Paul Plato, 62; former priest spent lifetime serving others By Gloria Negri, Globe Staff | July 8, 2005
Paul A. Plato resigned as a priest from the Cleveland archdiocese in 1976 and was married the next year. Yet, those who knew him say, he continued to live in a priestly manner in the way he cared for others.'I have dealt with thousands of married priests over the last 14 years, and Paul was one of the most spiritual, genuine priests I have met," said Louise Haggett, who founded a service in Framingham in which priests who marry perform some priestly duties.
'No matter what he did or whose life he touched, the priest in him was part of who he was," Haggett said. 'Paul was just a beautiful, beautiful man, a very Jesus-like individual."
Mr. Plato, a social worker for three decades who fought for social and economic justice, died of cancer June 10 in his Norwood home. He was 62.
'In my heart, I believe that Paul always was a priest, that he never left the priesthood," said his wife, Leah O'Leary. 'He felt that he had not left the church, but that the church had left him."
At the time of his death, Mr. Plato was executive director of SCM Community Transportation of Somerville, a nonprofit organization that provides transportation services to senior citizens and people with disabilities.
'Whenever I think of him, I think of ice cream," said Trudy Siraco of Tewksbury, one of SCM's drivers. 'When Paul first came here four years ago, he brought in ice cream and cake on his birthday. After that, the freezer was always stocked with ice cream. When he was battling cancer and was unable to provide the ice cream, he wrote us a letter apologizing."
The second of seven children of a steelworker and his wife, Mr. Plato was born in Elyria, Ohio, where he grew up and went to a seminary high school at 14.
He earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy at Borromeo College in Wickliffe, Ohio, in 1965 and a master of divinity degree at St. Mary's Seminary in Cleveland in 1969. He was ordained a priest that year.
Mr. Plato was a parish priest in Rocky River, Ohio, for six years before moving to Boston in 1975. He attended Boston College School of Social Work while serving as a parish priest at St. Mary's Church in Randolph. It was at BC that he met O'Leary.
After earning his master's degree, Mr. Plato returned to Ohio. He moved back to the Boston area in 1976, and a year later, he and O'Leary were married.
'I think it was a very painful time for Paul," O'Leary said. 'I think he was struggling with how to be true to himself and the positions the church was expecting him to uphold."
Mr. Plato never left the field of human services, working in prisons, family counseling, and children's and elder services. From 1980 to 1988, he worked with Family Counseling & Guidance Centers Inc. of Boston.
From 1988 to 2000, Mr. Plato worked in various management positions for the former Parents' and Children's Services of the Children's Mission Inc. of Boston, directing department heads and managing the parental stress line, among other duties.
In Norwood, Mr. Plato and his wife were two of the four plaintiffs in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that forced the Norwood School Committee to remove a creche from the grounds of an elementary school. He also fought efforts to outlaw gay marriage and was active in the campaigns of state and local politicians because he believed the political system had an immense impact on social services.
His heroes were on one poster in his office: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers Movement.
More than two years ago, Mr. Plato took 'a courageous step," his wife said, by taking part in Haggett's rent-a-priest program and said his first Mass at the Masonic Hall in Framingham.
Two weeks after Mr. Plato died, there was a Mass for him at his old Ohio parish, St. Christopher's. There were eight priests on the altar. In the homilies, his wife said, they talked about his life of 'selfless service." In April, BC's School of Social Work awarded Mr. Plato its Distinguished Alumnus award. In his acceptance, he told the audience, 'If you are a social worker, you have to be an advocate . . . Don't leave advocacy to others. Make a difference."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Plato leaves a daughter, Katharine, and two sons, Russell and Dennis, all of Norwood; three brothers, William of Solon, Ohio, Dennis of Kingwood, Texas, and Robert of Dublin, Ohio.; two sisters, Jean of Lakewood, Ohio, and Margaret Neubauer of Olmsted Falls, Ohio.
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