Eva's Village Mourns Death Of Its Founder
Saturday, June 2, 2012 • 11:49pm
PATERSON, NJ – The Rev. Msgr. Vincent E. Puma, died peacefully at St. Vincent’s Nursing Home, Cedar Grove, NJ, where he had been living for the past several years. He previously resided at Cedar Crest Village, Pompton Plains, NJ, where he served as chaplain to the many residents who came to rely on him for spiritual guidance. Born on December 12, 1926, he resided in Madison, NJ, for most of his life as a young adult.
A graduate of Seton Hall Preparatory School, South Orange, NJ and St. Charles College, Catonsville, MD, he attended St. Mary's Seminary and Immaculate Conception Seminary, Baltimore, MD. He was ordained on May 19, 1951. He later obtained a Master's degree from Drew University, Madison, NJ, and was a licensed therapist with an Ed.S. from Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. Msgr. Puma was named Papal Chamberlain in 1963 (Monsignor) and Prelate of Honor in 1980.
Young Father Puma shared his wealth of knowledge and thirst for learning with others. He was an instructor of theology from 1951 to 1955 at Pope Pius High School in Passaic, NJ. He brought his expertise to St. Mary's High School in Paterson, NJ, from 1955 to 1959 and at the university level from 1975- 1979, he was a guest lecturer in pastoral-psychological problems at Drew University.
Initially as associate pastor, he served at Sacred Heart, Clifton, NJ, from 1951 to 1954. He then went on to pastor four parishes in the Diocese of Paterson; Our Lady of the Rosary, Dover, NJ, 1959 to 1963; Our Lady of Victories, Paterson, NJ, 1963 to 1971; his home parish of Saint Vincent Martyr, Madison, NJ, 1971 to 1979. While serving as Pastor of Blessed Sacrament, Paterson, from 1979 to 1981 he began to plant the seeds of his life’s mission: to serve the poor.
Gathering the help of religious and lay people in the Diocese of Paterson, he founded Eva’s Kitchen in the basement of St. John’s Cathedral, Paterson, serving 30 people in April, 1982. After founding Eva's Kitchen, he followed with sheltering, substance abuse treatment, medical programs and housing, renaming the now comprehensive social service organization as Eva’s Village.
Msgr. Puma made his final visit to Eva’s Village on April 19, 2012 to celebrate its 30th Anniversary. He thanked and blessed the donors, faithful church volunteers, and staff, and also cut the ceremonial ribbon.
Throughout his lifetime, Msgr. Puma served in many civic and religious leadership capacities, including Director of the Cuban Relief Program from 1961-1965; Director of the Spanish Apostolate for the Diocese of Paterson from 1964-1971; and Chairman of Paterson United Against Drug Abuse.
In 1970 he received the Paterson Humanitarian Award. In 1987 he received the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service. In 1992 he was honored as Man of the Year by St. Joseph's Hospital, Paterson. In 1995 he received the Pioneer for Hispanic Ministry Award and the Community Service Award from The Bergen Record. And in 2009 Eva's Village bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award to Msgr. Puma at the Annual Gala held to support Eva’s feeding, sheltering and addiction programs. On May 19, 2011, he was joined by The Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop of Paterson, his family and friends at a liturgy and celebration in honor of his 60th Jubilee.
In 2000, Msgr. Puma published a book titled “Son of a Bishop! What a Life” recounting his fifty years “from Park Avenue to park bench”. The book jacket calls Msgr. Puma “A bit of Don Quixote, willing to march into hell for heavenly causes and never losing the capacity dream impossible dreams”. As with everything Msgr. Puma undertook, the book benefited Eva’s Village.
Until his health failed, Msgr. Puma remained a steadfast supporter of Eva’s Village, bringing busloads of people to Paterson to see the work being done. “Testimonials from clients, staff, volunteers and donors streamed into our office in celebration of Eva’s 30th Anniversary on April 19,” commented Marie Reger, Executive Director of Eva’s Village. “We were so pleased to share these loving statements with Msgr. and he bid us all a final farewell by thanking his staff, volunteers and donors for 30 years of hard work, but it is we who are indebted to him for showing us the way to help the poor.”
John Crimi, a long time board member stated, “Msgr. Puma’s legacy is not in the bricks and mortar of Eva’s Village, but in you who share his vision of how to best help the poor. Msgr. was given two sets of eyes, one in the head and the other in his heart. We will now have to use the eyes of our hearts for the poor to see and feel their need and the reality of the life they live. He often said, ‘When you take someone’s hand you cannot drop it until they are safe from poverty.’ He has now put those hands in ours and we will honor him every day in our hearts, our mind, and in our daily work at Eva’s Village.”
Msgr. Puma is survived by his nieces and nephews, Helen Sekitz, Bill Donovan, Maureen Bezer, Brian Donovan, Deirdre Harwell, Alyssa Dempsey, and Denise O'Keefe. He was predeceased by his parents, Vincent and Louise Puma; his sister, Vivian Puma-Donovan; and his brother-in-law, Joe Donovan. In lieu of flowers the family of Msgr. Puma respectfully asks that donations be made to Eva’s Village, 393 Main Street, Paterson, NJ 07501. Arrangements are posted at www.evasvillage.org