Lynchburg, VA - Members of the Holy Cross Catholic Church are mourning the sudden death of the church's beloved deacon.
Joe Marotta drowned Wednesday afternoon while on vacation with his family in North Carolina.
The church's priest says Marotta's death was so shocking, people have been calling the church to make sure it isn't a rumor.
"Joe's been so much a part of the life of the parish that it was almost unbelievable," said Monsignor Kenneth Rush.
According to a statement from the town of Duck, North Carolina, Marotta was swimming at the beach Wednesday afternoon when he began to struggle. Public Safety crews pulled him from the water and began CPR, but the father of five could not be saved.
Linda Contreras worked with Marotta since he was ordained deacon in October. His chair now sits empty, but she says his life was full.
"He is a compassionate dynamo," Contreras said.
Friends say the 39-year-old, who also served as controller of Randolph College, was vibrant and charismatic. They say he strengthened others' faith by his own example.
"He loved the church. He loved his family. He loved his wife. And he loved being a deacon," added Monsignor Rush.
Joe Marotta was supposed to officiate his very first wedding this Saturday. Monsignor Kenneth Rush had to tell the couple.
"When I called her yesterday to say he had died, that was a difficult call. She burst into tears," Rush recalled.
But friends have no doubt the deacon was just promoted to serve a higher calling.