Father Cellini spreads the faith in the Lowcountry

CHARLESTON — Father Ronald Cellini spent the past 25 years doing what he loves to do — sharing his faith.

He was born in 1953 in Aliquippa, Pa., to Guy and Emma Cellini. He and his two sisters grew up in St. Titus parish, which was a large parish that he said fostered many vocations.

In high school, the priest began thinking about his own vocation. He talked with Father Morgan Walsh who encouraged him to go to seminary.

When he told his friends about his decision, they weren’t surprised.

“I guess I had a personality that would fit the description of a priest,” Father Cellini said.

In 1971, he went to Duquesne University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s of education in counseling. During his college years, he also attended St. Paul Seminary where he began his theological training.

After graduating, he continued his seminary formation at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md., eventually earning his master’s in divinity. His ordination was Sept. 29, 1979.

Father Cellini’s first three years were spent as a parochial vicar — until his bishop recognized his gift for working with teens.

He accepted the challenge of the world of education, filling the role of teacher, counselor, chaplain, assistant principal and eventually principal. During this time he also went back to school to study education administration at Duquesne and the University of Pittsburgh.

“I got into education because there was a need; fewer and fewer priests were willing to go that route. It’s an amazing time to touch a person’s life,” Father Cellini said. “I believe priests belong in high school education; they really make a difference.”

On summer vacations the priest frequently visited Sullivan’s Island. While at a priestly ordination there, he met Nick Theos, then principal of Bishop England High School.

Theos said that Father Cellini “made an impression on me — his youth and eagerness, loyalty and progressiveness, but his youth most of all.”

Theos wanted him to work at Bishop England. It took the principal 14 years to get Father Cellini to come to South Carolina.

In 1993, Father Cellini got the OK from his bishop in Pittsburgh to come to the Diocese of Charleston. He was assigned to Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on Folly Beach, worked with campus ministry at Charleston area colleges, and was vice rector at Bishop England.

His decision to move wasn’t easy, but it felt right.

While visiting Charleston, he went to Our Lady of Good Counsel and found that the church door was kept open so that people could come in and pray. This simple gesture, not widely found in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, seemed to him to be a warm invitation to stay awhile.

“I love the Lowcountry and the people. We have our own problems, but they are wonderful problems of growth,” he said. “I also love the missionary aspect of our diocese. I love sharing our faith. Great things can happen here.”

In 1996, Father Cellini’s pastoral gifts were needed elsewhere, and he was transferred to St. Peter Church in Beaufort.

“I was used to being around teenagers; it was strange being away from them,” he said. “Beaufort’s been a wonderful parish.”

In 2003, he accepted the position of director for the Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Christian Initiation, while continuing as pastor in Beaufort.

He praised the directors of religious education and the organization of the office for helping him through his first year.

The priest’s exuberance belies his 25 years in the priesthood.

“I’m still amazed at how important my priesthood is to other people,” Father Cellini said. “When people tell me something I said or did really helped change their life or was that important to them, it’s wonderful. In a world that really needs God, every little gesture makes a difference.”