Upheaval at church food program

Capobianco ‘disgusted’ at church HR maneuver.


Updated 10/18

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.


  1. Rev. Fedak prayed about this for a year? Gee Father maybe in that year you could’ve talked to Mr. Capobianco and suggested he get certified to drive the truck off island. Something smells fishy here and it’s not left over from the derby! The Rev. might want to brush up on some of his bible lessons about how to treat others.

    • I could not agree with You more! This isn’t sitting well with any of us who know Joe and his commitment to not only Christ but to this food program. I’m speechless.

    • Is there a suggestion here in these posts that Christian organizations should not terminate anyone ever. Should they not organize for efficiency? Everyone hired can never be fired? They should tell him why he is terminated but the rest is just good management.

      • You’re right, engelman. Organized religion is nothing but business, politics, and, most important, control (management). It has zero to do with the (hypocritical) goodness it preaches. All religions are exactly the same in this regard.

        • Thanks for agreeing with me jackie. Yes all religions have corporate governance and administration in order to evaluate their employees. All denominations whether Protestant or Catholic or Judaism.

    • It sounds to me as though Joe Capobianco was fired without cause.
      End of story.

      I find the point, made more than once, that Father Fedak “prayed” about this firing for a year to be simply not credible. Sounds like the worst hypocrisy, actually, and taking the name of God in vain.

      What did Fedak pray for, or about? Did the Good Lord answer his prayers with instructions to fire Capobianco without cause and then humiliate him before the parish, come up with a lame story concerning truck driving, rename the job, and give his job to someone else?

      Not all the details are clear here, but from what I read I see no reason why a competent employee should be strong-armed into accepting a severance package instead of staying on the job. If there was something wrong with the way Capobianco was doing his job, then he should have been notified by a competent HR person of any problem and given guidance on how to improve his job performance. Not be subjected to the additional sanctimonious insult that his firing is the result of year-long “praying.”

      • Oh, the prayer business is entirely credible as the excuse we get from all organized, accepted, cult religions for the evil and unjustifiable actions taken by those in control. Didn’t you see religious leaders laying their hands on the one chosen by their god to be the authoritarian and criminally-behaved president? Prayer is the reasons given for taking away women’s rights, and not just in this country. Praying your brains out has nothing to do with doing what’s right. In this case it’s an excuse for lying about what you’re doing.

        • What is a cult religion versus others? What standard does one use to determine what is right and what is wrong?

          • Comparative Religions 101 is not needed to understand the issues with this church’s leadership as revealed in this story.

      • He was an “”employee at will”” and could be fired anytime. What is so hard to understand. No one likes firing but it is part of employment life.

  2. Monk preaches kindness, compassion at Charter School. Catholic Diocese fires 13 year employee who led food pantry at Good Shepard Parish. Hmmm…

  3. I’m very sorry and not a little upset to read about this decision to terminate Joe Capobianco. I’ve volunteered for the Thursday night suppers in cooperation with the MV Hebrew Center and St. Augustine’s Church, and I’ve always known Joe to be very professional and an amazing chef. It doesn’t just take someone who can cook a meal to be able to feed dozens of people in a short amount of time. It takes a lot of organizational skills and plain hard work. I think Reverend Fedak underestimates what’s required for this. I certainly don’t know the ins and outs of the situation, but it seems like things could have been handled differently. How sad.

  4. Hmmm, the Catholic Church seems capable of such resolute action on a secret employment matter, but when it comes to priestly sexual assaults?
    Much better to send the Cardinal who sanctioned the abuse to Rome, to evade criminal investigations and stonewall victims claims for decades, till they have committed suicide.

    • James– come on buddy– stick on topic– your recent comments seem to be going off the rails.
      This is about someone who was terminated from a food bank.
      It mentions nothing about sexual assaults or contaminated honey.

      • The topic is the church and how they treat their members. The church’s long history of protecting those in power while victimizing those who are vulnerable is right on topic. This is just another example.

  5. This event is both sad and unsettling, but not unusual in times of leadership change. Our Catholic faith is rich and deep, filled with beautiful meaning and rituals. I pray that those close to the situation can find in themselves the strength to rise above our human tendencies toward bitterness, find solace in our faith and not pull away from the Church.

    This is a small island with one Catholic Parish. We must stand strong in what it means to be Catholic.

  6. This has nothing to do with the Catholic faith. This is a
    “corporate” decision pure and simple. Typical of most corporations, when new management comes in, there’s s change of personnel. Made easier when there’s a replacement already trained and in place. Perhaps it’s a cost-cutting measure. Surely it’s not because of anyone’s age. (I have no idea the ages of Mr. Capobianco or Ms. Steigelmen.) And as with most corporate decision, no reason need be given why someone is terminated. Perhaps Mr. Copobianco was given a reason he is not free to discuss. Personnel decisions are usually confidential and almost always painful when they come unexpectedly. It’s sad the pain cannot be eliminated. Some corporations just don’t know how, no matter their purpose.

    • ” This is a
      “corporate” decision pure and simple.”

      If this is a corporate decision pure and simple, what’s with all the praying?

      And why was it handled so unprofessionally?

      I am guessing this is some kind of childish turf thing.

      Fr. Fenak should definitely do some more praying.

  7. Joe Capobianco worked as a member of the MV community every bit as much as an employee of the church. He truly served the community in what he did. This is shameful that he was treated this way.

    • I agree with Marina 100%. Shameful. Joe has the biggest heart, full of generosity without judgement of others. He is compassionate and kind. He should be treated respectfully, the way he has always treated others.

