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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Father Tony and Saint Hugo of the Hills at three quarters of the way to the century mark.

Father Tony with  the Stanley Cup

The life of every human being has some unique significance. We all teach each other by the way we deal with the challenges of life. We can learn from the youngest one in our midst even as we marvel at the insights and humility of the most senior."
-Monsignor John Zenz, Pastor at Holy Name Parish in Birmingham 

The Parish directories for 2014-2015 arrived at St Hugo's  a few weeks ago.  According to  the  introduction written by Pastor Monsignor Anthony M. Tocco,  the Directory is intended to put names to the people who serve the Parish in the many aspects of Parish Life and to the people who worship there. 
Putting a name to a pastor everyone calls Father Tony is a little bit harder.  The History of the Parish on page 8 gives the pastor exactly eleven words including title and middle initial. 
They are "on a July 2nd 1985, Father Esper retired after 20 years of devoted service and was replaced by "Reverend Monsignor Anthony M. Tocco who currently serves in that position." 

But there is more to it than that. Father Tony came to St. Hugo in July of 1985, twenty nine years ago. The is the longest that any prelate has served the Bloomfield Hills parish. Curious, we called.

And on July 11th 2014 Father Tony celebrated 75 years of youth and shared with us some of the makings of 75 years.

Cardinal Szoka 
Five Years prior Cardinal Szoka delivered a special homily at a mass honoring of Father Tony's 70th Birthday and 24 years at St. Hugo's. The Homily is reproduced in a subsequent post.
It reveals a lighter side of the Cardinal and the friendship between the Cardinal and  the parish that spanned decades.

It was then Archbishop Szoka who in July of 1985 appointed Father Tony Pastor of  St. Hugo of the Hills.

And it was  Cardinal Szoka, who a helped Father Tony celebrate yet another milestone, his 75th Birthday.
"He is coming all the way  from Rome for your Birthday ?" this reporter a little out of the ecclesiastic loop, asked.

No, Father Tony explained. "He is retired now and lives in Northville. He has an chapel in his basement and says Mass daily. It is really quite nice".

Exactly forty days later Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka died  of natural causes at Providence Hospital on August 20th 2014. He was 86 years old.

At a Sunday Mass  shortly there after Father Tony recalled the Cardinal at the prelate's 75th Birthday Party. The event held at St. Hugo's was attended by many well wishers. 

"So when is you feast day" (A special day on the Calendar to commemorate a saint) The  Cardinal asked Father Tony.

"Feast Day ?" Father Tony  replied surprised by question.

" Feast day, "the Cardinal continued. "These people have already canonized (process of selecting a saint) you a couple of times over."

A fact that amused the Cardinal not known for levity, who made his mark as an administrator, and financial guru  capable of making  hard decisions in tough times.  His first assignment as Archbishop required him to create an archdiocese in Gaylord and points north, virtually from scratch. In 1980 in the midst of a severe recession he became the the successor to the popular Cardinal Dearden and had to make difficult decisions about Church closings and other measures to conserve cost. He also developed new sources of funding.

 Father Tony, told St.Hugo parishioners that Church they now worship in and the parish community they now enjoy would not have been possible without the the encouragement and the financial backing Cardinal Szoka provided.  That financial expertise took the Cardinal to Rome to assist the Vatican. Father Tony said nine out of ten times when he tried to call Cardinal Szoka in Rome he was told 
that the Cardinal was in conference with the Holy Father, the Pope which figured. No pun intended.

On May 14th 1990 Father Tony was elevated to the Honorary Prelature of Monsignor by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.

  Father Tony who shares an office with a dog named Sunshine, however does not stand on ceremony. While  "Monsignor Tony" is his correct title and Parish memos refer to him as "Msgr Tony," many parishioners,  who like their pastor, go back decades, affectionately call him "Father" Tony. There  is also a listing on page 106 of the  the parish directory for one  "Tocco, Anthony" at 2215 Opdyke Rd. 

