It could have been a night of tears.
Father Paul McDonnell made sure it wasn't.
McDonnell, a longtime fixture in the Greater Pittston religious community, boarded a plane Thursday to his new assignment.
On Wednesday night, he bid farewell to his congregation.
As you journey from the East, will you be bringing gold, frankincense, or myrrh? one parishioner playfully asked, comparing him to one of the Wise Men that visited Jesus after his birth.
Not missing a beat, McDonnell responded, Golf clubs.
McDonnell, 48, left for California on Jan. 10. His new assignment is at St. Joseph Marello Parish, Granite Bay, Calif. in the Diocese of Sacramento.
He helped preside over his final weekly novena to St. Joseph Marello and addressed the monthly meeting of the Josephite-Marellian Laity Association right after the Mass. I'm a little uncomfortable using the word final, he said. Eventually, I'll be back, but know that I want to be where God wants me to be.
He was happy to see so many people he loves come to say goodbye.
These are people you see all the time, you've seen their joys and sorrows, every one of them that came up, he said. I've buried their husbands. I've married their children. I've baptized their babies.
As he stepped to deliver his final local sermon, he commented on the large attendance and all the Oblate priests that were participating in the Mass. And he noticed how solemn everything was.
It's almost like a Funeral Mass for Notre Dame, he said, referring to his favorite college football team getting clobbered earlier in the week.
He stressed it's not a farewell, but sharing in communion.
We are all called to be evangelizers, to spread the word of God by the living of our lives, no matter what that may involve, he said. And the sacrifices that we may encounter.
He said he could compare himself to his order's founder, St. Joseph Marello.
Our congregation was only 10 years old, when he received a notice that the Holy Father wanted him to be the new Bishop of Acqui, he said. St. Joseph Marello had to say goodbye. It was difficult, but he teaches us to be open to God's will, to be open to divine providence.
Gerri Hodle of Kingston said she lost her son and husband in the matter of a year.
I asked God to help me through this and Father Paul was there, she said. I had to come and say goodbye. I'm not sure I would have gotten through it all without Father Paul.
Chip Clarke of Exeter said her son Jeffrey and Father Paul went to school together and their families practically lived next door to each other.
My son always tells me the story of when they'd be out playing football and they were always looking for Paul to play with them, she said. He was always going into his house, downstairs, where he had an altar. He used to recite the Mass. He wanted to be a priest from Day One.
She's sorry to see him go.
He touched everybody's lives in this area, she said. But our loss is their gain.
Loretta Joyce of Dupont sang at McDonnell's ordination at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Exeter.
He has a connection with everyone, she said. Everyone has a Father Paul story.
McDonnell talked about the recent Epiphany, which the Roman Catholic celebrated last weekend.
We celebrated the journey of the Magi, he said. A journey that was certainly difficult and arduous. But they persevered. It was really a celebration of perseverance in their faith. They were convinced that God would be at the end of their journey. We realized that God wasn't only at the end of the journey, he was in the journey.
Since his ordination, Father Paul was stationed in his hometown, something he called a blessing.
And to be able to intersect with so many individuals and so many families, those are epiphany moments for us.
He said the Oblate community he is leaving is filled with missionaries and priests from other parts of the world.
Father Jackson Pinheiro, OSJ, came from India .
Father Alvaro De Oliveira came from Brazil.
Father Joe Sibilano came from Italy.
Father Phil Masetti came from California.
Now there's a need in California. I'm kind of like the Magi, I'm coming from the East, he joked.
Then he got serious.
The Magi weren't always sure of the route they were taking, but they followed the star, he said. And they trusted that God would guild them. That's what I'm doing. God is guiding me.
He said he's looking forward to meeting his new parish.
I bet a lot of those parishioners were probably Googling this McDonnell guy, he told the Association and guests at a reception after the Mass and novena.
He was at his new church once before, at the dedication in October of 2011.
That was a wonderful opportunity. Little did I think that I'd be going there to serve them, he said. But, from the time I was with them, the few hours, I was very much impressed by their energy, their faith, their enthusiasm. So just that glimpse of the parish that I had a year ago really impressed me.
The Oblate community in America is in the middle of a major restructuring and McDonnell has found himself squarely in the middle.
The East Coast Province, based here in Pittston, and the West Coast Province, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., are being merged into one.
That will become official around the Feast of St. Joseph, when a new leader is selected.
McDonnell is seen as a likely candidate to head the newly formed United States Providence, as he served as East Coast provincial superior from 2003-2010 and sits on an international commission as the North American representative at the Congregation's central headquarters in Rome. He has also worked in the order's parishes and seminaries.
McDonnell's new assignment has him taking over St. Joseph Marello Parish in Granite Bay, Calif. The brand new church, which was only dedicated in October of 2011, has about 800 families.
McDonnell will be living at a sprawling hilltop seminary of the Oblates of St. Joseph, Mount St. Joseph in Loomis, Calif.
The Rev. Phil Masetti is the pastor of St. Barbara's Parish on the West Side, but he's originally from the California region where McDonnell is heading.
Father Paul is going to be taking the room that I left three years ago, Masetti said. It's beautiful there, but a little quieter than here.
Masetti is the East Coast Provincial Superior, but his term will end in March when the two provinces are merged and a new superior is selected.
He praised McDonnell's ministry.
His leadership and his organization will be missed, Masetti said. He puts his heart and soul in whatever is given to him.
We're sorry to see him go, but I know he'll really be helping out the guys over there.
The Seminary in Laflin will continue to be maintained by the priests that are there, primarily the Rev. Daniel Schwebs, OSJ.
Mike Mancos of West Wyoming said he knew Father Paul since he was an altar boy.
I'm very upset he's leaving, Manco said. I just hope it's temporary.
Jasmine Mikita of West Pittston has known Father Paul since he was born.
My husband was his coach in Little League, she said. Eventually, he buried my husband.
She said he's a nice, friendly priest. Whenever you see him, he always had a kind word to say.
And everybody wants him to speak at their funeral.
Father Paul told the 60 people gathered at his sendoff that it wasn't a farewell.
It's really a celebration of unity and being there for each other and helping one another.
For additional pictures, see Pages 24, 25 and 27