Father Louis P. Bellopede, the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, who is celebrating his 25th anniversary of priesthood this month, was flattered when his brother priests nominated him to be the homilist at the jubilarian Mass April 28 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
(See the list of archdiocesan priests celebrating their anniversaries this year.)
Every priest at ordination receives the power to change ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. They do not necessarily receive the gift of changing ordinary words into gems. By their vote, his confreres recognized Father Bellopede has this gift.
In his homily, Father Bellopede transported his fellow priests and seminarians to the Upper Room, the sacred chamber where Jesus instituted the Eucharist before his apostles and where at Pentecost they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
“Each priest, each one of us, brings to Christ’s Church a brush to paint, whether light or dark, whether bright or not so bright, to God’s masterful mural of his priesthood,” he said. “It is his work; it is up to us to say yes for him to use us. We must be rooted in prayer as we all were formed in this beautiful place.”
Father Bellopede’s own spiritual journey began in Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Southwest Philadelphia, the youngest of the three children of Lou and Angie Bellopede. After Our Lady of Loreto School he continued on to West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Boys.
Although priesthood was always his goal he obtained his undergraduate degree in education from Temple University before continuing his studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
After his 1991 ordination one might expect, given his background, he would be assigned to teach in one of the archdiocesan high schools. But the truth is, by that time he had fallen in love with parish ministry, especially through his deacon assignment at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Philadelphia.
His adviser at the seminary was Msgr. John Miller, who told the young priest that no matter where he went, he would always be a teacher anyway, whether it was from the pulpit, through the school year or through parish events.
Before he was ordained the Office for Clergy did ask him if he wanted to teach, because it was the policy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua never to assign a man to classroom teaching who did not wish it.
“He didn’t want priests to be miserable in classrooms,” Father Bellopede said.
He declined the offer of a teaching post and requested parish ministry, serving first as parochial vicar at Christ the King Parish in Northeast Philadelphia followed by Holy Savior in Norristown.
His first pastorship was at St. Paul Parish, South Philadelphia, then to St. Madeline, Ridley Park, for five years and now at St. Mary for the past three years.
Even though he was sold on parish life there has always been an element of teaching whether it be in classrooms, RCIA or adult faith formation, and that includes at present at St. Mary’s.
“It’s a beautiful parish,” Father Bellopede said. “We have 2,100 households, 7,000 people, 260 kids in school and 300 in PREP.
“We have 22 acres, six buildings, Theology of the Body, Bible Timeline, prayer groups, faith sharing and Perpetual Adoration.”
What that means is the everyday ministry of parish life — presiding at the Eucharist, at weddings or funerals, visiting the sick, being with people during their most trying moments, whether it be a death, a suicide, or emergency room visits. For Father Bellopede it means being available to participate in the ministries himself in any way he can serve.
There is confirmation through the notes he might receive from people in gratitude for his being with them, even instances where people through such ministry return to active participation in the church.
He takes satisfaction in that two young men in the parish are discerning priesthood in religious orders and one young lady is considering the convent; it will be perfect when candidates for St. Charles Seminary emerge.
At the end of the day, “I love the priesthood,” he said. “I know in my heart and soul that God wanted me to be a priest, there is no question in my mind. I love what I do, I enjoy what I do; I enjoy getting up every day and doing it all over again.”