Dedicated to his parishioners during his more than 40 years as a priest, the Rev. Joseph Zingaro drew particular satisfaction every year on a weekend before Christmas by bringing out his model train collection for all to enjoy.

“He had such joy in setting up this whole elaborate platform,” said Linda Milewski, who was hired as a school principal by Father Zingaro 20 years ago. “It just made him so happy when he saw kids or adults – especially kids – standing there watching these trains with their mouths wide open. No matter how long it took him to put it up, it was always worth it, because he knew he was making other people happy. It was quite a display.”

Father Zingaro, 67, pastor of St. John Cantius Church in the city’s Bridesburg section, died from complications related to the coronavirus at Jeanes Hospital on Wednesday, May 20, the 42nd anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

He grew up in Manayunk and graduated from Roman Catholic High School before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He was a former parochial vicar at three parishes – St. Edmond, Assumption BVM, and St. Adalbert – and a former pastor at Sacred Heart and Holy Name of Jesus parishes.

He became pastor at St. John Cantius in 2000 and, except for one year at Holy Name of Jesus, stayed there until his death. Milewski said he thought of St. John’s as his second home, after Manayunk.

During the 86th annual Pulaski Day Parade on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Oct. 6, 2019, Father Zingaro (front right) compliments the flowered headdress worn by Alex Kurpaska, 16, of Port Richmond. It was made by her mother, Barbara Kurpaska (left). Alex's father, Chris Kurpaska, is on the far right.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
During the 86th annual Pulaski Day Parade on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Oct. 6, 2019, Father Zingaro (front right) compliments the flowered headdress worn by Alex Kurpaska, 16, of Port Richmond. It was made by her mother, Barbara Kurpaska (left). Alex's father, Chris Kurpaska, is on the far right.

“That was the life he chose, and he loved every minute of it,” she said. “He loved serving his people, helping his people. He was a wonderful, wonderful guy. He always put other people first. He never put himself first. He liked to do it quietly.

“He was always upbeat. No matter what the situation was, no matter how dire it was, he always found something good, something positive.”

She said Father Zingaro loved to travel, visiting most of the continental United States.

“He always said he liked to sit outside and just talk to people that were from different areas of the country,” she said. “He liked to get a feel for the atmosphere of different places around the United States and how different they were or how similar they were to where he was. He told me one of his favorite spots was Wyoming.”

Father Zingaro always put other people before himself.
Courtesy of St. John Cantius
Father Zingaro always put other people before himself.

She said Father Zingaro had battled health issues after developing diabetes as a teenager. In the last 15 years, he had broken both of his legs in a fall while walking his dog, and he had been involved in two automobile accidents.

“He has bounced back so many times from accidents and serious illnesses,” she said. “Everyone thought this would be another one of those times where he’d bounce back and be back at the rectory. But it wasn’t that way. People that I’ve seen are heartbroken.”

Joe Juliano, jjuliano@inquirer.com