(Plain Press, February 2018) Over 700 people gathered at St. Patrick’s Church on W. 38th and Bridge Avenue on January 26th to celebrate the life of Father Mark DiNardo, who died on Sunday January 21st at Regina Health Center in Richfield, Ohio. The crowd of parishioners, former parishioners, priests from throughout the diocese, ministers, religious, social service workers, and neighborhood residents all came to pay tribute to the beloved Pastor of St. Patrick’s Church who had served the parish and the community from 1980 until about six months ago when he left for to Regina Health Center.
The Homilist, Father Tommy O’Donnell, retired pastor of Holy Name Church on Broadway, reflected on the readings including the story in the Gospel of John where Christ washes the feet of his disciples. Fr. O’ Donnell said, “Mark saw Christ through those scriptures. He was a servant for others … listening to them in times of sorrow…”
Homilist O’Donnell described Father Mark as an “attentive listener” who would invite members of his congregation to reflect with him on the scriptures and discuss with him what he should say to the congregation.
O’Donnell called Father Mark an “oil change master” who would carry around holy oil and anoint those with ailments on the spot.
Calling Father DiNardo a “religious education genius”, Father O’ Donnell noted how he created “home schooling for the faithful” with weekly religious instruction in the bulletin that families could take home.
“A gifted annulment minister”, Father O’Donnell said Father Mark DiNardo helped with over 50 annulments. Sharing a letter from a parishioner, Father O’Donnell described how Fr. DiNardo had typed fast while listening to the woman’s reasons for seeking the annulment and then went over the details with her before sending the form downtown for approval.
Father O’Donnell spoke of the “side door ministry” at St. Patrick’s Church to the poor and homeless. He said, “Mark always had a buck in his pocket for the homeless and poor.”
Retired Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla, who was a celebrant in the Mass, said to the St. Patrick’s Community and the surrounding neighborhood “Father Mark loved being here, because you loved him.”
Bishop Pilla said, “St. Patrick’s was a Church in the City, long before we had that.” Bishop Pilla recalled talking to someone downtown. The man told him he had been down and out and went to a number of places and couldn’t find help. Finally, he said he went to someone on the street and asked them, “Where do you get help?” The person replied, “You go to St. Patrick’s. They will help you.”
Following the Mass, a reception was held in the basement of St. Patrick’s Club House. Many people gathered for a meal and fellowship.
Sister Judith Ann Karam, CSA, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, the order of sisters that work at Regina Health Center where Fr. Mark Dinardo spent his last six months, looked around the hall in the St. Patrick’s Club building where so many people were sharing their memories of Father Mark and said, “This is representative of who he is – a priest of the people. We are all blessed by his presence in our lives.”
Molly Carreon, spoke of a photo she had seen that showed a bicycle parked outside a confessional at St. Patrick’s. She said, “To me that symbolized – everyone is welcome here.” Carreon said one reason people loved Fr. Mark, was he never judged anyone. She said when her sons and their friends were younger they would go to the rectory every night. “Mark accepted them and kept them there. Without fail, I could call the rectory and find them there. That was their home.”
Judy Corrigan shared some memories of going with Father Mark to take kids from the parish on field trips. She recalled taking the kids through a tunnel in a maze with Father Mark, and grabbing onto his feet to help guide her as they crawled through the maze with the kids. Corrigan thought of the prospect of Father DiNardo now being reunited with her late husband Bill and Fr. Paul Hritz of St. Malachi. She said, “Could you imagine what is going on up there?”
Lea Katynski-Jesse, who grew up down the street from the church, recalled a story her mother relayed to her. “My mom says that, when I was born, during her hippy period, she didn’t plan on having me baptized until I was old enough to make my own decisions. When I was about 10 months old, my grandmother was concerned that I had not been baptized and went to Father Mark who later came to the house, knocked on our door, and said to my mother, “So, when are you going to baptize that baby?” Father Mark, eventually, baptized Lea at St. Patrick’s Church at a later date.
Brendon Nugent described Father Mark as an “inexhaustible driver of good. Father Mark insisted that everyone have a sense of dignity and gave them what they needed to get them there.”
Rachel Napolitano said her family lived by St. Patrick’s Church when she was a child, then moved away to the suburbs, but always came back to St Patrick’s for special occasions. Napolitano said when she was trying to raise money for her first trip to El Salvador when she was in college, she went to her suburban parish and asked if she could put a coffee can in the back for donations to support her trip. She was refused. When she went to Father DiNardo and asked if she could put the can at St. Pat’s, she said he pulled out his checkbook, said “don’t worry” and wrote her a check. Napolitano says she was impressed by the giving spirit from a parish that had such meager resources.
Rachelle Coyne remembers that Father Mark always had “seeds of love” to offer at just the right time. During some challenging times, she recalls him saying to her, “You are perfect, just the way you are.” According to Rachelle, “he always gave you something you had to think about. It might not have made sense to you at the time, but eventually, if you thought about it, a light would go off and you would get it.”
Plain Press Editor, Debbie Sadlon told of living in the neighborhood by St. Patrick’s Church as a struggling college student. She said St. Patrick’s Church was instrumental in helping her make ends meet. She said she met with Father Mark once a week for counselling and that after each meeting, Father Mark was always concerned that she had enough to eat and would give her cans of soup to take home. “Father Mark was a brilliant man,” she said, “I loved talking with him. Even though I wasn’t Catholic at the time, he would meet with me and never try to convert me. I felt welcome and a part of the community, just the way I was. I never felt judged.”