No ‘Silent Onlooker,’ He
Everywhere Father John Sistare goes, from the church to the parish school to the gym and beyond, his travel guide is the New Evangelization inaugurated by Pope John Paul II in 1997.
For Father Sistare, the right course of action is always the one that leads a soul to — or closer to — Christ in the sacraments.
He got a chance to check the directions at his first parish assignment, St. Leo the Great Church in Pawtucket, R.I., when the pastor, Father John Kiley, asked for his ideas. Father Sistare suggested offering confession before both daily Masses.
“A big hero of mine has been St. John Vianney,” Father Sistare explains. “He spent 16 hours a day in the confessional. I thought, ‘What’s one hour a day to that?’”
As it turned out, parishioners welcomed the invitation. Each day, an average of five to 10 came for confession.
They also came for eucharistic adoration each Friday after he set that up, and to his weekly class on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Ordained in 2000 for the diocese of Providence, R.I., Father Sistare is now associate pastor at St. Joan of Arc Church in the Providence suburb of Cumberland. Even though he’s already a veteran priest, it seems safe to say that he’s only just begun his ministry. His approach has the kind of freshness about it that only genuine zeal for souls can bring.
“We’ve got to live our faith 24-7,” says Father Sistare, who until recently led a group in the rosary every Saturday morning at one of the state’s three Planned Parenthood abortion clinics. After three years, the clinic closed its operation on Saturdays.
Father Sistare credits the Blessed Mother’s intercession for the small, but significant, pro-life victory. “We have to remember that she, in God’s time, is interceding,” he says. “And in our case we saw it carried out.”
Spoken like a man who knows that neither priests nor laymen turn unbelievers into Christians or lukewarm Catholics into ardent disciples. The Holy Spirit does. As Father Sistare sees it, all he can do is respond in the best way he knows how.
Father Ray Suriani, pastor of Father Sistare’s family parish (and one inspiration for his vocation), St. Pius X in Westerly, R.I., notes Father Sistare’s willingness to “take a stand.”
“He’s certainly passionate about preaching the truth of the Gospel in its fullness according to the mind of the Church,” he says.
It was not always so. Father Sistare’s family of five always practiced the faith, but, he says, he drifted from the Church in college. Likewise his younger brother Brian.
His mother Valerie sent him tapes of Bishop Fulton Sheen, Father Benedict Groeschel and Father Suriani’s homilies. It was Brian who returned to his faith first.
“He had this new fire, this zeal to convert anybody, and I was his first experiment,” Father Sistare says with a laugh. The efforts paid off. He had a conversion experience at Easter of 1994 and immersed himself in the parish community.
Today, Brian is Father Juniper Mary Sistare of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
“I can see myself doing what he’s doing — preaching with fire and, at the same time, offering the mercy that was given to me,” Father Sistare says. “The big key is that obviously God called. I just wasn’t picking up the phone for a while.”
Soon after he answered the call, he found himself studying for the priesthood in Rome. There he grew in his love of the Church while taking note of the Holy Father’s natural way with people. It’s evident he strives to bring both those qualities to his priestly ministry.
Just as the Pope was an athlete in his younger days, Father Sistare was frequently in the gym, Father Kiley says.
“Even there, people would come up quite frequently and pour their heart out to him,” he adds. “He’s always the priest, but always approachable.”
It’s not hard to find parishioners to vouch for that. A year ago, Mike Sinott was severely injured in a car accident. He had a fractured neck and was paralyzed.
“Father Sistare was the first one I requested to see when I was in the intensive-care unit,” recalls Sinott. “It was a big relief for me to see him. Then he went to the house and told the children a little story about how the accident happened, and that I would be okay.”
Throughout the healing process, “he was a pillar of strength for our family,” adds Sinott, “spiritually as well as physically.”
To cast a big New Evangelization net, Father Sistare runs a pair of websites. His homilies are at padrepulpit.blogspot.com and his no-punchespulled blog Not So Quiet Catholic Corner is at padregio.blogspot.com. The latter, he says, builds on St. Boniface’s exhortation: “Let us not be silent onlookers nor like dogs that do not bark.”
In one year, the site had more than 40,000 views — and, in February, it won a Catholic Blog Award, taking home top honors in the Most Theological Blog category.
“It’s a good way to catechize, to give the people the faith, to defend against errors, from liturgy to morals,” he says. “You just can’t stand by.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from