, I was delighted to learn that Father Jim was available and coming to St. Barnabas. I knew then how fortunate we were to be able to have a person of his experience, dedication and outstanding reputation coming to be our priest in charge. Father Jim is highly respected within our diocese and is a very dedicated pastor to his congregation. It was a real privilege for us to be able to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his ordination with a special service and reception in his honor, with Bishop Knisely in attendance.”