Parish, Family Honor The Life Of Deacon Capozza
Published: November 27, 2003
SNELLVILLE—Deacon Mike Capozza desperately wanted to learn to preach “without crutches.”
So he went to his fellow St. Oliver Plunkett clergy member, Father Peter Jandaczek, MS, parochial vicar, a priest known for his enthusiastic preaching style.
“He came to me and said ‘Pete, I want to get rid of my crutches, I want to get rid of my notes. I don’t want to hold onto the pulpit anymore,’” Father Jandaczek said. “So we worked on it, for weeks, for months. He was open-minded, and he wanted to learn … Though he was scared to let go of the pulpit, he did it. And then he was free to preach from his heart.”
Deacon Capozza, 63, was struck by a car and killed Nov. 19 while trying to assist other motorists involved in an accident on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. He was struck and killed as he sprinted across the road, according to news reports.
Father Jandaczek, a close friend of the deacon, gave the homily at his funeral Mass, celebrated by Archbishop John F. Donoghue Nov. 24 at St. Oliver Plunkett Church.
Father Jandaczek said that when he first received the news of Deacon Capozza’s death he didn’t believe it. But when he heard that the deacon sacrificed his own life to help strangers, he knew it was true.
“Was I surprised? Honestly and truly I was not at all. Because this was him, this was Mike,” he said.
Local television news broadcasts ran the story of Deacon Capozza, calling him the “Good Samaritan.”
“Mike always wanted to preach without notes, and last Wednesday, he gave the best homily of his life,” Father Jandaczek said. “He transferred the word of God in his own life into a deed.”
On the chilly November day, St. Oliver Plunkett Church was full to capacity with parishioners, friends and family, including several concelebrating priests, and dozens of his fellow deacons who came to say farewell to their brother.
“As the archbishop said, we are coming here for a celebration. You may be asking yourself, how can we celebrate today? What is there to celebrate? The answer will come from within each of you,” Father Jandaczek said. “We are a Christian people. We are a people of hope. Therefore there is something to celebrate. We are celebrating Mike’s life. The life that has touched, is touching and will touch in the future, so many of us.”
Father Jandaczek first met Deacon Capozza when he came to St. Oliver Plunkett as a guest homilist.
“He opened his arms to me as if I was his long lost friend. And I got the opportunity to know him and become his friend. I love him dearly,” he said. “Notice I didn’t use the past tense. Because he is alive for me.”
His family, including his wife, Colleen, three children and six grandchildren, was the light of his life, Father Jandaczek said.
“His family and his wife were his pride,” Father Jandaczek said.
But his life became complete when he was ordained a deacon on June 10, 1995.
“Mike began his ministry here in this church, and he never left this church because this church became an apple in his eye,” Father Jandaczek said. “Everybody’s troubles became Mike’s troubles. If someone was sick or suffering, Mike suffered. If someone rejoiced, Mike rejoiced.”
Following Communion, Father Jim Henault, MS, pastor, addressed the congregation and the members of Deacon Capozza’s many “families.”
“First we have Mike’s family here on earth, and then the family of St. Oliver’s … We also have his family of deacons,” he said. “You are lessened by his loss and strengthened by his support and care and prayers from heaven.”
For members of St. Oliver’s, their family will never be the same without their beloved deacon.
Lynn Ory, youth minister at St. Oliver Plunkett, recalls well the day that Deacon Capozza let go of his “crutches” for the first time.
“He used to just stand behind that pulpit and read everything,” she said. “But that day, he leapt from the altar down to the floor and said ‘I’m jumping in.’ And his homily came from his heart. He put everything he had into it, and it just meant so much more.”
Another way he used his heart was with his granddaughter, Molly Gulley, who was born with disabilities that affected her vision and hearing.
Ory said that Deacon Capozza always gave the homily on pro-life Sunday and incorporated his granddaughter into it.
“He was always saying that everyone has a gift that can touch a person’s heart,” she said. “And Molly was his example of that.”
Mourners also turned out in large numbers for Deacon Capozza’s wake, held Nov. 23.
Deacon Bill Jindrich, who served with him, said that Deacon Capozza “raised the bar for all of us in this community.”
“Your service to others over the years is something we should all strive for. Thanks for the example, dear friend,” he said in an open letter “to Mike.”
“We do know that you are in the joy of the Lord,” Deacon Jindrich said, “but our hearts are broken this day, because you left us so suddenly and with no warning. We didn’t have an opportunity to tell you how much we loved you and how we honored you. You were such a wonderful example of Christian love, by your devotion to your family, this parish. And by your actions on Wednesday, we saw your devotion to all God’s people.”
Reading an excerpt from a book describing the ideal spirituality of the deacon, Deacon Jindrich said the deacon is meant to be “a sacramental sign of the servanthood of Christ” and, in responding as a Good Samaritan Nov. 19, Deacon Capozza lived that out.
“We certainly learned that Wednesday evening he was there for anyone and everyone,” he said.
He was coming home from his job at Kroger in Cumming when he came upon the accident, according to Father Henault.
As the news of his death was confirmed, staff and parishioners were in shock, unable to absorb the unexpected blow.
Deacon Jindrich said he believes his friend “was just there to help. Something went wrong. He saw the need and he jumped on it. He didn’t think about that. He just did it.”
That would have been completely in character for Deacon Capozza, he said. “He was always available to people, in person and on the phone.”
“Whatever you asked him to take care of, he did,” Father Henault said. “His latest (project) was his ministry to the separated and divorced” which he had just started in the parish.
He had also been active in Catholics Returning Home, in training eucharistic ministers, preparing families for baptism and preaching.
“There were so many people he’s counseled,” Deacon Jindrich said.
He remembered everyone’s name and the names of everyone’s children, said Kathy Byrne, a staff member and parishioner.
The pastor and the parish were touched by homilies in which he spoke movingly of his diaconal vocation and last spring by the one he preached at the funeral of a college student who had been very active in the parish and was killed in an accident. Hundreds of her college friends and sorority sisters came to the funeral, the pastor said.
“She had run our parish nursery. Mike was very, very close to her. He did a magnificent job,” Father Henault said.
Deacon Jindrich said when he and his wife were considering moving to the parish he spoke to Deacon Capozza first to see if he would have any concerns about another deacon coming.
“He got this big smile on his face and said, ‘God really does answer prayer.’”
He told them he and his wife, Colleen, had been praying about how he could receive assistance in parish work, and this was an answer to their prayers.
When the Jindriches moved to Snellville, the first people from the parish they saw were “Deacon Mike and his lovely Molly shopping together,” Deacon Jindrich said.
“ I can still see that scene of how they were together,” Deacon Jindrich said of Deacon Capozza and his beloved granddaughter.
“We thank God for lending Deacon Mike to us. We are grateful for the gifts he has given us. We will miss his humor. We will miss his love,” the deacon said.
In addition to his wife, Deacon Capozza is survived by three children, Michael Capozza Jr. of Ponte Vedra, Fla., Mark Capozza of Duluth, and Missy Gulley of Loganville; and six grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation, 1687 Tullie Circle, Atlanta, GA 30329.