Everyone's life has a story. In "Lives," we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently. "Lives" runs Mondays in The Salem News.
PEABODY — You could remain behind the scenes for only so long in the Rev. Frank Toste's drama program.
"At some point or another," said Dan Doucette, a former student, "he pushed everybody out on stage."
The experience gave a then-shy and doubting Doucette the confidence to let his voice be heard. Now the purchasing agent for the city of Peabody, Doucette still calls upon the lessons of his life-changing high school teacher when he has to address the City Council.
"He was a dynamic, energetic individual," Doucette said.
Toste died earlier this month at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford following a brief illness. He was 85.
A Navy veteran of World War II and a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, a teaching order, Toste came to Peabody High School in 1970 and started the high school's drama program, Stage One.
The Catholic priest in a public school stayed for 20 years and positively affected hundreds of young lives. His influence extended well beyond graduation.
"I would not be successful in the job that I have, I would not approach parenting the way that I do, I would not be the person whom I have become, if it were not for him," Mary McLaughlin, a writing instructor at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, wrote on her blog.
"He taught me how to challenge myself and how to take risks," she wrote. "He taught me the value of making difficult choices with integrity and the importance of doing the right thing instead of the popular thing."
The theater in what was then the brand-new Veterans Memorial High School was a second home for students.
"It was an amazing, family kind of feeling," said Neal Truesdale, a 1980 graduate. "Everyone was welcomed and accepted, and Father was the primary reason for that."
It was a comfortable but challenging environment. Toste was a "stickler for professionalism" and wasn't afraid to ruffle feathers, according to Truesdale's dad, Alan.
"He demanded a lot and got a lot out of them," Alan Truesdale said.
Alan helped establish SOAP (Stage One Association of Patrons), a group of parents that supported the drama department in whatever way they could.
"He was really terrific with the kids," Alan said. "They were his primary focus." Toste sat in the audience during productions, he explained, to represent the parents of kids who didn't make the show.
Toste was himself an actor appearing onstage at the North Shore Music Theatre and in the film "Oliver's Story." He was a technical adviser to William Christopher, the actor who played the Rev. Francis Mulcahy on the television series "M*A*S*H*"
In Peabody, he served on the Cable Commission and was the Police Department's chaplain. But his legacy is his contribution to the high school.
"(He) was irreverent enough to be cool, but stern enough to be respected by a theater full of unruly, hormonal teenagers," McLaughlin wrote.
His wake held at Stonehill College was like a reunion for all his former students.
"He helped so many of us," Neal Truesdale said. "It was just amazing."
Some of the many faces of Father Frank (circa 1967)
Father Frank on the set of M*A*S*H* with Loretta Swit, William Christopher, Alan Alda and Mike Farrell
Father Frank - January, 2010
Print Ad for Father Frank's 1970 run for State Representative