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Purcellville Deacon John Vassallo dies at 78 of COVID-19

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Deacon John “Jack” F. Vassallo of St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville died of COVID-19 Jan. 8 at age 78. He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Barbara, their two daughters, Barbara McNally and Anne Marie McKinnon, and four grandchildren. 

Deacon Vassallo was born Dec. 14, 1942, in Newark, N.J. He grew up in New York and New Jersey. He attended McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, N.Y., Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y., and Fordham Law School in New York City. In 1969, he served in the Vietnam War as a civil affairs officer. He later had his own law practice in Willingboro, N.J. He was ordained a permanent deacon May 17, 1980, for the Diocese of Trenton and served 34 years in Corpus Christi Church in Willingboro. 

In 2015, he and his wife moved to Northern Virginia to be closer to their children and grandchildren. He served at St. Thomas à Becket Church in Reston until the fall of 2020 when he was transferred to St. Francis. 

Deacon Vassallo was assisting Father John Paul J. Heisler, parochial vicar of St. Francis, at Mass Dec. 6 when he fell ill. “He read the Gospel very strong, but when he came up to read the prayers of the faithful, he really struggled (then) and for the rest of Mass,” said Father Heisler. “(Massgoers) noticed something wasn’t right, and volunteered to drive him home back to Herndon. The last thing he did (before heading to the hospital) was celebrate Mass as a deacon.”

Father James R. Gould, pastor of St. Francis, described Deacon Vassallo as a wonderful man who made a great impression on the parish in the short time he was there. At the time of Deacon Vassallo’s death, some 40 families were praying a novena to St. Martin de Porres for his recovery. Father Gould administered anointing of the sick to Deacon Vassallo in the hospital. In a letter to the parish, Father Gould recalled the visit.

“His lovely wife, Barbara, was exemplary in her example to her children and those in the medical community. She herself had survived (COVID-19) earlier and was allowed to be at her husband’s side in the restricted room. The rest of us stood outside the windows watching the dear wife say goodbye to her husband, with a rosary held in their hands,” he wrote. “It was a most beautiful sight.”

Barbara Vassallo is a nurse practitioner and a volunteer at Catholic Charities’ Mother of Mercy Free Clinic in Manassas. Their daughter Anne Marie works for the diocese as a planning manager. 

Father Heisler was very impressed by the late deacon’s character. “From the first moment I met him in the sacristy, I immediately appreciated his directness, his humility, really his down-to-earthliness, his fatherliness but greatest of all his desire to serve, being a deacon after the example of St. Stephen, St. Lawrence and St. Vincent,” he said.

Deacon John F. Vassallo gets a bite of pizza with Fr. Mark E. Moretti, parochial vicar of Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling. COURTESY FR. MARK E. MORETTI

deacon john pizzaAttend the funeral

A visitation will be held Jan. 15 at 10 a.m. followed by a funeral at 11 a.m. at St. Francis de Sales Church, 37730 St. Francis Ct., Purcellville. 



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021