After almost two decades at Catholic Church in Springfield, the Rev. Salvatore Riccio will be leaving the parish to become a senior priest at Our Lady of the Assumption in Strafford.
“It’s very much like going back to being an assistant priest again,” Riccio said. “You give up the work of running a parish, and you go back to working with people. I’ll be offering support, dealing with spiritual work, and visiting people in need.”
Born in Lansdale, Pa., Riccio, 72, realized he wanted to become a priest during his junior year of high school.
“In grade school, I would listen to missionaries who came into the school to talk to us, and it kind of piqued my interest,” he said. “But by high school, you get involved in high school things. I was active in sports, going to the prom, that sort of thing. But then it just became more and more insistent in my mind that this is what I was going to do.”
Riccio left high school to enter the seminary, and spent the next 10 years studying the Catholic faith. He recently celebrated the 45th anniversary of his ordination.
His first parish as an assistant priest was St. Katharine’s of Siena in Wayne, Pa. As is the tradition in the Catholic Church, he changed parishes about every five years. Working as an assistant priest, he moved throughout the Philadelphia region, including a turn in St. Francis in 1976 that lasted for five years.
In 1993, he became the pastor at St. Francis.
“There’s about 7,000 people in the parish and we have about 2,300 families, and the Catholic school has about 260 children,” he said. “This church is a fairly large church, and is central to Springfield. The town is very much family-oriented. It’s a nice community that way. “
In the years that Riccio has been at St. Francis, he’s helped to implement a number of programs for the church, including developing a bereavement team.
“After someone passes, we help families with the liturgy,” Riccio said. “We help them select the readings they would like to have at the funeral, the prayers they would like to have. We find that it’s really very cathartic for the family that they have a way of expressing their grief.”
Riccio was instrumental in developing programs for the church’s youth, including bringing Life Teen, the nationally-recognized program for Christian teenagers, to the church.
After seeing the success of Life Teen, Riccio also helped form a program designed specifically for seventh and eighth graders to help them better navigate the goals of their faith, called Teens I.N.C.
“We wanted to make that program a little more hands-on,” Riccio said. “The younger grades really respond to that.”
After Riccio officially makes his move to Our Lady of the Assumption, he will be replaced by the Rev. Louis Bier.
“He was actually the assistant priest that helped welcome me when I first came to this church,” said Riccio. “So it feels very full circle.”
While Riccio said he is excited to be moving onto the next phase of his career, leaving St. Francis will be bittersweet.
“I’ll miss the people the most,” he said. “Because my priesthood, and my way of looking at things has always been about people.”
“He never says no,” said church secretary Joan Hewitt. “He’s always there for the community, willing to do what anybody asks of him.”
Secretary Joan Curtis agrees.
“I’ll miss his gentleness,” she said. “He’s very caring, very giving. And he has this great, dry sense of humor. We’re going to miss him here.”
Rev. Riccio’s closing mass will be held on June 19th at 11:30 a.m. at St. Francis. A farewell lunch will be held in his honor at Drexelbrook on June 12th from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. The cost is $40 per person.