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Parishioners honor pastor with insults

The Rev. Stephen S. Josoma is known for spraying parishioners with water guns, talking endlessly about his kidney stones, and a love of neatness that borders on obsession.

Jocular and outspoken, Josoma, the pastor at St. Susanna Parish in Dedham, did not want a ceremony from his flock, which was looking for a way to celebrate his being named the town's man of the year by a local newspaper.

So to honor him, they insulted him.

At a Sunday dinner at Moseley's on the Charles, a Route 109 ballroom and banquet hall, Josoma was roasted before about 325 people who giggled with delight at every humiliating story told about their pastor, known for signing a letter calling for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law following the clergy sex-abuse scandal and for protesting the archdiocese's decision to shutter St. Susanna.

As he sat on stage, a ''blush-o-meter" positioned nearby to measure his every flush, Josoma stared nervously at the first roaster, a parishioner who happens to be his cousin, John Sweeney.

Sweeney began with a question for the assembled. Did they want a ''boring tribute," or a speech with a just few chuckle-worthy anecdotes, or one that would ''disgust, disparage, and defrock" Josoma?

The mood was set when the audience roared for the third option, and for the next two hours the roasters kept it up with jokes about Law, his successor, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, and, of course, the man of the year himself.

Not even the Rev. Robert J. Bowers, the night's emcee, was safe. Bowers reluctantly left his church, St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown, last year on sabbatical under a plan by the archdiocese to consolidate Charlestown's three parishes as one under new leadership. Throughout the night, Bowers would be teased about his job status.

''Don't speak too long, we have work tomorrow," Sweeney jested as Bowers took the stage in a black tuxedo.

Bowers got in his own digs, though, coming out at one point in a giant mock ''miter," or a bishop's headdress. He stared at Josoma, who had been given a smaller version to wear, and bragged, ''Mine's bigger."

Josoma, who turns 50 next month, was named the first Man of the Year for 2004 by the Daily News Transcript in January, cited for his ability to keep the faithful in the pews during tough times.

''At a time when local Catholics needed something to believe in . . . Josoma has provided that beacon of hope," the newspaper wrote.

Josoma's talents as a priest were not overlooked on Sunday, but parishioners, past and present, were more interested in mockery.

Bud Guzzi, from St. Bernard in Newton, where Josoma was ordained, made fun of him for his woeful sports knowledge. ''He thinks [Red Sox pitcher] Curt Schilling is an English coin," Guzzi said.

And Nancy Leoncini, a parishioner at Josoma's former church, St. Mary in Dedham, talked about the time a parishioner's car was ''totaled" in an accident on the same day Josoma blessed it.

''He said, 'If I hadn't blessed it, she would have been killed,' " she said.

The evening had its serious moments. Parishioners from St. Albert the Great in Weymouth, where a 24-hour vigil has been taking place since August to protest its closure, sat at several tables, and many said they were there to help St. Susanna from having to hold a similar vigil.

St. Susanna is still waiting to hear its closure date, and the subject inspired some angry barbs directed toward the archdiocese.

''Bishop Sean couldn't come tonight. He's closing a parish," scoffed parishioner Joe Griffin, who wore the kind of brown Franciscan robe O'Malley often dons. ''But he wanted me to tell you it's not about the money."

Josoma got in his rebuttal at the end of the night, when he also received a more traditional expression of his parishioners' affection -- a round-trip ticket to Hawaii for two. In exchange for the jokes on him, he offered Bowers a gift certificate for a training course to become a licensed exorcist.

He also had optimistic words for his parishioners.

''This is what makes this parish great. I have no idea what the future will hold," he said. ''With this type of community, with this type of spirit, it's only going to get bigger."

Maria Cramer can be reached at

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