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Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston | [email protected]

Bishop Rivituso’s vocation call came from the ‘ultimate Priest’

Like many future priests, playing Mass was a common occurrence in Bishop Rivituso's childhood.

Raised in a working-class family in south St. Louis, he and his siblings raided whatever they could find from the cupboards for their makeshift Masses — chips for the host, juice for the wine and everyday dishes suited them just fine.

It was one of the first inklings that maybe the priesthood would be a part of young Mark's future. As a child, he also accompanied his grandmother, Rose Darpel, to Mass on Sundays. The Rivitusos generally attended a late-morning Sunday Mass, but he tagged along with his grandmother, who lived in the second-story flat of the family home, to an earlier Mass.

"I didn't want her going alone," he said. The two had a very close relationship; she was the influence behind his devotion to the Rosary and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Around the third grade, he began serving at those Masses. "That's where I started hearing the call from Jesus to become a priest," he said.

The tangibles of Holy Week — the fragrance of the incense and the glow of the candles and being so close to the altar during the Triduum — further deepened his desire for the priesthood. As a student at St. Wencelaus School in south St. Louis, Mark earned an award in eighth grade for being the "most Christian."

In high school, he started visiting the chapel every day at St. Mary's. It was a refuge of sorts, as he and his comrades were finding their place in high school. "All of us as teens, trying to fit in and belong, it was good to take time with the Lord," he recalled.

Despite the positive influence of priests from the Missionaries of the Holy Family (they administer St. Wenceslaus), the Marianists (they sponsor St. Mary's) and the Vincentians (his parents met at married at St. Vincent de Paul; his father, a barber, also used to cut the priests' hair), the bishop knew he wanted to be a diocesan priest. That would give him the greatest chance of staying in St. Louis close to his family, he reasoned. He asked his religion teacher, Father Pieper, how to get started. An appointment was made with the diocesan vocations director; soon after, he was moving into Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Those who ask him whether there was a specific priest who prompted his calling will receive a consistent answer — there wasn't much fanfare; no priest who tapped him on the shoulder to say he'd make a good priest. Rather, it was Jesus who was the ultimate influence. "I say I trumped them all," he joked, "because every day going to the Blessed Sacrament (in the chapel), Jesus, the eternal high priest called me to be a priest."

He also credited the encouragement of the faithful at St. Wencelaus. "They were always very supportive of me and were thankful for anything I did there like serving," he said "It's a very special parish and I've always been connected to them."

It should go without saying that his parents, Rosemary and Gus, were very proud of their son, too. Years ago, the bishop was at a gathering with his parents and overheard his father talking to someone who was bragging about his son, who became a doctor. "My father told him ... 'My son was called by God to be a priest.' He was very proud about me being a priest, and he always had a beaming smile on his face anytime I had Mass."

As it turns out, Bishop Rivituso has given that gift of priesthood back to his family in many ways, especially through the sacraments — including countless weddings and baptisms. He was at his father's side, anointing him with the sacred chrism oil, when he died about 15 years ago.

"I think about how I was able to say one last time how much he meant to me and that I love him dearly" he said. "Certainly on ordination day, I'll be thinking about him." 

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