Rev. Leo A. Rigatuso is pastor of St. John Nepomucene Parish, Howells, NE, Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, Howells, NE and Holy Trinity Parish, Clarkson, NE. Fr. Leo graduated from Omaha Central High School in 1977, and from University Nebraska Omaha with a Continuing Studies Degree in 1986. Before going to seminary he worked for Biodex Corp. in Long Island, NY. He entered seminary in 1989 at Mundelein, Chicago, Illinois. The oldest of 4, (1 brother and 2 sisters) the Italian/Irish Rigatuso played sports in school, was a competitive swimmer, homecoming king, and a competitive powerlifter for eight years. Leo played drums with his uncle’s band for 4 years starting when he was 12 years old, they played weddings and parties.
A schoolmate of mine from junior high and high school, I knew Leo well, back in the day, hung out in the same neighborhood, (Field Club) and thought the world of him, and his family. When we, his school friends, heard that he became a priest, it was big news.
I’ve met parishioners of his, who tell me that he is, simply put, the kindest, most loving priest. That doesn’t surprise me at all. Leo’s positive attitude and smile was his hallmark as a kid. These days, as a Facebook friend, I find him to be a very dedicated cleric, a thoughtful leader, a conservative beacon.
Reading Leo’s bio online – I found these tidbits about him: Saintly Friends: St. John Vianney, St. Francis, St. Pio of Pietrelcina and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Favorite Prayer: Divine Mercy Chaplet. Favorite Meal: “Pizza… on the grill. Yep, on the grill” Desired Charism: Healing, we all suffer at times, in one way or another. To be the vessel that God uses for healing others would be amazing. Leo says he felt the “real sense of God’s presence” among his family and friends as he grew up in Omaha. “Mine was a strong, faith-filled family, and a lot of my experiences were centered around worship. Nothing overt; just a firm practice of the faith.”
My old friend, Fr. Leo took the time to answer my FIVE QUESTIONS:
1) How does one know that he or she has a calling to the priesthood or sisterhood? How did you know? What was the path like that took you from Homecoming King at CHS to Fr. Leo? Was it sudden, or a process?
LR – First it begins by sensing a call, an invitation, so to speak. Then you pray about it, investigate it, look into it, talk to a priest or someone you know will give solid advice. Reflecting back, my first sense of this came at mass. The family was at mass on a Sunday morning at Blessed Sacrament Church and Fr. Jim Schwertley was the Celebrant. I remember thinking, while he was giving the homily, “why would someone want to be a priest”. I was ten yrs old. I remember it like it happened last week. In high school I wrote to the Franciscans, nothing particular, just to get some info on the order. There was an underlying interest that came to fruition only years later. I never really recognized it at the time, nor did I ever communicate it to anyone. Back in 1987 I was working for a company in Long Island, NY and attending daily mass at the local parish. A friend of mine, Thurman Ballard (from Omaha), was also employed there. On the way back one night from NY City we stopped for dinner and I decided to run the thought of me becoming a priest by him to see what he thought. He is a sharp guy, very analytical & I trusted his insight. He paused for several minutes while thinking about the question. Then he said: “Yeah. I can see you doing that.” I remember thinking; “whoa, this could be real!” A while later I spoke with the vocation director for the Omaha Archdiocese and moved back to Omaha to continue the process. Ultimately, it’s The Church that decides whether or not one has a vocation to religious life. An individual senses it then presents himself to the Church (Bishop and Seminary Faculty) for a final decision that comes in time.
The journey was… interesting. Just the question: “the path from Homecoming King at CHS to Fr Leo?” Brings up all kinds of terrific memories. I loved my years at Central! The students, the faculty… all of it. From there to UNO then to Long Island, NY to Columbus, Ohio then back to Omaha to study for the priesthood at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. It’s all amazing to me still. The good Lord had a plan, I was a little slow on picking up on it but He was patient and paved the way. It was definitely a slow process. This past June was my 20th anniversary of Ordination. Time has flown by!
2) You’re very comfortable with social media, and seem to have no problem letting people know your stands on issues, whether religious or political. Are there lines you won’t cross? Do you feel it is helpful for the clergy to comment on politics and other personal matters publicly?
LR – There are lines I don’t want to cross but once in a while I get a little carried away! I try to back away at that point and gain some perspective. I don’t like singling out individuals (but sometimes can’t help myself!). I try to remember what’s really happening, and has been since time immemorial. Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities & powers” (paraphrase).
