Robert F. Casey, 90

Robert F. Casey, 90

Robert Francis Casey, 90, late of Lynn and Nahant, died in his sleep June 26.

Parish priest, lay substance abuse counselor, peace and civil rights activist, Bob was the author of the gently-told novel The Jesus Man and co-author of Screw: A Guard’s View of Bridgewater State Hospital. He is remembered as the “kindest,” “gentlest,” “least threatening,” “most selfless,” “totally present,” and “Christ like” person interlocutors had ever met. He’s also described as “mischievous,” “funny,” “stubborn” and “handsome,” often mistaken for Clint Eastwood to the amusement of his friends.  

Bob’s father, John T. Casey, was a Lynn police officer known for fairness; his mother, Alice Rogers Casey, was a neighborhood beauty known for kindness; and his only sibling, older brother Father John Patrick Casey, now retired, was a Maryknoll missionary known for service. True to their example, Bob became known as the bright, gentle kid, who diffused hostility with humor, befriended animals, and loved people without regard to race, creed, or color. Bob himself recalled an idyllic childhood, full of baseball, trips to Fenway Park, swimming at Fisherman’s Beach, and altar boy service, surrounded by loving aunts, uncles, and friends. He confessed to feeding his Friday fish to the cat and telling a fib or two to escape work at home or church to sneak out to the movies.

Bob went on to graduate from Saint Mary’s High School in Lynn in 1945 and Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton in 1952, and was ordained at the Church of the Holy Cross in Boston in 1952. He then served as a parish priest in Saint Joseph’s parish in Ipswich, Saint Agnes parish in Arlington (which included being a teacher and the first chaplain at Arlington Catholic when it opened in 1964), and the Fenway Campus Ministry, which served the Fenway colleges. In each parish, Bob became famous for kindness, ability to listen, empathize, and counsel, and out of the ordinary, gently told sermons described as “enthralling.” While at Saint Agnes, Bob helped create the Fidelity House Youth Center, and, while at the Campus Ministry, he nightowled as a member of the Ad Hoc Committee for Prison Reform and New England Prison Association and undertook eight-hour shifts as an outside observer at maximum security prisons, gaining adulation as the gentle priest who’d talk through the bars with anyone who wanted a sympathetic ear. Thus it was that Bob came to the attention of Tom Ryan, a guard at Bridgewater State Hospital, and was asked to co-write Tom’s memoir that exposed deplorable conditions at the hospital.

For personal and philosophical reasons, Bob quit the priesthood during the exodus of the late ’70s, and, after obtaining a masters in counseling at Cambridge College, became the clinical director at Eastern Middlesex Recovery Center, a residential substance abuse facility in Malden. There he remained for 20 years before retiring to Nahant.

In the course of this life well-lived, Bob marched, before it was safe to march, in support of civil rights and against America’s wars in Vietnam and Iraq and America’s involvement in South America. Students from Arlington Catholic remember Bob braving insults and debris marching with the Catholic Interracial Council in South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Others remember Bob opening his home to parolees, recovering addicts, and financially-strapped students. For the last year he was able to live independently, he shared his home with a nursing student from Rwanda. Everyone remembers Bob’s kindness, funny quips, mischievous glint, and admonition that we should listen to each other.

Service information: All who want to celebrate the life of The Jesus Man are invited to a funeral Mass on July 18 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church, 8 South Common St., Lynn. In lieu of flowers, please make a memorial donation to St. Mary’s High School. Arrangements by the SOLIMINE Funeral Homes, 781-595-1492. Directions and guestbook at www.solimine.com.

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