Profile: Kevin Tortorelli Marks 50 Years as a Friar

Karen Karaszewski Friar News

This is the seventh in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2016. They will be honored by the Province at a special Mass on June 23. The last issue of HNP Today featured Alan Thomas, OFM

NEW YORK — Even as a young boy growing up in South Boston, Kevin Tortorelli, OFM, was drawn to the Eucharist, often dropping into church to “pay a visit” after playing ball in the late afternoon. He recalls attending 6 a.m. Mass and Sunday evening vespers, in those days recited in Latin.

“The Eucharist meant a lot to me. I think my vocation as a friar and a priest has roots there as well as in the family itself and the whole Catholic milieu of parish, neighborhood and school,” Kevin said. “The jewel in the crown of the priesthood is to preside at Eucharist — the sense of bringing people into it, meeting people at it and seeing its effects on building the community.”

This year, Kevin celebrates 50 years as a friar and acknowledges that his early Catholic experiences set him on the path of religious life.

Kevin, the younger of two sons born to the late Vincent and Mary Tortorelli, experienced a typical childhood in a working class Irish neighborhood. Along with his brother John, who died in 2010, he enjoyed serving as an altar boy at a parish, he said, that had a community with a good environment and kind and encouraging priests.

He attended St. Mary’s School and Christopher Columbus High School, a Franciscan high school in the North End of Boston. Parish priests and Franciscans continued to be a strong presence in his life.

Education and Formation
After graduating from high school, Kevin entered the Franciscan Order through Immaculate Conception Province,  the community whose friars had staffed his high school.  He professed his first vows on Aug. 16, 1966, in Catskill, N.Y., where he had spent his novitiate year. Kevin continued his studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Troy, N.Y., graduating with a degree in philosophy and the classics in 1970 and went on to study theology at St. John Seminary in Brighton, Mass.

In 1971, Kevin decided to transfer to Holy Name Province because its ministry opportunities were broad and varied. He moved to Holy Name College in Washington, residing there as he continued theological studies at the Washington Theological Union, receiving his master’s in 1973.

That year, Kevin professed his final vows as a friar on Feb. 10, 1973, and was ordained a deacon on April 14 that year at Holy Name College. He was ordained to the priesthood on September 22, 1973 at St Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md.

Following ordination, Kevin spent his pastoral year at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City and remained there as an assistant pastor for another year before joining the faculty at Siena College in 1975 as a lecturer in religious studies. That August, he completed his master’s in classical Latin, graduating from St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, where he had been attending summer classes since 1970.

In 1976, Kevin moved to St. Francis Friary in Brookline, Mass., where he was based from 1976 to 1979 while he began studying for a doctorate degree from Boston College. During that time, he traveled abroad and was a visiting scholar and researcher at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge, England from 1979 to 1980.

Upon his return to the United States, Kevin continued higher studies while living at St. Francis Retreat Center in Rye Beach, N.H. In 1982, he returned to Siena College as a faculty member, teaching theology and the classics.

Teaching Ministry
Kevin was chaplain of the rugby club, and became a beloved member of the community. With his warm and engaging personality, he enjoyed the high-spirited students and still maintains strong bonds with many of them today. To honor the impact Kevin has had on so many, The Fr. Kevin Tortorelli Scholarship was established in 2007 by alumni and friends to mark Kevin’s 60th birthday.

Another highlight of his 10 years at Siena was the lively life of the friary. He recalls the interesting exchange of ideas among friars who were teaching a wide variety of disciplines such as physics, philosophy, literature and theology.

For several years during his time at Siena, he traveled to Arlington, Vt., to teach young Carthusian monks at the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration. Kevin had an early appreciation and great respect for the Carthusian Order when years before he read the place of the Order in the life of St. Thomas More. Since it is a hermit order, special dispensation was required to allow the students to speak during class. He joked that once they started talking, it was a challenge getting them to stop.

His next assignment was chaplain at the University of Georgia, where he worked in campus ministry from 1994 through 1996. While it was a much larger campus than Siena, he enjoyed the interaction with students, staff and permanent faculty members.

Urban Ministry and Parish Life
Returning to the Northeast in 1994 when his mother became ill, Kevin served as an associate at St. Francis Friary and City Ministry Center in Providence, R.I., where he delved into urban ministry work, presiding at Mass, hearing confessions and coordinating adult education.

In 1996, Kevin became parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street in New York City, where he would minister for 18 years. In addition to many responsibilities in the large, diverse parish community, he taught adult education classes and directed the program for five years.

While the pastoral work was rewarding, he describes it as demanding and sometimes difficult.

“People come from all sorts of backgrounds and have all sorts of issues, so it was an experience of patience and of listening, but I enjoyed it very much,” he said.

Kevin has been stationed at Holy Name of Jesus Church in New York City since 2014. At this neighborhood parish, he is involved in a wide variety of parish ministry, including sacramental preparation and spiritual direction.

Reflecting on 50 Years
Kevin’s ministry has fallen into two broad categories: urban ministry — in Manhattan and Providence — and education and campus ministry at Siena College and the University of Georgia.

“I loved urban ministry and teaching especially because of the people I came to know, teach, and minister to as a friar and a priest. Some of these bonds thrive and continue over the years,” Kevin said. “These ministries together let me teach, preach and reconcile. These activities express who I am very deeply.”

Kevin feels Holy Name Province is unique and distinct because of its historical commitment to higher education. As a result the Province has cultivated the life of the mind — learning and the humility that is its chief virtue.

“This has not been an easy road in the years after Vatican II but I believe it has made its contribution to our embrace of the Council as a Province,” he said.

Kevin has known a great many friars and most set a personal example for him that he cherishes. The late Gerry Carr, OFM, who lived with Kevin at 31st Street, had a particularly profound impact on his life. “His compassion knew no bounds and affected me deeply. His wit and humor were his two lungs,” he said.

A prolific writer, Kevin has been active in the life of scholarship and has published chiefly in Patristic theology as well as in the thought of Bernard Lonergan and Hans Urs von Balthasar. He reads broadly in these areas.

“The life of study has deeply shaped me, my consciousness and interiority. You are not yourself,” he said.

Kevin enjoys relaxing with a good walk, reading extensively, participating in a book club and soaking up the broad cultural life of New York City.

Karen Karaszewski, a St. Bonaventure University graduate, is a freelance writer based in Western New York.

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