A longtime Roman Catholic priest who grew up in Bristol and served in Providence has died after contracting COVID-19.
"Joe was a genuinely good person," said Rev. Joseph A. Escobar, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Providence. "As a priest, he was very faithful to his church and faithful to his responsibilities."
Santos, who spoke three languages and was ordained in Portugal, always looked to do his best for the members of his church, Escobar said.
'Always wanted to be a priest'
Escobar had known Santos since 1974, when both were attending Our Lady of Providence High School and shared a desire to become priests. Santos was ordained in 1989, a year after Escobar.
Santos resided at the parish in Providence after growing up in Bristol with a sister and two brothers. "He was a proud Bristolian" and marched every year in Bristol's Fourth of July parade, according to Escobar.
Santos was quoted saying he "always wanted to be a priest" in a 2004 Journal story that marked his appointment as administrator at Holy Name. An administrator is similar to a pastor, with most of the same duties, according to the Providence diocese.
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The priest's father, Joseph D. Santos Sr., a pharmacist, was quoted in the story saying his son "is very compassionate and he loves being around people. Joey has made us all so proud of him."
Santos graduated in 1981 from Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in New York, but he went to work for three years at a commercial shipping department before deciding to attend the seminary in Braga, Portugal.
He earned his degree in theology from the Catholic University of Portugal and in 1989, was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of Braga. He spent several years in Portugal, where he was pastor for three parishes.
"I liked it there very much," Santos said in the 2004 story.
Santos celebrated weekly Mass in Latin at Holy Name Church
Santos's fluency in Portuguese served him well in Portugal. He was also proficient in Latin, and he put that to good use back in Rhode Island. At Holy Name Church, Santos regularly celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass in Latin, drawing worshippers from many different areas, according to Escobar.
"It was so well done. He was quite proficient," Escobar said. "Joe was the best."
In the 2004 story, Santos said, "I always liked the Latin Mass. I also used Latin for my research papers when I was in Portugal."
'Great loss for all of us'
Santos had an "encyclopedic mind" and was "a wealth of information," according to Escobar. "He was very knowledgeable about church history and church tradition."
Escobar said he would call his old friend regularly with questions. He estimates that Santos would have an answer "nine out of ten times."
"It is a great loss for all of us," Escobar said.
Santos was the youngest in his family. His parents and his siblings died before him, according to Escobar. He does have nieces and nephews living in the area.
On Holy Name's website, The Rev. Lazarus Onuh wrote, "This is indeed a great loss for Holy Name Parish, the Diocese of Providence, the Santos family as well as our families."
"In this sorrowful moment, inspired by the profound words of St. Paul, we believe that truly, Father Joseph Santos has fought the good fight and has finished the race; yes, he has kept the faith," Onuh wrote.
The Diocese of Providence said in a statement, "We mourn the loss of Father Santos, a good and faithful priest who served the Diocese of Providence for many years. In these difficult times, we are comforted by the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection in Jesus Christ."
"Let us all pray for the repose of Father Santos’ soul and pray, too, for the comfort of his family and the community of Holy Name Parish," the diocese said.
Santos was admitted to The Miriam Hospital in Providence on Nov. 7, according to Escobar. He didn't know whether Santos was vaccinated or how he might have contracted the disease.
Since the pandemic started, priests have found themselves anointing many people sick with COVID. "We have to take many precautions," Escobar said.
Calling hours for Santos will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday in Holy Name Church, 99 Camp Street, Providence. A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Holy Name Church. The Mass will be in Latin. Burial will follow in St. Mary Cemetery, in Bristol.
On Twitter: @jgregoryperry
COVID by the numbers
Cases in R.I.: 198,036 (1,087 reported Tuesday)
Negative tests in R.I.: 5,937,035 (24,632 reported Tuesday; 4.2% positive rate)
R.I. COVID-related deaths: 2,949 (1 reported Tuesday)
Rhode Islanders hospitalized with COVID: 203 (29 in intensive care)
Fully vaccinated in R.I.: 776,060 (861,273 at least partially vaccinated)
Cases in Mass.: 947,463
Mass. COVID-related deaths: 19,516
Cases in U.S.: 49,328,986
U.S. COVID-related deaths: 790,269
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Longtime Providence parish priest dies after battling COVID