Good Shepherd food pantry leader Joe Capobianco has been terminated by the Diocese of Fall River after more than a decade of service. Capobianco served as facilities manager for the Good Shepherd Catholic Parish of Martha’s Vineyard, and led the parish food pantry in addition to his facilities duties.
Tom Engley, a volunteer at the food pantry and a friend of Capobianco’s, said Capobianco went to what he believed was a typical monthly meeting on Wednesday, and was caught unaware by the real reason for the meeting.
The Good Shepherd food distribution program is held every other Saturday at the parish’s Oak Bluffs church. Cars are often lined up in the nearby cemetery, and the program was particularly busy during the height of the pandemic. It’s a no-questions-asked distribution program, with the food coming from the Boston Food Bank. The pantry is also open on Tuesdays from 8 am to 12 noon.
Capobianco told The Times he was recently met with the Rev. Paul Fedak and, unexpectedly, a human resources staffer from the diocese. Capobianco said Fedak first asked about Capobianco’s son’s recent wedding. He then told Capobianco his job was being dissolved.
“How was the wedding?” Capobianco said. “Your job is being eliminated.”
Capobianco said he had no idea the meeting was about the end of his employment with the church.
“I am completely sick about this,” Capobianco said. Capobianco said he felt he was subject to an orchestrated ambush to supplant him with a “subcontractor assistant” he’d previously let go, a woman named Sara Steigelman. Capobianco alleged Steigelman was complicit in the ambush. “She stabbed me right in the back and took this position,” he said.
“I have no comment,” Steigelman said Monday during a brief phone call.
Capobianco said his access to the Boston Food Bank and his vehicle insurance were almost instantly taken away following the meeting he had with Fedak and the HR person. “It’s embarrassing,” he said. “I’m disgusted. I can’t sleep.”
In a statement to The Times, John Kearns, a spokesman for the Fall River Diocese, wrote, “Following over a year in his service as pastor of Good Shepherd Parish on Martha’s Vineyard, Father Paul C. Fedak made the decision to reorganize staffing at the parish. As part of that reorganization, the position of facilities manager was eliminated. Going forward, the responsibilities of the facilities manager will be assigned to other staff members. No programs at the parish will be impacted. The parish will continue its support of the food pantry program without interruption.”
He added, “Father Fedak understands the distress and disappointment that the decision to eliminate the position brings to the impacted employee, and a severance package has been offered. Father Fedak expresses his gratitude for the work of the former facilities manager over many years, and his dedication to the parish.”
Capobianco said it’s not so much the loss of the job as the “disrespectful” treatment he alleged he received that irks him.
Video obtained by The Times shows that in a statement during a service Sunday morning in Vineyard Haven at St. Augustine’s Church, Fedak told parishioners Capobianco was done. Fedak told parishioners his predecessor, the Rev. Michael Nagle, had served in his post for 28 years. Fedak described this as unusually long, and under normal circumstances three priests would have rotated through the parish, he said. When a new priest comes in, “oftentimes what comes with that are changes,” he said.
Fedak said he reviewed parish employees, and after saying so, named Capobianco and mentioned his former title, facilities manager. “I’ve come to the decision after praying for a year that the parish does not need a facilities manager. So that position has been eliminated.”
Fedak noted Capobianco also led the food pantry. “But we also have Sara Steigelman, who’s been working with Joe for several months,” Fedak said. “She even has a CDL license. She can drive a heavy truck. And so this past week she was able to drive to the Boston Food Bank, pick up the food, bring it on the boat, get it off the boat, bring it back, unload it, and with volunteers that showed up, we were able to serve 120 boxes of fresh food to those in need … we have full confidence in Sara. And also Alicia Nicholson, who is the president of that cooperative, knows that we want to continue, and we have her full support — the parish is going to continue to do what it’s done.”
Nicholson declined to comment.
In a follow-up conversation, Capobianco told The Times a CDL license is not required for the truck used for the food program.
Capobianco also led a Thursday meals program, and during the Sunday service Fedak said that would also continue, but without Capobianco. “And also with the Thursday meals, during the winter, in January and February and March. We’re going to continue that, as I mentioned before. We have several parishioners who are actually willing to cook. We’ve got some parishioners, God bless them all, they put the salad in the salad bowl. But we also have parishioners who are willing to actually cook the food. And maybe they give a little direction, what needs to be done … We want to thank Joe also for his 11 years of service in the parish — for that — we can see we need to move on in some areas.”
Capobianco said he’s served the church for 13 years. “I want the community to know how the church treated one of its employees after 13 years,” Capobianco said.
In answer to why Fedak spoke about Capobianco during church services, an unusual move with a personnel matter, Kearns wrote, “As this change in staffing and staff responsibilities will affect the parish community, Father Fedak shared the announcement with parishioners at Masses this past weekend.”
On Saturday, volunteer Tom Engley picketed across from the food distribution line at the Good Shepherd Parish in Oak Bluffs. Engley told The Times he’s a colleague and friend of Capobianco. “It’s not fair,” Engley said. “I mean, that’s why I’m here.”
Engley made it clear he in no way wanted to discourage folks from coming to get food. He was protesting what happened to Capobianco. “We’ve given out maybe a half-million pounds of food, working together,” Engley said. “He was a friend of mine … I’m not even a Catholic, I’m a Methodist, but this cause was so great — so that’s why I’m here.”
Engley went on to say, “They were trying to get rid of him, in my opinion. They tried to offer him a severance package, and he wouldn’t take it. Unjust. He never got along with the new priest.”
Engley described Capobianco as a sexton like himself; Engley is sexton for the United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard.
“I support Joe and the Capobianco family,” Engley said. “He started the Good Shepherd Parish food basket program.”
Updated to include comments from Diocese spokesman.