Fausto Stampiglia went to confession at age 16 in his native Italy to ask a missionary bishop one question: “What does God have in store for me?”
The bishop, who pointed a trembling finger at the teenager, told him that God wanted him to become a priest.
“At first, I saw this huge beautiful red Italian leather chair,” Stampiglia says. “Then, (I saw) a little shrimp of a man in clothes too big for him. I was impressed by his eyes boring into mine.
“When you’re 16, you get impressed soon,” Stampiglia says. “He saw my perplexed face, and said, ‘Yes, you will be a Pallottine novice — that is the will of God.’”
Nine years later, in 1960, Stampiglia was ordained. It is tradition at the ordination dinner for new priests to thank those who were instrumental in leading them down the spiritual path. After recognizing several people, Stampiglia gave his final thanks.
“ … And, above all, that bishop, the missionary from China who told me God wanted me to be a priest, and here I am,” Stampiglia said.
At that, the room filled with laughter.
Thinking that was a strange response when he had not made a joke, Stampiglia questioned his superior.
“He said, ‘You did not know? That man was not a bishop. He wasn’t even a priest. He escaped from a mental hospital during a bombing, stole vestments and went around to all of Italy passing as a missionary bishop from China, until finally the Carabinieri caught him and brought him back.’”
At the recollection, Stampiglia breaks into a huge smile.
“So don’t tell me God does not have a sense of humor,” Stampiglia says. “There I was, too late to get married anyway — I’m married to the church.”
Fifty years later, Stampiglia looks back on the joys of priesthood: bringing people to God; celebrating Mass; and visiting and educating children.
“I went from the bombing in World War II to starvation, threat of communism, and came to America in 1964 at age 29,” Stampiglia says. “I was a teacher, principal and pastor. I will be a priest until I die.”
Everyone who knows him affectionately calls him an IBM priest — Italian Big Mouth — because he’s also an around-the-clock comedian. Just ask the kids at St. Martha’s Catholic School and parish, where he’s been a priest since 1991.
“The kids say they like me because I’m funny and I give them $1 on their birthday,” he says. “But, first, they have to give me a high five — that’s my trademark.”
On the wall behind Stampiglia’s head hangs a photograph of him shaking hands with Pope John Paul II.
The two men met 10 years ago, on the 40th anniversary of Stampiglia’s priesthood. They celebrated Mass in the pope’s private chapel.
“He was such a holy man, and you could see a suffering face,” Stampiglia says. “He grabbed my arm. His eyes were nice and vibrant. He said to me, ‘Be a good priest.’”
Stampiglia returned to Italy last week to celebrate his 50th anniversary of his priesthood with three of his fellow priests.
“We met in the sixth grade and were ordained together,” Stampiglia says. “We’ve kept in touch all my life, and neither of us is dead, nor married, so we will celebrate our first Mass after 50 years.”
This year also marks another milestone for Stampiglia — his 75th birthday.
“I’m still young,” he says. “I’m like a Panasonic — I was born on my own time.”
If you go
St. Martha’s Catholic School 60th Anniversary Gala
When: 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20
Where: St. Martha Catholic School, 4380 Fruitville Road
Information: Call 953-4181 or visit www.stmartha.org
Contact Loren Mayo at firstname.lastname@example.org.