Father Giuliani elected new provost of The Oratory

FORT MILL — Father John Giuliani, pastor of St. Philip Neri parish in Fort Mill, was elected provost of The Oratory in Rock Hill Feb. 3. He will serve a three-year term.

The new provost hopes he doesn’t have to give up his job as the only pastor St. Philip Neri has had in its 10-year history.

The diocese would have to approve the dual roles, he said, but he thinks it will not be a problem.

The Oratory is a community of prayer in the spirit of St. Philip Neri, who founded the order in the 16th century.

“He was a holy man who exuded a spirit of joy — that was his message,” Father Giuliani said.

The Oratory in Rock Hill was the first established in the United States. It has seven buildings in downtown Rock Hill.

Seven priests, three seminarians (one ready to be ordained), and five brothers comprise the full membership.

The Oratory is the site of conferences, but the primary mission of the Oratory priests is pastoring York County’s churches. Like many in his congregation, Father Giuliani is a transplanted Yankee.

He was born in Providence, R.I., on St. Patrick’s Day, 1951. His mother, a French Canadian who just liked the way it sounded, named him Patrick. The priest’s father didn’t like the name, so he was renamed John Patrick.

He is one of four children. An older sister is a teacher; a younger sister is a nurse. His younger brother is the “smartest one of us all.” He was “Catholic schooled” in Providence and graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in social work. He attended Washington Theological Union.

On visits to his sister in Atlanta, he grew to love the South. He’d heard about St. Philip Neri, but didn’t know about The Oratory when he started to look for a vocation.

He became a novice at The Oratory in 1976 and was ordained in 1980. He was pastor at Divine Saviour in York for nine years and also worked with the Catholic Mission in Lake Wylie.

“I served every parish in York County, and we ran out of parishes, so I started this one 10 years ago,” he said.

Ann DiNoto, a founding member of St. Philip Neri, said she knew Father Giuliani before he became a priest.

“He was handsome,” she said. “When he opened his mouth to sing, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

When asked how he’d changed over the years, she said jokingly that he’d put on a few pounds and lost some hair.

She thinks he’s a wonderful priest.

“We say he can do 20 minutes over a dead cat,” she said with a laugh. “Even a cat he didn’t know that well.”

But when her son was ill, “he was a rock. You couldn’t ask for more.

“He’s got charisma,” she said.

Father Giuliani succeeds Father Joseph Wahl, who’s been at The Oratory for 56 years, at a difficult time for The Oratory.

The Oratory accumulated a $150,000 deficit over the past few years. For the first time, The Oratory asked for donations from York County parishes. The parishes already pay salaries to the pastors and priests, which are turned over to the order.

“Contributions are down; bills, expenses are up,” Father Giuliani said. “We’re in an economic downturn.”

The Oratory usually uses a direct mail campaign, but there was a marked downturn in donations after Sept. 11, 2001.

“After 9/11, all the money went to New York,” Father Giuliani said.

The request to the York County churches and a new campaign, Friends of The Oratory, has helped some but hasn’t erased the deficit, Father Giuliani said.

“Ultimately, we have to fend for ourselves,” he said.

The biggest drain on The Oratory at present is seminary.

“It’s $30,000 apiece; we have three of them attending.”

Father Giuliani was elected but didn’t run for provost. The members met and had a Mass of the Holy Spirit, during which the members tried to discern God’s will.

The provost is first among equals, he said.

The provost has to convince the deputy provosts or the members. The only real power the provost has is to propose a course of action. After the term is completed, the provost “goes right back with the troops,” Father Giuliani said.

His style of leadership?

“I’m going to listen,” he said. “St. Philip said, ‘If you want to be obeyed, don’t give many commands.’ ”

Oratorians are “big into consensus.”

“I will meet with the community on Tuesday, just listen, see where we want to go in the next three years,” he said.