Friends and congregants are still coming to grips with a Dunedin clergyman's sudden death this week.
Bishop William "Bill" Nicolaro and his son got caught in a rip current at Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina on Wednesday. His son made it back to shore, but 72-year-old Nicolaro, of Palm Harbor, suffered a heart attack in the water and died.
Nicolaro and his wife, Mary Ann, were in North Carolina to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with their five grown children and numerous grandchildren. The family celebrated the anniversary with a big party July 2, and Nicolaro also took the opportunity to speak about each one of his children and grandchildren, letting them know he loved them.
Back home, friends are just beginning to cope with Nicolaro's death.
"For me, it was heartbreaking," said Mark Bryan, an associate pastor who worked with Nicolaro at the Holy Apostles Charismatic Church in Dunedin. "He was my best friend."
Nicolaro was a warm friend and a leader who held firmly to his convictions, Bryan said. He started the church, which has about 70 members, after being ordained into the priesthood in the Catholic Charismatic Church of Canada and leaving Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in 1996 with the support of a small group of friends.
He was ordained as a bishop in 1997 and as the archbishop of the Greater District of Pinellas County in 2006.
The congregation, which Bryan said is purposely small to encourage a close-knit, supportive community, celebrated a special Mass for Nicolaro Thursday.
"Even though Bill is gone, we are still here. We're still moving forward," Bryan said. "Bill was the founder of the church, but he wasn't the church. He wanted people to understand that."
Nicolaro and his wife owned and ran Scotland Manor, an assisted living facility in Dunedin, and the pastor encouraged church members to contribute weekly food donations to his favorite charity, the RCS Food Bank. He stood beside people during their happiest and hardest times, performing marriages and funerals and counseling those who needed it, friends said.
"A big part of his outreach was helping families who had suffered losses. He was always there to help people," Bryan said.
Now, the community he helped build will come together to help each other through their loss.
Nicolaro had a penchant for growing orchids and telling jokes, and he was always telling jokes and smiling, Bryan said. Above all, though, he was a family man and a firm believer in God's will.
"One of the main things he always told the community is to always be prepared because you never know the day or the hour that you'll go home to the Lord," Bryan said.
Nicolaro is survived by his wife; children William, Ann Marie, Michael, Lisa and Christina; and many grandchildren.
A visitation will be held from 6-9 p.m. Monday at the Holy Apostles Church, at 1605 Pinehurst Road in Dunedin, and his funeral will be the following day at the church.