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Farewell to Father Fred

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Dear Friends,

Good morning. Last Sunday, I attended the farewell Mass that Father Frederick Riegler celebrated at St. Isidore’s Catholic Church in Quakertown. Father Fred was marking his retirement after 21 years in the pulpit. The church was packed at the 11 a.m. service (I think that there were five Masses that day.)

There’s a new priest at St. Isidore’s and Father Fred’s shoes will be hard to fill. Father Kenneth Brabazon is now at the helm. He’s only 33 …young for a church as large as St. Isidore (more than 8,100 members).

Although Mighty Betsy and I are members of Richland Friends Meeting, we look forward to meeting Father Brabazon. Dennis Boylan, one of my friends from First City Troop days, has been a member of Father Ken’s parish in Philadelphia. Dennis speaks highly about the new priest at St. Isidore’s. That’s a good sign.

I was very fond of Father Fred. Not only was he a lovely person, he was not afraid to speak on the record. Any time I was chasing a story about the Catholic Church, I knew that Father Fred would be honest and frank … even when his observations would make his superiors unhappy.

He is the kind of pastor that any congregation, Christian, Islamic or Jewish, would appreciate. To refresh my memory, I did an Internet search of Father Fred.

“He was born in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia of immigrant parents and ordained in 1967. For much of his early priesthood, he was a teacher, 19 years of which he was a professor (history) at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Prior to coming to St. Isidore, he was pastor at St. John the Baptist in Manayunk (Philadelphia, adjacent to Roxborough his childhood home.) Father Fred was appointed pastor of St. Isidore Parish in 1998. Among his hobbies is baking.”

He will be living his retirement in the Poconos on a family-owned property and be 78 in July. In my eyes, he’s still a young man.

In his homily, Father Fred told his parishioners that St. Isidore’s was a warm and welcoming place. He only spoke for a few moments before his audience rose from their seats and applauded for several minutes. As you’d expect, there was a long line of members who greeted him at the end of the service.

One of them standing in line with me was Susanna Randazzo, a Quakertown resident. Now a Philadelphia lawyer, MB and I have known her and her husband, Alex, for decades. Years ago, they operated Il Garda in the Walmart shopping center in Quakertown. It was a wonderful restaurant. We were sorry to see it close but Alex decided to be a stay-at-home father. Bravo Alex! The Randazzo’s are raising two children, Eliana (age 10) and Matteo (age 6).

Susanna told me that she had tears in her eyes while listening to Father Fred’s homily. “He always spoke the truth,” she said echoing my thoughts exactly. “He was not afraid to be critical of the church when he thought it was in the wrong.”

When we finally stood next to him and exchanged hugs, Father Fred offered candies which he kept in a bag. It was a lovely touch. We’ll certainly miss him but look forward to giving a warm hello to Father Ken.

On a different note, I heard an interesting story from one of my Quakertown school chums who is a musician. Richard Nice has been an organist for more than 60 years, 36 of them as organist and choir director at the Solomon United Church of Christ in Bedminster. Richard has a nice voice and sang with Larry Benner’s Cantata Singes at the St. John’s UCC in Richlandtown last week.

Anyway, Richard called me with an interesting story. Singing with Larry Benner’s choir were a mother and two sons in their 30s. Charlene Wolf has a son who desperately needs a kidney. Jeremy Wolf is 34 and will receive a kidney donated by his younger brother Jared, age 32. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) is where the procedure will take place and we all wish them the best.

Richard Nice remembers both brothers well. He gave them piano lessons when they were youngsters. Richard also recalls their singing days in the Quakertown High School chorus. It was nice to see them all on the same church stage with the Cantata Singers.

We wish Godspeed for both brothers.

By the way, Richard Nice has no plans to retire any time soon. “My plan is to die on the organ bench,” he laughed.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith


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