By Thandiwe Konguave
Staff Writer

Rev. Romano Venturelli’s love for young people and dedication to his religious congregation — the Salesians of Don Bosco — is the legacy he has left in the hearts of his parishioners in Edmonton.

“St. Don (John) Bosco was a youth-oriented gentleman, and that’s how Father Romano was,” said Francis Lajeunesse, grand knight of the St. John Bosco Parish Knights of Columbus.

Venturelli, who served as pastor of the parish for nearly 17 years, passed away at the University of Alberta Hospital on Aug. 14, 2017, at the age of 76.

“Father Romano loved the children and was always so happy to see large groups of children registered for the sacraments,” said pastoral assistant Theresa Wile. “He was very dedicated to the parish. He was here nearly all day every day and most evenings as well.”

Venturelli had a close relationship with the parish’s four Catholic schools. He went several times a year to the schools for celebrations and the children came to the parish for many holiday Masses, said Wile.

Children flocked around him before and after Mass, said parishioner Mike Bambrick.

“The little kids would gravitate to him and he’d go out of his way to ones who didn’t quite know him. He would walk around and introduce himself, make them feel good,” said Bambrick. “He loved little kids.”

Venturelli was instrumental in having a second storey added to the parish building in 2006-2007, and was happy to have it used by parish and community groups such as the Girl Guides and Knights of Columbus. He was a member and spiritual leader of the Knights, and director of the Edmonton Salesian Community for many years.

Venturelli handed over the reins of the parish to Rev. John Mariapragasam when he was hospitalized in February. He sent a video message to his parishioners while in hospital, thanking them for their prayers.

“It was tough,” said Lajeunesse. “I had to step away because I didn’t want to start crying in church.”

Venturelli was born on March 7, 1941, the third of five children in a small rural village near Verona, Italy.  He grew up on a farm, in a very religious family.

Young Romano put his heart and soul into his farm chores, leading many to think he would make a good farmer.

That changed when two priests from the Salesians of Don Bosco visited the Venturelli home and told the family about their boarding school for boys in Trent, 125 km away from their village.

The Salesians, a religious congregation of priests and brothers founded in Italy by St. John Bosco in 1859, have a commitment to working among the young.

Venturelli joined the congregation in his last year of high school, making his temporary vows at age 17. He completed his college education at the Salesian College in Newton, N.J.

He was ordained in Rome on Dec. 21, 1968, and sent to minister to poor families in the city’s slums.

Venturelli would rent a bus a couple of times a week to bring the kids of poor families to the beach so they could get washed.

“There was no running water in their homes,” he told the Western Catholic Reporter.

He was assigned to Montreal the following year to work in St. Dominic Savio Parish. In Montreal, he also coordinated youth ministry for the Salesians across Canada.

He originally came to the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton in the year 2000 to coordinate youth activities, but soon became pastor of St. John Bosco.

While at St. John Bosco, he co-sponsored many refugee families that applied through Catholic Social Services, as well as spearheaded the parish's sponsorship of a family from Syria, said Wile.

Venturelli is survived by the members of his religious community; his siblings Angelo, Giacomo and Rev. Giuseppe, and their families.

Visitation will begin at 5 p.m. on Sunday, August 20, at St. John Bosco Church, 13503 – 40 Street NW, Edmonton(map). Vigil Prayers will begin at 7 p.m. at the same location.

A Funeral Mass will be presided by Bishop Greg Bittman at St. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton at 2 p.m. on Monday, August 21. Father Venturelli will be buried with his brother Salesians in Montreal. Livestream link for the funeral Mass will be posted at www.connelly-mckinley.com/obituary_intro.php?id=5078.