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Priest's Father Answers Priesthood Call
George P. Matysek Jr.
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Friday, June 18, 2010
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Deacon Gregory Rapisarda with his son, Father John Rapisarda, in Baltimore June 2.
BALTIMORE (CNS)—When Deacon Gregory Rapisarda's wife of nearly four decades died of cancer in 2006, she left a note for her husband and four children.

"My love did not die," Carol Rapisarda wrote, "only my body. Support one another and live the life God meant you to live."

Deacon Rapisarda took his wife's words to heart and prayed that God would show him what he was meant to do with the rest of his life. God answered by sending what the deacon called "promptings of the Holy Spirit."

Friends began suggesting that Deacon Rapisarda would make a good priest much like Father John Rapisarda, the deacon's youngest son, who was ordained in 2008. Then, in May of that year, Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore asked to meet with the deacon.

"He looked at me and said, 'Are you ready for the priesthood?'" Deacon Rapisarda remembered. "I said, 'I'm afraid.'"

The more he thought about it, however, the more enthusiastic Deacon Rapisarda became. It wasn't mere coincidence that people were asking him to think about the priesthood. It just might be God's call.

"When God's ready to act, God acts," the 62-year-old deacon said. "I put my condo up for sale and I moved into St. Mary's Seminary in August of 2009. My heart was excited."

Archbishop O'Brien ordained Deacon Rapisarda to the priesthood June 12. The ordination made the Rapisardas the first father and son to share a priestly vocation in the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and the first father-son priests since Jesuit Fathers Virgil and Samuel Barber served the then-Diocese of Baltimore in the early 19th century.

Father Gregory Rapisarda's first Mass was celebrated June 13, his priest-son's 33rd birthday.

"We've been very happy for him," Father John Rapisarda said. "We wanted Dad to know that we love him and we're excited about this. At the same time, none of us had any pressure on him."

Father Gregory Rapisarda said he was deeply moved by the prayers of the ordination ceremony, especially the litany of the saints.

"I felt the presence of all those saints who have gone before us including my wife," he told The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese. "That was really an uplifting, spiritual moment."

Among the saints whose names were invoked was St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, whose image peered out from a side chapel on Father Gregory Rapisarda, who had a longtime practice as an elder care attorney.

"It was almost overwhelming," echoed Father John Rapisarda. "It's just an amazing thing to see the joy that Dad has, the joy that the church has for Dad and then receiving such an amazing man as a priest."

The new Father Rapisarda, who as a teen had spent a year in a seminary, has felt his wife's presence throughout his journey. A Methodist who joined the Catholic Church, Carol Rapisarda had taken seminary courses with her husband as he was preparing for the diaconate.

"The opening prayer of a funeral says that our death does not destroy the bonds of friendship you have made on earth," said Father Gregory Rapisarda. "I certainly know I have her support because she supported me throughout her lifetime."

Faith has always been the foundation of the Rapisarda household. The family prayed the rosary together, attended Mass and practiced Catholic devotions.

"Our prayer time was fun and respectful," Deacon Rapisarda said. "Going to church wasn't something we thought about in addition to family life; it was part of family life. I think that what's borne fruit in our lives."

Asked which of the two Father Rapisardas would celebrate sacraments for the family, the father and son looked at each other and laughed.

"We'll do it by rock, paper, scissors," Father Rapisarda the younger joked.
His father chimed in: "John gets baptisms and I get funerals."

Father Rapisarda the elder noted that when his daughter, Joanna, gets married in September, he will walk her down the aisle and then concelebrate the Mass with his son.

"Then I'll spend the rest of the day being a father," he said.

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