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NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - Tributes are pouring in for New York City's former department chief Joseph "Espo" Esposito, a stalwart Catholic, who died Monday at the age of 73 after a long battle with brain cancer.
Following Esposito's death, the Police Benevolent Association of the city of New York, which represents over 50,000 active and retired police officers, hailed him as "a true NYPD institution who dedicated his life in service to this city."
Likewise, the Lieutenants Benevolent Association described the chief as "a giant of New York City" who "will be sorely missed."
Esposito was "a hero who dedicated his life and career to keeping New Yorkers safe," Mayor Eric Adams echoed in a statement on Tuesday.
The mayor remembered:
He served his city on our darkest days and brightest moments... through the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, and our recovery after Hurricane Sandy. ... He worked hard for his city — right up to the end. He left us in a better place, and our city stands together to join his family in grieving his loss while honoring his service and commitment to our city.
"His commitment to our city was unwavering — in response to 9/11 and whenever we needed him most," the 9/11 Memorial & Museum recalled, adding, "Chief Esposito's life of service and leadership is among the stories we must never forget."
A son of Brooklyn, Esposito joined the force as a trainee in 1968. Over the next three decades, he climbed the ranks, serving in various commands.
In 2000, he was appointed chief of department, the NYPD's highest-ranking uniformed position. Esposito held that post for the next 13 years — the longest such tenure in New York City history.
From 2013–2019, he served as head of the city's Office of Emergency Management. In that role, he led the response to the 2016 terrorist bombing in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, as well as the 2018 steam pipe explosion in the Flatiron district.
Esposito spent his final years of service as a deputy commissioner for the Department of Buildings.
As noted in many accolades, one of the chief's signature achievements was the leadership he provided during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath.
One of the first members of law enforcement on the scene that day, Esposito ordered Bush administration officials to be alerted to the unfolding catastrophe, directed officers in the city's outer boroughs to be mobilized in case areas beyond Manhattan came under attack, and helped innumerable survivors make their way to safety.
For weeks afterward, he served as a member of the Ground Zero bucket brigade, searching for human remains and personally carrying bodies — including those of friends and colleagues — out of the rubble.
"I remember he would call me in the middle of the night to tell me they had found the remains of another service member," NYPD chaplain Msgr. Robert Romano recalled. "I would go down there, and I would see him. He would always be there to walk the body out. It was important to him."
Many of those closest to Esposito believe that he was ultimately a victim of the 9/11 attacks, suggesting that his work among the ruins of the World Trade Center later triggered the cancer that killed him.
In addition to his dedication to the civic life of New York, Esposito, a member of St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Bensonhurst, was deeply devoted to his faith.
"He never missed a Sunday Mass; he was there every week," Msgr. David Cassato, former pastor of St. Athanasius, said.
In a statement to The Tablet, Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop emeritus of the Brooklyn diocese, praised Esposito as "certainly one of our best Catholic lay persons in the diocese, really a church-going Catholic, a real believer."
In 2002, Esposito was named a knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. From 2013 to 2022, he chaired the Diocesan Review Board, helping oversee local Church officials' responses to clerical sex abuse allegations. In 2020, the chief was tasked with constructing a strategy to reopen Brooklyn churches and schools as New York emerged from COVID lockdown.
A wake for Esposito will be held on Monday, Jan. 15, from 1–7 p.m. at Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation parish in Brooklyn. A funeral Mass will follow on Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 9:30 a.m. at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.
Eternal rest grant unto Joseph Esposito, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.