  8. While it is unfortunate that Joe’s position was eliminated, I believe Father Fedak made this decision for the long term health of the parish. The parish has been underwater for years. And, while everything shouldn’t be about money, in the end it is. The food programs in most parishes are staffed with volunteers which benefits the church’s finances while bringing parishioners together to contribute to a common cause. Hard decisions now will insure that the Island has a strong and vibrant Catholic Church in the future. I wish Joe and his family the best and pray that Father Fedak is successful in his mission here.

    • Do you expect the church donations to go down under Father Fedack?
      He has little support on this comment board.
      Corporations do not depend on donations.
      They depend on selling a product.
      Fo a profit.

    • Hello I worked with Joe
      1) you need a Safe serve training on the executive level. It’s just like running a restaurant which I know Joe has. I went to Falmouth to get mine because I was making
      Chocolate for the church out of my own pocket I paid never asked Fr Mike or Joe for reimbursement Handleling food is a very very serious business and those people who never worked in the capacity Joe worked in the intense care it takes to serve safe is paramount! If you get a armatures be prepared for lawsuits because the new pastor still needs to learn that skilled personnel are there to protect the food distributed and made. Joe I am so sorry our parish lost your expertise and unfathamable knowledge about our parish building structure!

  9. I’ve worked with this food basket program for 4 years it’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had now it’s gone. Yes I could still go but the way the firing was done was ridiculous I can’t face the new group running it and I apologize to the people who came all the lovely moms and their children I’ll miss.
    Another thing to think about is the Capobianco family now has to go to church with a heavy broken heart. Joyce Joe Anthony Nick Laura and Rose we love you don’t lose your faith. Something great will happen because of this travesty.

  10. Joe has been a top notch person since the day I met him. More importantly he is hard working and full of compassion.
    He has always been supportive of me during difficult times in my life.
    Thank you Joe ❤️🙏🏼

  11. It seems the Good Shepherd parish may be misnamed. They no longer house the homeless, nor care for their own faithful servants like Joe. There was a noticeable absence of the usual helpers at last Saturday’s food pick up, and the box contained fewer staples. What has been known as a Community Supper is now called a Parish Supper by Fr. Fedak. If it ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it.

  12. Mr Capobianco served the church and the community with dedication and respect. Who are we as a community to not stand up on Joes behalf ? The fact is , Pastor Paul Fedick is making bad choices and we are allowing him to do so.

  13. Maybe it could have been handled differently.
    Joe, offer it up like the Good Lord did.
    I still clap for the church music even if Fr. F frowns upon it.

  14. I know Joe only through the homeless shelter (I know, not politically correct but telling it like it is) program, but his meals were always lovely dinners, prepared with great care and skill. Are we to lose that valuable contribution to this essential service to those in need of supper and shelter? Whatever happened to considering the human condition? His, ours, and theirs, all those.

  15. There are many reasons why I left the church. Loss of faith being the first reason but watching how cold and calculating the Catholic Church could be was right up there. In the end the church is about itself before any of its members.

  16. There are many on this island that only know Joe for the wonderful things he has done on behalf of the community.

    His efforts will be missed, but never forgotten.

  17. I feel sick about it too ! This was not just a job for Joey but a passion and a call to service He built the good Shepard food pantry up to what it is now from his connections in the restaurant world as well as his personal connections! He made people want to help and give generously because his passion was palpable. I have such fond Memories of His Halloween offerings at Saint Augustine’s …. Homemade chicken soup and Hot dogs for the kids as well as his Friday fish fries during lent. He would also lovingly make homemade meals with Tom Engley for the food distribution. This is a blow to the whole community

  18. “I’ve come to the decision after praying for a year that the parish does not need a facilities manager.”
    Is Rev Fedak implying that the voice of God told him to dump Joe Capobianco?
    It is shameful to try to use this as the motivation for letting such a treasured community member go without notice, along with trying to mansplain to us yokels that Father Nagel’s being here for 28 years somehow left us in the dark ages.

  19. I’m deeply saddened by this trend happening with the new management of Good Shepherd Parish. Taken all together; in the last year they have rejected the Winter Emergency Shelter and warming center that operated there over many years, also now ‘homeless’ are MV Friends who worshipped in the Chapel over many years and made monthly donation. And now the termination of the beloved key operator of the food program. Most unsettling seems to be the disregard for the importance of recognizing existing relationships built on goodwill as the all these terminations have been abrupt , inexplicable and cold. Why??? Our island is built on connections that respect and honor our inter-dependence on each other. Outsiders that don’t understand this have a long learning curve. In the meantime, the most vulnerable among us suffer. I pray this improves quickly. Father Fedak might might consider joining the Island Clergy monthly meeting for local guidance.

    • Marjorie
      He will be praying for the answer for some time. Don’t hold your breath.
      My question is why was the beginning of this telling us about a problem with the food distribution and then Joe was away for a family wedding ?
      My honest thought was that we were going to be told that mass amounts of food was taken.
      I would not believe that and certainly not JC and now I don’t like this one darn bit.
      I hope this was not connected to the recent stay over by the people sent by Texas and Florida.
      Do you see why people don’t like donating money under the guise of religion. Do understand why you are not doing well.
      Dishonesty and deceptive backroom deals are not viewed good for honest kind caring people.

  20. The communication by John Kearns sound unctuous to me.
    Kearns is the communications director of the Diocese of Fall River, the staff member charged with crafting public responses for the diocese.
    In case anyone wants to write to him directly concerning this very troubling situation regarding the apparent firing without cause of Joe Capobianco, his email address (per the diocese website) is

    The address of the administrative offices of the Diocese of Fall River is
    450 Highland Avenue.
    Fall River, MA 02722
    Tel no.: 508/675-1311

    The bishop of the diocese is Edgar Moira da Cunha.
    The metropolitan archbishop is Sean Patrick O’Malley.
    I suppose one could also try writing to them directly to call out the firing of Joe Capobianco.

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