November 15, 2010
Fr. John Bonelli

Fr. John Bonelli

RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

BASSANO DEL GRAPPA, ITALY - Father Giovanni (John) Bonelli, co-founder and longtime pastor of Edmonton's Santa Maria Goretti Italian Parish, will be remembered as an energetic, loving and caring pastor and friend.

Bonelli, a Scalabrinian missionary who served off and on at Santa Maria Goretti for more than 20 years, died in the early hours of Aug. 30 at the San Raffaele Residence in Bassano del Grappa, Italy. He was 89.

"He was a very kind, very friendly man who generally had a smile on his face," said parishioner Rudy Cavaliere, who has known Bonelli since 1965. "I don't think I ever saw him angry. He was very friendly, always had the interest of the community and the parish at heart."

Cavaliere and his wife Rita were close friends with Bonelli and visited him in Italy twice, the first time in 2005 and the second in 2008. Bonelli married Cavaliere and his wife, baptized their first son in 1972 and participated in the wedding of their second son in 1998.

"I have only good memories of Father John," Cavaliere said. "He was very lovable, always had good words to say and really never criticized anything or anybody.

PIOUS, BUT REALISTIC

"He almost epitomizes what a priest should be: kind of pious and yet he knows the real world, the way things are. He didn't pretend that everything has to be holy. He was realistic."

Bonelli was born in Castel Rigone, Italy on June 17, 1921. He was ordained a Scalabrinian missionary Sept. 18, 1947.

He arrived in Edmonton on Dec. 20, 1957 as assistant pastor of Santa Maria Goretti Parish. He and Father Rino Ziliotti established the Italian parish and built the original church.

He remained in Edmonton until 1961, when he was transferred to Chicago. In 1965, Bonelli returned to Santa Maria Goretti as pastor.

In 1974 he left for Windsor, Ont. but returned to Edmonton 10 years later, in 1984, for one year. For the next few years he moved between Chicago, Burnaby, B.C., and Vancouver.

EDMONTON WAS HOME

He always referred to Edmonton as home and in 1998 Santa Maria Goretti was blessed to have him back again. He remained at Santa Maria until the Scalabrinians discontinued services to the archdiocese in the winter of 2002.

In January 2003 Bonelli went to live at Villa Scalabrini, the order's retirement home in Sun Valley, Calif. Two years later, in 2005, he moved back to Italy, where he remained until his death. Many Santa Maria Goretti parishioners would stop by and visit their beloved former pastor when on holidays in Italy.

Salesian Father Romano Venturelli, the Italian pastor of St. John Bosco Parish, has fond memories of Bonelli, whom he met several times during clergy conferences in Jasper. They would often go out for lunch together.

"He was not young and I'm still amazed by his youthfulness, his sense of caring for the people," Venturelli said Nov. 5.

"He had energy in abundance to serve his parishioners. He was a good pastor who cared for the people and would listen to their needs and concerns."