Suzanne Marchisella nearly cried.
But the secretary at took a deep breath and laughed instead. Rev. Monsignor Edmond J. Trench, the revered former leader of the church, wouldn't have had it any other way.
"I can't cry. He was full of joy," said Marchisella, who has worked at the church since Monsignor Trench hired her in 1989. "He embraced everyone. Anyone who needed to talk to him could talk to him."
So the outpouring of emotion after he comes as no surprise to Marchisella, whose phone at the rectory has been ringing nearly non-stop. In fact, for a brief time, she changed her voicemail to include information about his
Even after he retired in 2000, Monsignor Trench was a fixture in the community. He lived in nearby Quogue and was seen around Southampton often, whether it was at a local restaurant, or marching in the town's Independence Day parade alongside his beloved , of which he was the chaplain.
But it was his work at the church from 1988 to 2000 that made him a household name to Catholics and others in Southampton.
When the Rockville Centre native first joined Sacred Hearts after tours of duty in Bethpage and Valley Stream, the church was in need of major renovations that included more than $1 million in structural and electrical improvements. Another $100,000 was needed to repair the roof, which was in such disrepair that buckets were often used to collect rainwater.
The expenses were daunting, but according to the church's 100th anniversary memorial book released in 1996, he told parishioners that "big bucks and little bucks built the church" and "big bucks and little bucks are needed to restore our church."
Members rang doorbells and made calls, and successfully raised $1.7 million, enough to turn it into the shining beacon on Hill Street that is .
It was Marchisella who handled the church-improvement donations.
"The church was falling down when he got here," she said. "When he became involved, people listened. Everyone helped because they knew him, and because they trusted him. That's why everyone reacted so positively."
It was also Marchisella who typed up Monsignor Trench's letters — and he wrote more than his fair share.
"He wrote to everyone. He started with the president of the United States and went all the way down the line to members of the village board or the supervisor," she said. "He had a lot to say, and he thought it was important to say it. If he saw an injustice, he wouldn't stay silent."
But she joked, "I had to type it up. He couldn't type. He was computer illiterate and he knew it."
There was little else he didn't do. When a local food pantry looking out for the poor needed space, Monsignor Trench was quick to donate it. That organization grew into the Heart of the Hamptons.
When the poor needed a champion, he was there.
"Always. That was important to him," she said. "It was a passion of his."
When people of a different faith came to the church, he was quick to point out how connected all religions actually were. For instance, with visiting Jews, he often pointed to the stained glass windows, where Old Testament prophets such as David, Isaiah, Moses and Abraham aligned the bottom row.
"We know where we come from," he often said.
And the church faithful know how far the parish has come since he took the reins decades ago.
But his greatest accomplishment of all might have been summed up by Marchisella, when she simply said, "He made a lot of lives better."