Gregory A. Rapisarda has answered to the name "father" for decades, but that name will soon take on a much broader meaning.
Rapisarda, a 62-year-old widower, father of four and grandfather of five, will be ordained today at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in North Baltimore. The Rev. John C. Rapisarda, ordained in 2008, will perform the vesting honors for his own father, placing on him a cream-colored chasuble, the vestment worn at Mass.
And then, for the first time in the 221-year history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a father and son will both serve as parish priests, according to church officials.
"He is not only my father, but will be ordained as my brother in the prieshood," said John Rapisarda. "He will be as great a spiritual father as he has been a dad. He will be a great blessing to many."
"This is not anything you plan, and in many ways, I can't explain it," said the elder Rapisarda. "It just happens. This is another life transition for me, a very natural one. God is with us in every transition."
Gregory Rapisarda, an ordained deacon who has assisted at Masses, baptisms and other rituals since 2003, is among the oldest men to enter the priesthood in recent history and also is the only candidate this year, said Sean Caine, spokesman for the archdiocese.
"We have seen men in the midst of their careers discern a vocation to the priesthood," he said. "But that usually happens when a man is in his 30s or 40s."
The Rapisardas slip easily into familiar banter about their "father-father" status and the fact that the younger man is the more experienced priest. But they speak sincerely about the deep faith that marks both their lives and the gift of priesthood they share.
The two are separated by 30 years and the experiences of a lifetime. One joined the priesthood out of college and the other after a career and nearly 40 years of marriage.
They plan family get-togethers and laugh at the antics of the next generation, like the 4-year-old who looked at his grandfather's new home at the imposing St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park and said, "Pop Pop, what a big house you have!" The boy's impression was quickly when he saw the small room that would be "Pop Pop's" base during his two years of study.
"The church has always been part of our lives," said John Rapisarda, who remembered praying the rosary with his parents, his older brother and his two sisters and the lively dinnertime discussions of the Scriptures. He is associate pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Essex.
Gregory Rapisarda, an attorney, left a successful law practice in Harford County and sold the Bel Air home that he had shared with his wife until her death in 2006.
"There was a hunger to do more and an emptiness after Carol's death," he said. "I knew I would never remarry. Carol even told me before she died that I should think about being a priest."
Others gave him the same advice, and he had the blessing of all four children, he said. So, he began his studies at St. Mary's. He found he liked living in community "with a wonderful group of guys all seeking the Lord."
The archdiocese has yet to assign its newest priest, but Gregory Rapisarda is eager to get into parish work.
The father and son will be celebrating many Masses together in the next few months, including one at St. Leo's in Little Italy on June 26, in memory of the first generation of the Rapisarda family — Gregory's grandparents — who were married there. In September, they will celebrate the marriage of Joanna Rapisarda at St. Margaret's in Bel Air, where Gregory Rapisarda had been a deacon.
"I will walk my daughter down the aisle," said Gregory Rapisarda. "Then, I will bless the marriage with my son." Instead of priestly attire, he plans to don a tux for the reception.
Wherever he is assigned, he will take family mementos, including the note Carol Rapisarda left for her family.
"My love did not die, only my body," she wrote. "Support one another and live the life God meant you to live."
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