That is the address of St. Hugo of the Hills Parish. That  is also the name Father Tony was born with 75 years ago, in the middle of the summer of 1939, in  Detroit Michigan. He was the 12th child in family of 13.

   For the sake of brevity, this publication did not ask about all 13 siblings but  his two oldest brothers served in World War II notably  at the Battle of Bulge. Another Tocco of interest is Father Tony's  younger brother, James, who is a pianist of worldwide re known. 

Monsignor Tocco with Pope John Paul II

Father Tony and Brother James Tocco were founding fathers in the creation of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival which preforms locally on an annual basis.

Father Tony with Luciano Pavarotti 

Father Tony's dad was fruit vendor selling from a cart in various City neighborhoods. Young Anthony Tocco often helped him on the job.

As early as  the third grade  young Anthony showed promise as a Shabbat Goy (Sabbath non Jew) in the heavily Jewish 
Dexter-Davidson neighborhood of more than a half century ago.

Orthodox  Jews do not as rule engage in labor or use mechanical devices on the Sabbath. That  applies to the use of motor vehicles, elevators, answering the phone, or turning on the gas to cook dinner. The  young Anthony Tocco as a trustworthy shabbat goy would be called to the house to turn on the gas and then return later to turn it off.

Reflecting back  on those days  Father Tony said "The tips on that were better than selling fruit, but  of course you could always eat the fruit if you got hungry...."

In 1965 at the of age of 25, Father Tony was ordained a priest. It was the beginning of a career that would be noticeable for longer than usual stays at each location. 

Like the Orthodox families of Dexter-Davidson, others discovered Father Tony was dependable, likeable and did good work. 

Like  Michael Zambricki, (many time Mayor of the City of Bloomfield Hills) and  the City's current Chief of Police and Public Safety Director David Hendrickson;  Father Tony's career began on the East side. His first assignment was serving as associate pastor of St. Veronica's in Eastpointe before becoming  Pastor of St. Margret of Scotland Parish in St. Clair Shores.

 To any, of any faith, who who drive up or down Opdyke road  it is immediately apparent that grass  is not growing under the feet of ST. Hugo of the Hills. The new Church was dedicated  with then Archbishop  Szoka,  On Sunday April 16th 1989, more than a quarter of a century ago. Father Tony  is proud to say that because of  his large and extended family that first baby christened in the new Church was a Tocco.

The original St. Hugo's chapel  of  historic and architectural  note was  renovated and maintained with painstaking care that produced results some thought impossible. That is why Monsignor Tony, a member of the College of Consultors of the Archdiocese,  was asked by Cardinal  Adam Maida to take charge of the restoration of The Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.  

The carillon  and its tower is a recent and a very visible and audio addition to the Parish grounds. It  was a specific gift of the late Wilda King Tiffany. There are 48 bells crafted from a foundry in Holland.  Engravings on the Bells  honor  donor Wikda King Tiffany, Father Tony, and last but not least Sister Margret Van Velzen, IHM Principal of  St. Hugo School and the School Children of St. Hugo's . When asked if the school children contributed to the Clarion Tower, Father Tony said they contribute  to everything and thus the recognition. When asked if there been any complaints about the Clarion Bells. Father  Tony admitted than been. Approximately half dozen or so from  people who said they couldn't hear the clarion bells from where they lived. In the summer the parish hosts free of  charge. outdoor,  bring your own picnic basket,clarion concerts.
Father Tony and Sunshine confer

So what is the secret to being  young despite  a multitude of birthdays that says otherwise ?  At St. Hugo's of the Hills that is a topic of discussion that will continue as anniversaries multiply. The St. Hugo School is also 75.In 2015 Father Tony will have been  a Priest for 50 years and Pastor of St. Hugo for thirty years. The Parish itself, next year will
be 84 years young. 

James Tocco on  the Piano

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