Spiritan Father Roberto Di Nardo, seen here with his sisters, was ordained to the order on May 23. Photo courtesy of the Spiritans

Priest is Spiritans’ first North American in 26 years

By 
  • May 30, 2015

TORONTO - The road to the priesthood for the first North American Spiritan to be ordained in 26 years began while flipping through the pages of The Catholic Register.

In 2003, Roberto Di Nardo came upon a Register advertisement that invited men and women considering the religious life to submit their contact information to connect them with vocations directors of religious communities across the country.

“I sent in my name to the database of people interested and... I was contacted by the Spiritans and the Redemptorists,” said Di Nardo. “The Spiritans called and I was speaking with Fr. Mike Doyle at the time and he wanted to get together for a coffee.”

Di Nardo said that from that moment, his relationship with the Spiritans has evolved very organically. On May 23, Di Nardo was ordained by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.

The ordination ceremony and banquet took place at St. Joseph’s Church in Scarborough. Di Nardo celebrated his first Mass on May 24, Pentecost Sunday and the Spiritan feast day.

“No pressure,” Di Nardo joked as he prepared for the special weekend. “I’m a little bit nervous... but I would like for things to flow slowly and smoothly (after the ordination) and that means me letting go and letting God take care of it.”
Di Nardo dedicated his first Mass to the memory of his parents.

Fr. Paul McAuley, the Spiritans provincial bursar, said welcoming Di Nardo to the Spiritan family is exciting for the whole community. In North America, Spiritan ordinations are extremely rare. He said most of the recruitment happens in Africa where it is one of the largest mission congregations.

“It’s a really joyful occasion for us and we want to share it,” said Fr. Barney Kelly, Spiritan priest and Di Nardo’s mentor. “In a way, Roberto will be lighting a little fire, not just during his ordination, but in his life afterwards.”

Di Nardo said he had always been attracted to the Church. During his childhood in Italy, his family’s relationship with the Church was very fluid.

“In Italy, we didn’t so much differentiate between Church life and family life,” he said.

But it was when Di Nardo moved to Canada at the age of seven that he began to discover his desire to be in the Church. As an altar boy at St. Brigid’s parish in Toronto, he got a front row seat to the Mass in action.

“At that point, I felt that I wanted to do something to do with what was going on there,” he said. “That grew as I got older, into my teens. It was also fostered by my family and by the people at St. Brigid’s, the pastors and the associate pastors there.”

At 15 years old, Di Nardo was already discerning with the Redemptorists. However, his discernment was put on pause when his mother grew ill.

“For the next four and a half years, that really took a lot of the energy taking care of mom and being with mom,” he said. “She died of cervical cancer and after that, I was really exhausted.”

Di Nardo’s mother died in February 1981 when he was 20 years old. During his young adulthood, he studied and worked in the field of information technology. In 1996, at the age of 36, he began to think about his desire for religious life again.

Di Nardo entered the Spiritan seminary in 2004, a year after getting in contact with the Spiritans. He studied in formation at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa for three years where he met his spiritual mentor Kelly, who became his formation director. They also spent a year in Chicago  together during Di Nardo’s novitiate year.

“Barney is very special to me. He has been there with me since the beginning,” he said. “During my novitiate in Chicago, I was mugged and he helped me through that. He’s been very influential in forming my priestly identity.”

“The fact that he wanted to become a priest was a key factor, of course, the desire,” said Kelly. “This is what will keep him nourished and keep him going. He is a fine human being.”

After his novitiate year, Di Nardo travelled to Mexico in 2010 to study Spanish in preparation for his mission trip with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

“Missionary life really drew me,” he said. “I saw poverty that I have not seen before... In Haiti, it was a blow. My jaw dropped and still they had these smiles, welcoming and that spirit is what’s drawing me and keeping me here.”

Di Nardo said he is really looking forward to serving as a priest at St. Joseph’s parish, but he is also looking to return to missionary work somewhere down the line.

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