, Gloucester, MA

January 9, 2009

Tearful goodbyes for fishermen

'Anger, confusion, all kind of feelings' surround loss of ship, men

By Richard Gaines

Gloucester, and the close-knit fishing community at its core, bid tearful goodbyes yesterday to two of its adopted sons, John Orlando and his son-in-law Matteo Russo, who died early Saturday while commercial fishing on a family-owned boat.

Throughout the funeral Mass at St. Ann Church, Orlando, 59, and Russo, 36, were remembered as "Battista and Matteo."

The pair were united by Sicily, the place of their birth, by family through marriage, by faith, work and the lingering mystery surrounding their deaths together in the ocean early Saturday morning, not far from where their modern boat, the Patriot, went to the bottom.

The Rev. Ronald Gariboldi, who presided with the Rev. Timothy Harrison and Bishop Francis Irwin, representing Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston, spoke of the mysteries on many levels and the confused knot of feelings — "anger, confusion, all kind of feelings," he said — about the loss of the two men.

"They were experienced fishermen, on a solid vessel in weather that wasn't bad," said Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who went through school with Russo and, postponed the party that had been planned Wednesday to celebrate her swearing-in as the new state representative from the 5th Essex district.

"Intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, it didn't make sense," Ferrante said after the Mass, burial in Calvary Cemetery and collation back at St. Ann Church, whose pews were filled by family, friends, the city's political leadership and a delegation from the Coast Guard.

Chief Warrant Officer Chris Sparkman, the commanding officer of Station Gloucester, accompanied by Chief Boatswains Mate Paul Wells, walked from the station on the harbor up to the office of Mayor Carolyn Kirk and with her walked the two blocks from City Hall to the church, which filled a half hour before the 11 o'clock service.

The Coast Guard continues to investigate the cause of the sinking and field questions about delays in the orders from Sector Boston to launch a full search-and-rescue effort to find the Patriot, as reported in yesterday's Times. The Patriot was a steel-hulled boat that was known along the docks as a model of modern technology.

The Russo and Orlando families, both originally from Sicily, were united when Matteo and Orlando's daughter, Josephine, were married four years ago.

Throughout the service, the young couple's nearly 3-year-old son Salvatore nuzzled on Josephine's shoulder. Josephine is pregnant with the couple's second child. Participants in the service teared as the mother-to-be and child passed by.

"In my mind," Bishop Irwin told the congregation, "the biggest sadness of today is the young man here and the future child. They will never know their father and grandfather."

Father Gariboldi, who said seagulls wake him in the morning to let him "know I'm in Gloucester," underscored the partnership of the families with the fishermen, and asked the congregation to pray "for all who await their return on the land."

"See how people love one another in this city," he said. "What a wonderful city to be in."

Matteo and Josie Russo bought the Patriot early last year, modernized it and, with her father as the mate, Matteo took the Patriot out late Saturday to bottom fish on Middle Bank inside Stellwagen Bank overnight.

The ship was lost in the early overnight hours. The boat's federally required homing system issued a last "beep" at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, and when a remote fire alarm system signaled trouble, the Fire Department confirmed within a half hour that the Patriot with Josie's husband and father on board had left port.

From Boston, the Coast Guard did not commission an air and sea search and rescue operation until about 4 a.m.

Richard Gaines can be reached at