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Retired priest brings smiles to recovering residents

05 LydiaPriest2 hi-res PAGEResidents of Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation Center pray the Mass with Father Raimondi each month. (Photos by Lidia Wasowicz/Catholic San Francisco)


January 11, 2018
Lidia Wasowicz

True to the vocation his parents chose for him 80 years ago, Father Michele Raimondi drives more than an hour each month to spread the word of God and turn scowls into smiles at a nursing home for residents recovering from surgery or illness. Father Raimondi, ordained in 1950 in Italy, was incardinated into the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1970 and retired in 1993.

The 91-year-old priest, who entered the seminary in his native Italy at the age of 11, fights crawling traffic between his home in Petaluma and the Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation facility in Greenbrae the first Thursday of every month to celebrate Mass, cheer the sick and offer Communion to the bedridden.

He has been making the tiring trip for 16 years.

“The patients may be feeling poorly, suffering pain, battling depression, but they light up when he enters the room,” said Imelda Moeslein, a parishioner at St. Sebastian Church in Greenbrae who has been volunteering at the center for 20 years.

No matter how early she arrives to help set up for the service, she finds Father Raimondi already waiting.

“What a privilege to have him come all this way with his wonderful stories, calm demeanor, sweet disposition, eternal optimism,” Moeslein said.

His life-affirming sermons encourage finding beauty in such daily gifts as awaking, having breakfast, coming together in prayer.

“Stay positive,” he advises his aged, ailing audience in a lilting Italian accent. “Always remember to love God, love yourself, love your neighbor and never, never lose the smile on your face.”

The message resonates with the residents.

“Some priests use difficult words, but he’s very simple and easy to understand when he tells us how to get along with others,” said Ilisoni Nick Raikuna, a heart patient undergoing therapy for swollen knees. “He’s a real blessing to us.”

Arturo Dimarucut, whose left leg was paralyzed by polio at age 3 and his right side sidelined by a stroke a year ago, counts the days until Father Raimondi’s visit to his bedside.

“I’ve been a Catholic all my life and receiving Communion is extremely important to me, but I can no longer attend Mass,” Dimarucut said. “I cannot tell you how much I look forward to seeing him and how much he comforts me.”

Having watched Father Raimondi in action over the past two years, St. Sebastian parishioner and volunteer Anne Marie Schlesselmann views him as a “saint.”

“He’s the most faithful, loyal, unselfish, holy priest I know,” she said. “He brings so many graces to the people here, he’s an inspiration.”

One of five Milestone Priest Honorees presented with a plaque by Archbishop Cordileone last September, Father Raimondi has touched countless lives during his service at parishes in the San Francisco archdiocese and churches in Brazil and Italy.

His religious roots reach to his pious parents who sent their only son to the seminary in Amelia, Italy, when he turned 11.

His eyes cloud and his mouth droops as he recalls the “very difficult” five years his family kept away so he could discern whether the priesthood was truly his calling.

Moments later the trademark sparkle and smile return with the recounting of his eight years as a seminarian in St. Francis’ hometown of Assisi where he earned a degree in philosophical theology.

“By the time I was 16, I knew I wanted to be a priest,” he said.

The bishop who ordained him in 1950 was his father’s brother. His maternal uncle served as pastor of the family’s hometown parish for 58 years.

Following ordination, Father Raimondi taught at an Italian seminary, public school and college before leaving for Rome to prepare for life on a mission field.

In Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, he helped shepherd 60,000 parishioners in a diocese that saw 10 to 15 weddings and 30 to 50 baptisms each week plus two to three funerals a day.

Since then, he has made his Kindred rounds, helped at various churches, visited the sick and cruised Europe as a ship chaplain.

“I enjoy myself every minute,” he said. “The secret is be positive, always spread the good news.”


05 LydiaPriest3 hi-res HALFA Kindred resident, Ilisoni Nick Raikuna, often unable to leave his room, takes Communion from Father Raimondi.


05 LydiaPriest4 hi-res HALFWhile a stroke has left Arturo Dimarucut partially paralyzed, his spirit is lifted from this visit from Father Raimondi.

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