Fr. Victor Botari at his 2008 ordination at age 63. The native of Welland, Ont., spent much of his adult life co-ordinating aid programs before answering the call to the priesthood. Grandin Media photo

Ordained at 63, late vocation was no barrier for Fr. Botari

By  Andrew Ehrkamp, Canadian Catholic News
  • May 29, 2018

EDMONTON – Fr. Victor Botari was ordained to the priesthood late in life, but he brought a passion for social justice to all the Alberta parishes he served.

Fr. Botari died May 21 at age 73, 10 years after his ordination. He had been retired for five years after suffering from failing health.

Ordained at age 63 on Aug. 25, 2008, he served as associate pastor of St. Joseph Basilica and as pastor at St. Peter’s Parish and others in the Villeneuve area northwest of Edmonton.

“It bothered him a bit personally that he was seen as an ‘old’ priest. But it didn’t seem to bother the people he served,” said Fr. John Hesse, who was Fr. Botari’s spiritual director. 

“We serve in an atmosphere that even if you celebrate one Mass as a priest, it is worthwhile to be ordained.”

Victor Botari was born in Welland, Ont., and raised along with two brothers and two sisters in a large Italian family. An altar server starting at age eight, Fr. Botari would later tell reporters that it had been a dream of his to become a priest even though it seemed unattainable at the time.

“All of us who were altar boys who were thinking of being priests got the message that the people who were chosen by God as priests were just something far too special, far too removed from normal people with normal faults,” Fr. Botari said in an interview.

Fr. Botari would realize his dream, but only after a long career with the Canadian International Development Agency co-ordinating aid programs overseas. Back in Canada, he taught at community college in Inuvik, N.W.T., and in Calgary. He then spent years developing social programs and working with the poor and marginalized in Vancouver, then later at Boyle Street Community Services in Edmonton.

Fr. Botari was a member of the choir — and later a deacon — at St. Alphonsus Parish, just blocks away from where he was living, and where Fr. Tesfu Kelati, the pastor at the time, got to know him.

“His was a late vocation for sure, but he had worked in social justice for many years. He was very connected to the liturgy through music but he wanted more,” said Kelati, who would write a personal reference letter for Fr. Botari when he applied to and entered Edmonton’s St. Joseph Seminary in 2003. 

“He eventually responded to God’s call.”

Fr. Botari replaced Kelati as the new pastor at St. Peter’s parish in Villeneuve in 2010. He retired in 2014. 

Throughout his ministry, his age was an advantage, not a handicap, Hesse said.

“I found that with his life experience he was very patient with people,” Hesse said. “For example, if someone asked a question about the liturgy that others might brush off, Fr. Victor would be very patient and explain the history and significance. He was a good listener when people came to him.”

Kelati adds: “He was very connected with serving people.”

At his 2008 ordination, when asked his advice for young people, Fr. Botari reflected on his own vocation, saying: “Don’t run away, because if God is really calling you, He is not going to let go. You save yourself a lot of grief if you just accept it from the beginning.”

In retirement, he continued to celebrate the sacraments in various parishes, including Assumption and Resurrection parishes in Edmonton. 

The funeral for Fr. Botari was held May 30 at St. Charles Parish in Mearns, about 60 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

(Grandin Media)

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