Today, we want to share with you – thanks to Italy’s Catholic TV station TV2000’s docu-series Eccomi (“Here I Am”) – the story of Fr. Antonio Celletti, parochial vicar at St. Irenaeus Parish in Rome, Italy. He’s a widower, father, and grandfather, and he was ordained a priest in 2018 at the age of 68.
Ordained a priest at age 68
After his wife’s death, Celletti eventually became a permanent deacon, and then the idea of the priesthood came up.
Antonio was born into a simple family – his father was a factory worker, his mother a housewife – and as a boy he took part in the Scouts. That experience would prove to be very important for his formation.
He had a happy marriage with Luciana, and their dream was crowned with the birth of their daughter. Shortly thereafter, however, his wife was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that soon led to a need for dialysis.
His wife’s illness
Antonio and Luciana faced all the trials of the disease together, including a complex organ transplant operation and 20 surgeries. They were always by each other’s side:
Seeing my wife suffer wasn’t pleasant; however, this led me to be available to her at all times. Available not only materially but available as a person, as a husband, as a man. I believe that a person who is in suffering receives consolation if she has someone to count on.
At his wife’s side until her death
On November 23, 2006, Luciana died, an indelible date in Antonio’s memory:
A date preceded by feelings of tenderness (…) She was willing to the last to try to be useful to others – she always tried – and to live her suffering, her illness, with dignity. I simply sought to be close to her, because in these circumstances there’s no use for great gestures (…) in the end when we knew there was nothing more to be done, we forgave each other.
Fr. Antonio, barely containing his emotion, says, “Faith has helped me, because I’ve always considered her to be alive, and in fact I feel her close to me, and she’s here right now, together with us.”
The family’s reactions to their dad and grandad becoming a priest
When Antonio informed his daughter that he would become a priest, she was initially stunned, afraid of losing her father. However, she then came around and accepted it with joy. Fr. Antonio says, “Things that come from God always have a positive connotation. In the end she admitted, ‘I was afraid of losing you, but not only did I not lose you; I actually gained something.”
His two granddaughters were also stunned at their grandpa’s decision. Maria, his oldest granddaughter (9 years old at the time) had a sweet conversation with him: “But will you still be my grandpa?” “Of course.” “And will I still be able to play with you?” “Of course.” “Then that’s fine.”
“My task is to bring God’s mercy to people.”
Fr. Celletti concludes his testimony by sharing memories of his first Eucharistic celebration:
The first time I celebrated the Eucharist was very emotional. Today my task as a priest is to try to bring God’s mercy to people, and to search for people so that they may encounter God’s mercy. Searching for souls.
The story of this vocation is a shining testimony to what Blessed Chiara Corbella Petrillo said: “What God wants for us is much more beautiful than anything we could imagine to ask for.”