Scalabrinian worker for Christ

Fr Emilio Vaccaro

Adelaide parish priest Father Emilio Vaccaro celebrated his 50th anniversary as a Scalabrinian Missionary earlier this year. Fr Emilio took time out to talk about his vocation which has spanned three continents.

- The Southern Cross

As the son of an Italian furniture maker, Fr Emilio Vaccaro could easily have followed a different career path and more than likely would have ended up a successful businessman. Born in the town of Cologna Veneta in the province of Verona in 1938, Fr Emilio and his brother had a comfortable, middle-class upbringing and were encouraged to take over the family business which included a flourishing small furniture factory and a shop front run by his mother.

But an encounter with the Scalabrinian Fathers when he was a young boy and a desire to be “with people” led to what he calls “a life of working for Christ”. It’s a decision he has never regretted: “I made the right choice, I have no regrets, I am very happy,” he says emphatically. “And I play golf.”

His philosophy in life is simple: “In pastoral work you have got to be down to earth with people.” This applies to everyone he is associated with – from the workers on his church building project to parishioners and fellow clergy.

He credits his parents with his pragmatic approach to life and thanks God for “guarding over him” during his 50 years as a priest. Needless to say it wasn’t easy for his parents when 12-year-old Emilio told them he was going to join the seminary college at Bassano, 50km from his home.

There were 130 or so young people in his class and Fr Emilio says only 24 went on to become priests. After completing his novitiate at 18 and two years of philosophy at Piacenza, he was given the chance to go on exchange for four years and undertake his theological studies in the United States. “I was 20 years of age when I landed in New York with another classmate and was taken to Staten Island – they call it the garden of the US,” he says.

His mother was not too sure about her son’s move to New York but when he arrived back home in 1963, three months after being ordained at St Peter’s Church in Staten Island, the locals put up a sign saying “Welcome back to the American priest”. He celebrated his first Mass in his home town church and there was a “big festivity” afterwards. “My parents were very proud and very happy,” he recalls.

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