By Elizabeth Perry
Father Lou Vallone of Archangel Gabriel Parish in Robinson Township celebrated his 50th Jubilee on June 11.
The Jubilee Mass wasn’t just celebrating Vallone, or the other classmates he graduated with in 1973, but was also an attempt at outreach to bring parishioners back to the church.
COVID-19 restrictions caused parishioners to switch to online Mass, and many have not returned to physically attending church.
“It was an absolute joy celebrating with God's people. Everybody loves a party,” Vallone said.
Vallone said he hoped the mass and the picnic afterward would change minds.
“We have a big wave to get over and we’re losing the dimension of the human family, we have to bring our bodies together,” Vallone said.
Vallone acknowledges parishioners have legitimate fears of gathering together, not just because of the continued threat of disease but also in light of tragedies in which religious communities were targeted, as in the anti-Semetic attacks at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. However, Vallone said, “Fear is useless. What is necessary is faith.”
“There are so many things that drive us into our own little silos, (the) devil would rather have us in despair or apart,” Vallone said.
The mass was followed by a picnic featuring Italian staples, American soul food, Arabic specialities, Lebanese dishes and African cuisine from area caterers Fab’s Food for the Soul in Stowe) the Cooked Goose in Oakdale and Pitaland in Brookline.
Vallone said the variety of cultures represented through the food represented the diversity of his guests and welcomed everyone into the community. There were local people mingling with visitors from across the country, and the world, Vallone said. His friends traveled from all over to celebrate his anniversary.
To quote James Joyce, Vallone said, “Catholic means ‘here comes everybody.’”
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, was the principal celebrant, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston said the homily, and Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Diocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis attended because they shared a personal connection with Vallone.
“We don’t get to see each other very often, but we talk,” Vallone said. “Cardinal Dinardo and I go back to high school, he was two years behind me.”
DiNardo affirmed their friendship and said he was happy to attend.
“Fr. Lou has long been an advocate for those, as Pope Francis says, are on the margins of society. His care and attentiveness to the people he has served over these many years, especially in the African-American community, is a sign of his commitment to the Lord Jesus as a disciple and a priest,” DiNardo said via email.
Throughout his long career as a priest, Vallone has been outspoken with the press and had even been dubbed the “motorcycle priest” after an article which made the detail of him riding a motorcycle central to the story became national news.
Vallone said he’d been 50 years a priest, pastor of six parishes and he’d earned three religious masters degrees but “all they’ll put on (my) tombstone is that I rode a motorcycle.”
When asked about his proudest moment or greatest accomplishment, he’s dismissive of the notion.
As for a legacy, his advice was this: “There’s no greater legacy than to leave laughter, happiness, joy.”