DUNEDIN — A Pinellas County clergyman died after fighting an Atlantic rip current Wednesday in North Carolina, where he was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife, five children and 18 grandchildren.
Bishop Angelo William Nicolaro, 72, of Dunedin's Holy Apostles Catholic Charismatic Church, and his wife, Mary Ann, held family beach reunions every July Fourth holiday, but this one was special, said Father Mark Bryan, the church's associate pastor.
"It was a great blessing that the day before he died, the family did get to celebrate the 50th anniversary," Bryan said. "Father Bill got to speak of all his children and grandchildren."
Ocean Isle Beach authorities said Father Nicolaro and one of his sons were caught in a rip current Wednesday and struggled to return to shore. The area is known for strong rip currents; two people in nearby Sunset Beach drowned in one the same day.
Father Nicolaro was taken to a hospital and died of a heart attack, Bryan said.
Father Nicolaro ran a lawn service and landscaping business in his native New Jersey and was ordained there as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1989, he became a pastoral associate at Dunedin's Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
He felt a calling to the priesthood, but not to celibacy, Bryan said. So he researched options and started a congregation of the Catholic Charismatic Church of Canada, an offshoot of Catholicism that follows Catholic rites but is not part of the official Roman Catholic Church.
The church met first in parishioners' homes and then in rented spaces. Bryan said it now has about 70 members, who were contacted by telephone about their leader's death. The church held a special Mass of reconciliation Thursday morning for Father Nicolaro and his family.
The Nicolaros owned and ran Scotland Manor, an assisted living home in Dunedin. The family was close-knit, Bryan said. Most Sundays, daughters Lisa Nelson of Trinity and Christina Meadows of Tampa would bring their families to the Nicolaros' Palm Harbor home after church.
Father Nicolaro also performed occasional weddings and many funerals for people not associated with any particular church, Bryan said.
"He was very compassionate man who was well-known and respected by funeral directors in the area," Bryan said.
Sylvan Abbey in Clearwater is handling funeral arrangements, which were still pending Thursday.