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Longtime friends describe Bishop Rivituso as studious, down-to-earth, humorous

Smart. Humorous. Conscientious. The early bird.

These are just a few of the descriptions used by longtime friends of Bishop Mark S. Rivituso.

Msgrs. Kevin Callahan and Patrick Hambrough have known Bishop Rivituso since their seminary days in the 1980s. Msgr. Callahan was ordained in 1984, Msgr. Hambrough in '85 and Bishop Rivituso in '88. Despite the differences in ordination classes, the three got to know one another in the hallways of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and became fast friends. Bishop Rivituso tapped his two friends to serve as chaplains, assisting him at his ordination Mass.

"In the old days, you were friends by (ordination) class," explained Msgr. Callahan, pastor of St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville. "By the time we got there, it was more that everybody did things together."

The three took some classes together, including one on Mariology at St. Louis University. Father Patrick Gaffney taught the four-hour course once a week. Because the class was so long, there was usually a midpoint break for seminarians to stretch for a few minutes. While Msgrs. Callahan and Hambrough were eager to get outside and grab a soda, Bishop Rivituso usually managed to stay behind to ask the teacher a question or two.

"We always gave him trouble about that, because we said he was trying to get a good grade," Msgr. Callahan said with a chuckle. "He would ask questions during class and we were like, 'Oh no, let's get out of here.' He was always very conscientious. A paper would be assigned and it would be 10 pages long — he would get it done in a day and it would be 20 pages long."

Msgr. Hambrough, pastor at St. Mark Parish in south St. Louis County, recalled how the future bishop would pass by his room with a stack of books in hand. Msgr. Hambrough was a transitional deacon at that point, and he was reveling in the fact his studies were just about finished.

"I remember him telling me, 'Must be nice.' I told him, 'Yeah, it is,'" Msgr. Hambrough said with a laugh.

After ordination, Msgr. Callahan was reunited with Bishop Rivituso at the former St. Gregory Parish in St. Ann. Msgr. Callahan was given his first priestly assignment there as an associate pastor; Bishop Rivituso came not long after as an acolyte — what was then known as an internship for seminarians prior to ordination. Msgr. Callahan recalled how Bishop Rivituso was a hard worker, going on Communion calls and helping wherever he was needed.

"He had a great example under Father Charlie Burgoon (St. Gregory's pastor at the time), giving him that work ethic," Msgr. Callahan said.

Several years into his priesthood, Bishop Rivituso was sent to Ottawa, Canada, to study canon law. He did so with obedience and much enthusiasm. Msgr. Callahan said it came as no surprise to see his friend accept the role of auxiliary bishop with the same energy. "He puts himself body, heart and soul into his assignments, not as a job, but as a faithful servant."

One of Bishop Rivituso's signature qualities is his ability to visit with nearly everyone in the room, whether it's at a benefit dinner, reception or other social event. It was a valuable lesson he and his comrades learned from Msgr. Rowland Gannon, then-pastor of the St. Louis Cathedral (now Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis). All three of them were assigned there as transitional deacons.

Msgr. Gannon "was good about going around and talking to people," Msgr. Callahan said. "He always made sure everybody felt welcome. He taught us to go to the people and say hello to them and make sure they know they're important."

When dealing with challenging issues, such as a school closure or parish consolidation, the new bishop approaches the situation with great empathy, his friends said. Msgr. Hambrough experienced that firsthand as the parish recently has had to move its church site and offices a second time since undergoing a merger of parishes in 2003. Bishop Rivituso was there for several town hall meetings in 2015 and '16.

"There were a few times I wasn't happy about the situation, and I called him to vent," he said. "He was a good listening ear, and helping us to get the best we could get. He really does have empathy and a responsibility to do the best for the archdiocese under the circumstances."

The three of them, along with a fourth priest, Father William Thess, take an annual vacation to the Ozarks. Even with the relaxed pace of vacation, Bishop Rivituso still pours his heart into celebrating the Mass around the kitchen table, even suggesting they get started at an extra hour early in the morning, his friends noted.

"He's always spiritual — you can tell by the way he celebrates Mass," Msgr. Hambrough said. "We all pour ourselves into it, but he speaks very slowly and reverently. He certainly slows me down. I admire that."

Even then, Bishop Rivituso's studiousness will usually give way to a down-to-earth sense of humor, all of it encouraged by his friends.

"Our big plan for vacation is when are we going on the pontoon boat, where are we going to dinner and what movie are we going to see," Msgr. Callahan said. "Those are the only big decisions we have to make. He knows how to have fun and he's very approachable. He's not a saint. He's a regular guy, which is so much better, because he's down to earth. He's in love with his faith and the Church and the archdiocese." 

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