I do feel it is healthy for clergy to comment on politics – Especially when it begins to interfere with the practice of Faith. As a person of Faith I am called to look at the World through the lens of the Gospel, not the other way around. Pope Francis (as well as his predecessors) have said that Faith (Religion) should not be hidden away. Faith necessarily is meant to help shape and influence societal and national life (Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel).
3) Some conservative Catholics seem to have problems some of the more liberal stances of Pope Francis, others simply love him. What’s your take on the current church and her leader? What is your opinion on his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and the way he stepped back? Do you feel that there will be major changes in dogma or doctrine under this current papacy?
LR – My stance/opinion?… we’ll see. It will play itself out in time & history. Back in the mid 1980’s I came in contact with a few Catholics that did not like Pope John Paul II. I didn’t know much about him at the time. They seemed to have a real dislike for the Man; his vision for the Church, what he was saying, doing and so on. Well, now we know what The Church thinks about him – Saint John Paul II!. It all works out eventually. The problem is we are often lacking the needed patience. These things play out in the course of a life time. Not in a few sound bites of info.
I like Pope Benedict – a brilliant and insightful writer & it seems a truly kind, humble and prayerful man – but I don’t have the connection to him that I felt with John Paul II. I’ve never been to Rome & I never had the chance to meet him, it’s just something spiritual. He (Pope Benedict) brought up some really important issues when he decided to resign. Prior to John Paul II the Papacy was lived out (for all practical purposes) mostly in Rome. John Paul II may have changed that from here on out. People are living longer and the demands of the Papacy have to be astronomical! The issues of an advanced age can definitely hinder one from living the Office of Pope to the extent it requires today. I can understand why he decided to step back.
Doctrine – Dogma. First lets define what we’re talking about. This is from the EWTN website; Author Colin B. Donovan, STL on 3/10/09: “The doctrine(s) of the Church, therefore, are those teachings which must be believed by the faithful. These include 1) dogmas, teachings which the Church has solemnly defined as formally revealed by God, and, 2) other teachings definitively proposed by the Church because they are connected to solemnly defined teachings. The first (dogmas) can be called doctrines of divine faith, the second doctrines of catholic faith. Together they are said to be “of divine and catholic faith.” Both kinds of doctrine require the assent of faith. Both are infallibly taught by the Church. Dogmas require it because they are formally revealed by God. Doctrines definitively proposed by the Church require it, because the infallibility of the Church in matters of faith and morals is itself divinely revealed.”
By definition they can not be changed; it’s at the Heart of what Catholics believe. The Truths can’t change but how they are presented or taught may change. There have been all kinds of Popes in the history of the Church; Saints and Sinners. But none of them have ever taught false teachings in relation to Doctrine or Dogma.
4) How is it living in a smaller community? Do you ever miss the bigger city? What are your hobbies? Do you still work out? Involved in any sports? What music do you listen to? Tell us about your bulldogs?
LR – It’s taken a few years, but living in a smaller community has been wonderful. I’ve grown to love the pace, the open spaces and I don’t miss the traffic at all! I do miss the convince of a bigger city, but Omaha is only about 70 miles away.
I really don’t have any “hobbies” so to speak. I still hit the gym here in town a few times a week to lift weights (Gotta have that!) and I enjoy taking pictures of the countryside during the different seasons of the year. As far as music, I have some 70’s 80’s & 90’s on a thumb drive that I have playing in the background while in the gym, but that’s about it.
The two bulldogs I had, Guido and Bruno, passed away a couple of yrs ago. Shortly after that I got Maggie from a rescue in Hastings, NE. She is as sweet as can be. Loves seeing and meeting everyone that stops by the rectory. I do have to watch her when the kids are out for recess… there is a natural attraction between them! She runs over to play with them and they see her and start moving in her direction. So, I do a little look-out work before she goes out to take care of business!
5) Who do you go to for advice? How do you re-charge your spiritual batteries? What goals do you have personally and professionally?
LR – I have a couple of close priest friends and some guys that I’ve known since college, I go to them when there are things I need another perspective on. Prayer, reading and/or meeting some friends for dinner is a good way for me to unwind and recharge. I’ve found the goal part difficult in the spiritual life. Maybe you’ve heard the joke: You know how to make God laugh? Tell Him your goals & plans. It’s more about learning to trust God and that’s a life long process. Some days and times you do it better or worse than others.