Colette M. Jenkins

The Rev. James V. Ragnoni has been the face of St. Anthony of Padua Parish for nearly four decades.

Within the parish community, he has been a consistent fatherly presence.

“He truly has been a father to our family at St. Anthony. We are more like a family than a parish, and that’s all because of Father Jim,” said Marianne Sandy, a lifelong parishioner and kindergarten teacher at the church school. “As the head of our family, he has been a spiritual mentor. He’s an eloquent speaker. He tells it like it is but always in love. Probably most importantly, he shows by example his faith.”

Ragnoni, affectionately known as “Father Jim,” turned 80 on Sept. 1. On Sunday, he will deliver his last sermon as the pastor of the parish on Akron’s North Hill. A special reception for Ragnoni will begin after the 10:30 a.m. Mass in the gym at the parish, 83 Mosser Place.

In his retirement, Ragnoni will remain at St. Anthony as senior retired priest. The Rev. Edward A. Burba, who now serves as parochial vicar (associate pastor), has been assigned to become the fourth pastor in the 80-year history of the parish. Burba came to the parish in 2010 from St. Mary’s in Akron.

Typically, a pastor does not stay at a parish in his retirement. But in the case of Ragnoni, Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon thought it was best to allow the priest to live in the community that he has called home for 44 years.

Ragnoni said he is thankful for the bishop’s decision to permit him to stay at his parish home.

“St. Anthony’s is not just an assignment for me as a priest,” Ragnoni said. “The people here are my family. This is home — I wouldn’t want to be any place else.”

Previous assignments

Ragnoni, a Lorain native, was appointed in 1974 as pastor of St. Anthony. He had been an associate pastor from 1960 to 1965. Between his two assignments at St. Anthony, Ragnoni served as an associate pastor at Holy Redeemer in Cleveland and St. Mary of the Assumption in Mentor and as pastor at the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Cleveland.

Under Ragnoni’s leadership, the Akron congregation paid off the school mortgage and built a community center, which includes a gym, art room, library and computer lab. The community center was paid for on the day its construction was completed.

Chris Ludle, a parishioner who serves as one of the athletic directors at the parish, said Ragnoni has a genuine concern for people. Ludle was baptized by Ragnoni in 1961 and attended grade school at the parish.

“My wife, Jackie, and our three sons have known no other pastor. He is the one constant in our spiritual lives,” Ludle said. “Father Jim has been a very strong leader. He has committed his life to the families of St. Anthony and my family will be forever grateful for having such a loving priest in our lives.”

Ludle said Ragnoni has always had a special place in his heart for the students of St. Anthony School.

In 2010, the school became part of a new two-campus system on North Hill. St. Anthony was designated as the elementary school, with pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students and North Akron Catholic School, on Creighton Avenue, became the middle school, housing grades six through eight.

Beginning this school year, the sixth-grade class was moved to St. Anthony. Next school year, the seventh- and eighth-grade classes will be moved to St. Anthony, and North Akron Catholic School will close.

Thankful for dedication

Sister Elizabeth Szilvasi, principal at St. Anthony School, said she is thankful for the support and dedication that Ragnoni has given to the school over the years. She said everyone in the parish community is thrilled that their beloved priest will continue to live with them.

“He’s like a big ‘daddy.’ He knows all of the kids — and their parents — and they all know him. They love him and he loves them,” Szilvasi said. “He makes St. Anthony what it is because he’s been here so long and because he cares for everybody he comes into contact with. Everybody loves him — I think that says it all.”

The Italian parish was established in 1933. Although its membership is still predominantly Italian, the parish attracts people from various ethnicities.

Ragnoni said that he is thankful for the years he spent as pastor but that it is time for him to step down from overseeing the day-to-day operations of the parish. Church policy requires priests to submit a letter of resignation when they are 75 years old, but they can continue to serve at the bishop’s discretion.

“The bishop graciously allowed me to stay five years longer than he had to,” Rag­noni said. “I had the energy to keep going, but I know it’s time to step away. I’m getting older and moving a little slower, so it’s going to be wonderful to be surrounded by a loving family in my retirement.”

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com. She can be followed at www.twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.