Father Bernardo Pistone loved the people of Saint Francis Xavier Gettysburg when he served as the parish’s pastor. Almost a decade has passed since the Italian native moved from here, but several of his former parishioners traveled to Lancaster on Sunday, June 11 to return the love.
Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, where Pistone now resides, held a Golden Jubilee Mass to celebrate his 50 years as a Catholic priest. The man of honor himself celebrated the Mass with the assistance of several other priests.
“Thank you all for being here today. I very, very much appreciate your presence,” an obviously humbled Pistone told the congregation.
The homilist made the Mass extra special for those from Gettysburg. Father Jonathan Sawicki served at Saint Francis from 2008-2012, first as deacon and then as parochial vicar. Sawicki is currently the Diocese of Harrisburg’s director of vocations and pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Steelton.
Sawicki credited Pistone’s passion for caring for the marginalized. While at Gettysburg, he was one of the co-founders of Manos Unidas Hispanic American Center. Before he was transferred to Gettysburg in 2002, Pistone served at Saint Mary’s in Lancaster. Parishioners there gave him a monetary gift as a sign of appreciation. He used the funds to buy Saint Francis a van to transport people to Mass.
“Bernie Pistone was Pope Francis before there was a Pope Francis and he is more Pope Francis than Pope Francis,” Sawicki said.
Sawicki recalled the advice Pistone gave him as a young priest, including not sitting behind a desk waiting for people to come to him. Pistone’s ability to connect with his flock allowed him to learn what they needed, such as a major restoration at St. Mary’s, the establishment of the San Juan Bautista mission, and a new parish school at St. Francis Xavier.
“These places stand as examples of how a spiritual father anointed with the oil of gladness will share that anointing for generations to come,” Sawicki said. “He would give you the shirt off his back.”
Sawicki recalled how Pistone, while serving in Gettysburg, remained connected to family and friends from his previous assignments. Sawicki believes Pistone’s relationships kept him grounded and improved his ability to serve people.
“Father Pistone, thank you for your ‘yes’ to our Lord. May God grant you many more years of serving as a priest of Jesus Christ,” Sawicki said.
The Pistone family moved to America from World War II-ravaged Italy when Pistone was a young man. His father cleaned the floors of the local Catholic school in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood so his children could receive a Catholic education.
Pistone became a Catholic brother in 1961. In 1964, a priest told him he “had the brains” to become a priest, so Pistone entered the seminary and received his high school diploma. His older brothers helped to pay for his tuition until he learned that the Diocese of Harrisburg would cover seminarians’ tuition.
Bishop Joseph T. Daley ordained Pistone on May 19, 1973. He served at Saint Joan of Arc, Hershey (1973-74), Saint Mary’s, Lancaster (1974-79), Cristo Salvador, York (1979-1987), St. Mary’s and San Juan Bautista, Lancaster (1987-2002); and Saint Francis Xavier, Gettysburg (2002-2014).
“The church for me, because I am so aggressive, or so workaholic, or so stupid, or put all of those things together, people have responded beautifully,” Pistone said in a 2014 interview. “From my perspective, being a foreigner made me aware of how blessed I was to be in America and I think that colored me from year one.”
Alex J. Hayes, Editor, has spent almost two decades in the Adams County news business. He is heavily involved in the community through his volunteer roles at the Rotary Club of Gettysburg, Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church, United Way of Adams County, and Healthy Adams County. Alex is also a freelance writer for several other publications in South Central Pennsylvania.
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