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Retirement: Father Richard Pentello

Led to the priesthood by family’s example

Father Richard Pentello after his retirement Mass, wearing a custom-made Hawaiian shirt stating "The legend has retired."
Photo by Brian Keith

While growing up, Father Richard Pentello knew and admired many priests, but the influence he cites most strongly is that of his family.

He grew up in Canton—as a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish then at St. Joan of Arc Parish. He was one of our four boys and one girl born to  his mother, Rose, and his father, Sabatino, a milkman in the days of home- delivery of milk.

“We were very popular. Our freezer was always filled with ice cream, popsicles, fudgsicles, that my dad got for pennies on the dollar,” said Father Pentello.

They were an active Catholic family. He and his brothers and sisters attended the parish school and later Canton Central Catholic High School. The family also prayed the rosary every day and went to Mass every Sunday. “I remember sitting there seeing the priest and thinking, ‘I could do that,’” he said.

His greatest influence, however, was his parents. “They never pushed me in any direction, but by their example, their love, their light. I learned to be open to where God might be calling me.”

“There has to be a strong foundation in faith to discern a call to the priesthood, and they gave me that,” Father Pentello said. He noted that all of his brothers and his sister continue to be active Catholics.

“The idea of becoming a priest started to percolate in my heart and mind at the end of high school,” Father Pentello continued, but he decided that he would first go to college—then-Walsh College in North Canton—and later assess the calling. 

He majored in sociology. “I went to school full time and worked at a bank full time,” Father Pentello said. He also taught CCD at his parish. “I had a good time in college. I had fun. I had a lot of good friends, but there was still that gnawing sensation that my calling lay elsewhere.”

So, when he graduated from Walsh in 1975, he decided: “‘I need to check this out’—not knowing for sure that it would work.” He added with a laugh that “I had a Plan B–law school.”

He soon found that the seminary was where he needed to be. “It was great. I met a lot of good men—some of whom I continue to be friends with.”

Father Pentello was ordained by Bishop James Malone in 1979, and his first assignment was to Holy Family Parish in Poland, which he called “a blessing and a grace.” 

A fun fact about Father Pentello is that, at the end of his tenure there, in 1983, Father Pentello, who enjoys soap operas, wrote in to a TV show, Fantasy, which gave selected fans who wrote in an opportunity to fulfill a fantasy. He was selected and got to appear in a cameo on The Young and the Restless, a popular daytime drama. “It was exciting. I met the actors, some of whom are still on the show.”

His subsequent parish assignments—St. Brendan Parish in Youngstown, St. Mary Parish in Massillon, St. Ambrose Parish in Garrettsville and St. Patrick Parish in Kent—were all different, “But they were all wonderful. There are good people everywhere.”

His first pastorate was at St. Ambrose Parish in 1990. In addition to regular pastor duties, he was engaged in campus ministry with the students at the nearby Hiram College. “Many of the students helped in the parish CCD.”

In 2006, Father Pentelllo was appointed administrator and then pastor at St. Patrick Parish. “It was a much larger parish with a large school. So, it was an adjustment, but it was a good adjustment.” The parish was always busy until COVID-19 hit. “That’s when I started growing my beard,” he added with a chuckle. Last year, he assumed the additional responsibility of pastor at Kent State Newman Center. 

He retired July 1 with farewell Masses the weekend of June 24 and 25. “One of the last things I did was put in a prayer garden with a memorial to the unborn,” he said. Bishop David Bonnar came out for the dedication.

Father Pentello looks back at his priesthood with gratitude. Among the surprises that he encountered was discovering “how much the people respect their priests. Throughout my priesthood, I was amazed at how you can influence and touch people’s lives in such a simple way—just paying a compliment or dropping by to see someone, even when, to me, it was no big deal.”

He recalls no negatives to his priesthood, though he noted that “there were some days—like anyone who works with people—when it seems a little overwhelming, but it wasn’t often.”

What he likes best about being a priest is “being able to preside at the liturgy—to be there with the people … and to use the gifts that I have to bring them closer to Jesus.

“And just being there with good, good people,” Father Pentello added.

For his retirement, he is living in Uniontown, near his family and the Portage County parish where he served.

His plans include “visiting family, visiting friends, and I hope to do some traveling.” And he noted, “I will continue to help out at Mass.”

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