Parishioners arriving for Mass Sunday at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Forest Hills mourned the loss of a longtime priest and pastor emeritus who died Friday night after being found at the bottom of his pool in Southold.
Msgr. Gerald Langelier, 78, was discovered unresponsive just before 5 p.m. Friday at his residence, police said.
"We lost a very good friend and priest," said parishioner Pia Parham. "He will be missed."
Langelier had paid many visits to Parham's husband in the hospital 11 years ago. When her husband died, Langelier was there to console her, Parham said.
"He came over to comfort mom all the time," said Marie Essex, Parham's daughter. "He did it because he wanted to and not because he needed to."
Essex and other parishioners described Langelier as a sweet and caring man, personally involved with the lives of the estimated 1,300 families who attend the church.
Langelier was the spiritual adviser to Dean Dobbins, who is studying to become a deacon at the church. Dobbins, who had known Langelier for almost 20 years, said he considered Langelier a second father.
"I could talk to him about anything," Dobbins said. "He always turned the negative to positive."
Dobbins credited Langelier for being there for him and his wife during a rough patch in their marriage and helping to keep them together.
Recently retired after leading Our Lady of Mercy, which includes the church, rectory, convent and school, Langelier still was heavily involved in the church and could be seen every Sunday at Mass.
"He did an excellent job of maintaining the school and the property," said Fred Renz, who spent 25 years as an usher at the church. "He knew the in and outs of his parish and the neighborhood."
Renz, like many interviewed, had spoken to Langelier at last Sunday's Mass. Langelier could always be found at the door afterward, greeting parishioners. Renz said, "he was looking good" when he last saw him.
Many of the people attending Sunday's 10 a.m. Mass heard about the tragedy either before the service from congregants or when it was announced at the start of Mass.
"It was hard not to see him this morning," said Sue Karcher, sacristan and rectory assistant.