Rocco DiDonato Jr., a beloved custodian at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, died Sunday after a brief illness. He was 70.

Mr. DiDonato devoted his life to the Portland diocese and served as a custodian and Eucharistic minister at The Cathedral and then at Sacred Heart Church in Portland for 50 years.

He was remembered by loved ones Tuesday as a quiet and gentle soul who touched a lot of lives through prayer.

A longtime Portland resident, Mr. DiDonato was a fixture at The Cathedral for 33 years and regularly attended the 12:15 p.m. daily Mass. He did everything from washing floors to repairing things, but was just as comfortable on the altar serving Communion at Mass and playing the organ during weddings and funerals.

“He always had a smile and a hymn,” said his twin sister, Phyllis “Marie” Wiley-Cushman of Steep Falls. “He had a song in his heart all the time. He was always in prayer.”

Mr. DiDonato then worked at Sacred Heart Church in Portland for 17 years. He retired in 2012 when his health began to fail.

His sister remembered the ring of keys that used to hang from his belt when he was working.

“He would say he had the keys to heaven,” she said. “I’m sure the gates were open for him. They were waiting for him.”

Mr. DiDonato was a devout Catholic. His sister said he always wore a white shirt with black slacks and a scapular medal cross similar to the one he received at his first Holy Communion. He always carried prayer cards of friends and parishioners who had passed away.

“He kept them in his pocket close to his heart,” his sister said. “He was always praying for them. He touched a lot of people through the years with prayer. People were so grateful … when their loved ones passed, he prayed for the family, too. I can’t express it enough. He was so strong in his faith.”

After retiring, Mr. DiDonato volunteered in the pastoral services department at Maine Medical Center for nearly 11 years – a total of 9,857 hours, the hospital said. He distributed Holy Communion to patients, and also played the piano in the lobby and did clerical work for the chaplains.

“He was compassionate and generous-hearted with all the people he came into contact with,” said the Rev. Catherine “Kitty” Garlid, director of spiritual care at Maine Med. “Rocco lived for this work. It was extremely important to him. It was his way of not only serving patients, but doing it in a way that was true to his religious faith. Our department will always miss him and we are so grateful for his service.”

Family and friends will gather from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home, 172 State St. in Portland. Prayers will be recited at the funeral home at 9:15 a.m. Friday, followed by a 10 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial at the Cathedral, 307 Congress St. in Portland.

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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