Jubilarian ‘ran from vocation,’ but later found it


SEA CLIFF — While still very young, Father Bob Romeo recalls, “I knew that God was calling me to the priesthood, but I tried to run from it.

“I wanted a typical life,” said the pastor of St. Boniface Martyr Church here. “I wanted to be married, to have children, but God had other plans for me.”

In April, Father Romeo celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest when his parishioners threw a surprise party for him.

Father Romeo, son of Fran, a homemaker, and Gabriel, a banker, grew up in Plainview, one of four boys. They attended St. Pius X Church. “My parents were really involved in the life of the church,” participating in groups like the Holy Name Society and the Altar-Rosary Society.

“We had priests who were friends and visited our home,” Father Romeo said. Msgr. Jim Kelly was associate pastor. “He was a great friend” and an influence on young Romeo.

Later the family moved to Dix Hills, where they belonged to St. Matthew’s Church. Among the priests who influenced him there was Msgr. James McDonald “who was in love with the priesthood and in love with the Eucharist. He saw God in everything.”

Though he felt the calling, Father Romeo said, he went to Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania to study business. After one semester he left. Eventually, he entered the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington. “The academics were great. I was opened up to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.”

He also valued his pastoral year at St. Joseph’s, Ronkonkoma, both for the experience of living and working in a parish and for knowing the pastor, Father Charles Kohli.

“He is one of the most spiritual men I know, but also very human. Fun,” Father Romeo said. “He’s been a powerful influence on me and my priesthood.”

Father Romeo was ordained May 9, 1987, and assigned to St. Christopher’s Church, Baldwin.
“I heard a priest say that you leave part of your heart at your first parish, and that was true for me,” he said. He cited Msgr. John Bennett, the pastor, and two other associate pastors, and how well the four worked together.

“We had different spiritualities, but we were united in ministering to the parishioners. I learned the meaning of unity,” Father Romeo said. They also served as chaplains at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, “which was a place that had special moments for ministry.”

In 1992, he was transferred to Curé of Ars, Merrick. “I served under two pastors, Msgr. James Swiader and Father James Mannion, and I learned from both of them.”

At Curé, he also became a volunteer firefighter and chaplain for a fire company. He said he was profoundly affected by the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“You could see that people needed Jesus in their lives,” Father Romeo said.

At Curé of Ars he also had more opportunities for ministry with adults. “I loved Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).”

Father Romeo became associate pastor of St. Peter of Alcantara, Port Washington, in 2002. He praised the pastor, Msgr. Dan Picciano. Father Romeo enjoyed visiting the parish school as well as working with the youth minister.

“We had about 80 to 90 kids” who were involved in a variety of activities, from regular meetings to such projects as “The Midnight Run,” where they go into Manhattan to offer food to homeless people.

“Most important we focused on Jesus,” Father Romeo said.

For years, he resisted becoming a pastor because, “in the words of one of my former pastors, I wanted to avoid ‘the Three Ls, leaks, locks, and ledgers.’” Yet in 2007, he was assigned to his first pastorate, St. Boniface here.

“I found that I love being a pastor” because it offers unique opportunities to serve.
An important element of leadership is working with groups of parishioners to call upon their expertise and insight for the direction of the parish.

Still, the pastor ultimately must make the decisions, Father Romeo said, “but he must come to it in prayer so that the Holy Spirit can direct us.”

One surprise he has found since becoming a priest “is how warmly people welcome you. I was once at a family’s house for a barbecue and realized after a while that I was the one person there who wasn’t part of the family.” His first reaction was that he didn’t belong, but soon realized: “No. I am a part of the family.”

One difficult aspect he sees is the fact that priests are regularly transferred from one parish to another. “You build relationships and then you have to move on,” Father Romeo said, “but I understand it because it involves the greater good of the diocese.”

What he likes best about being a priest is celebrating the Eucharist. “If you do more than say the words but actually pray them,” Father Romeo said, you can see the Eucharist for what it is — Jesus’ “great gift of self to us.”

Despite his past reservations, “I love being a priest and I’m amazed that I became one. I can’t imagine being anything else.”