Catholic Volunteer Killed on Way Home From Adoration Was ‘Old Soul’
Recent college graduate was about halfway through Capuchin service program in Washington, D.C.
Volunteering to help people was a big part of who Ryan Realbuto was.
He scrubbed dishes in a soup kitchen, did yard work at a foster home, repainted the chapel at a home for women, and helped high-school kids figure out their future jobs.
He was so generous, his mother believes, on the night of Jan. 18, while walking home from a Holy Hour and social event at a Catholic church in Washington, D.C., he would have given the man who tried to rob him anything he wanted.
But he never got the chance.
Instead, Realbuto, 23, was shot and killed, devastating his family and a wide circle of friends and admirers who remember him for the quiet way he put his Catholic faith in action to help those in need.
“He cared deeply for other people. He would not have harmed other people. He had an infectious smile,” his mother, Janet Realbuto, told the Register.
“He was pure. He was innocent. He was love,” she said.
This week, she’s planning his funeral.
“Our family is shattered. It’s senseless: completely and utterly senseless,” Ryan’s mother said.
“We have lost our humanity in this world.”
The young man, from Pittsford, New York, was five months into his one-year stint in the nation’s capital with the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps, a service program for recent college graduates and other young people, said Brother Stephen Cantwell, a Capuchin Franciscan who oversees portions of the program.
As Realbuto did most Thursday nights, on Jan. 18, he went with fellow Capuchin volunteers to Immaculate Conception Church, which is in the Shaw neighborhood in the central part of the city, about 2 miles southwest of the well-known basilica of that name, Brother Stephen said.
The church has a 6:30 p.m. Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, followed by an hour of Eucharistic adoration, during which confession is available. On the third Thursday of the month, including last week, the Holy Hour is followed by a social event for young adults. Realbuto attended with two other members of the Capuchin program, a man and a woman. They stayed until the gathering ended about 9:30 p.m., said Father Charlie Gallagher, the pastor. Then they took a Metro subway train to the Fort Totten stop, where they got off for the mile-long walk to the house they shared.
Shortly after 10 p.m., in the 5000 block of South Dakota Avenue, Northeast, a car pulled up and a man with a gun jumped out and demanded money. Told the young adults had no cash, the man demanded that Realbuto open his cellphone by entering the passcode.
Then the man shot Realbuto in the stomach, and the robbers (there were two male robbers; the shooter was not the driver) fled in the car, without taking anything, Brother Stephen said.
The man Realbuto was with applied pressure to the wound until an ambulance arrived, Brother Stephen said. The bullet ruptured Realbuto’s aorta. He lived for several hours at a nearby hospital, before dying early Friday morning, Jan. 19.
Realbuto’s parents drove about nine hours through the night through a snowstorm to get to Washington after Brother Stephen called his mother to tell her about the shooting. His brother Evan, who lives in Ohio, also drove through the night to get to Washington. His brother Christian, who lives near Boston, happened to be in Washington. He gave his family updates from the hospital. Ryan died during their journey.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department told the Register that police have no update on the investigation beyond a short press release the department published Friday. The District of Columbia offers a reward of up to $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest and conviction for homicide.
A funeral Mass is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 27, at Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford, according to his obituary.
Realbuto’s aunt has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the medical costs, transporting his body back to New York state and the funeral.
‘An Old Soul’
Realbuto grew up in Pittsford, about 7 miles southeast of Rochester, the youngest of three boys. His father, Pippo, is a retired network technician who worked for Eastman Kodak. His mother works as a paraprofessional at a public school in the town.
His parents, grandparents and aunt are active in the local parish, said Father Rob Bourcy, the pastor of Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford.
Father Bourcy became pastor about three years ago, after Realbuto had left for college, but he said he knows the family well. He noted that Ryan was active in youth ministry, sang in the choir and served as an altar boy.
“He was involved in anything he could be involved in. He loved the parish, and he was actively engaged,” Father Bourcy said.
Anne Gallagher, who runs youth ministry at the parish, first met Realbuto when he was about 12. While in high school, he was a regular participant at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. Every July, he spent a week living in a convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Rochester and working in a service program performing manual labor: one year at a foster home for children with severe medical problems and two other years at a Catholic Worker home for women who had experienced domestic violence, drug abuse or recent incarceration.
Realbuto kept in touch after leaving high school, at one point calling Gallagher on his birthday to let her know how much he liked college and how well things were going for him.
“Ryan is an old soul. He’s just so sweet,” Gallagher said. “He was quiet. He was steady and was a rock for our group. He was so generous. He gave so wholeheartedly to anybody who needed it.”
As a youngster, Realbuto underwent speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy, but overcame those early limitations, his mother told the Register. A problem with auditory processing remained: He wouldn’t always immediately understand something someone else told him.
“Ryan had to work three times harder than the average kid in order to accomplish the same goal — either in school assignments or in life — because things didn’t just come to him,” his mother said.
Several people who knew Realbuto said he was smart, but deliberate, and would sometimes take a moment to consider things that were said to him and check back later to see if he understood it properly, a strategy to compensate for the difficulty he had.
“But when he got something, he got it in his bones. He understood what it means to be like Jesus and serve others. Everybody was made in the image and likeness of God, and that’s how he was going to live his life,” Gallagher said.
Realbuto attended St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan school about two hours away from his home, where he majored in sociology and criminology.
During the summer of 2022, he spent about 10 weeks in a work-study program near the school helping poor people. Mornings, he worked at an organic farm operated by Franciscan sisters, followed by afternoons at The Warming House, a soup kitchen, where he often washed the dishes and was popular with the regulars, said Franciscan Father Stephen Mimnaugh, the university’s vice president for mission integration.
Father Mimnaugh said he got to know Realbuto at the soup kitchen. He told the Register that he and another friar at the school independently came up with the same description of Ryan: “completely without guile,” echoing Jesus’ description of Nathaniel in John 1:47.
“Ryan was one of the kindest, gentlest, most generous students that I’ve had the privilege of working with. He was just absolutely wonderful and a very thoughtful, sweet young man,” Father Mimnaugh said.
Realbuto graduated cum laude in May 2023. A vigil at the school is planned for Thursday night in the chapel, with Scripture readings and brief remembrances from students.
He began the Capuchin volunteer program in Washington in August 2023.
He enjoyed the community life with his fellow volunteers and the prayer life overseen by the Capuchins, his mother said.
“Ryan was a joyful guy. He was a simple guy, very kind guy,” Brother Stephen said. “He had one of those really great belly laughs that would make everybody laugh with him.”
Through the Capuchin program, he worked at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, a Catholic school in nearby Takoma Park, Maryland, that combines work and study. Most of the students are Black or Latino. He helped prepare freshmen for future jobs, according to the school. He also oversaw all students who worked at online jobs at the school’s office in Silver Spring, Maryland.
He told his mother in recent months that he liked Washington and that he wanted to keep working at Don Bosco after the Capuchin program ended if a job became available there because he liked the school so much.
As part of the Capuchin program, he met regularly with Brother Stephen, including during the morning of Monday, Jan. 15, at nearby Capuchin College, where Brother Stephen is studying to become a priest.
“One of the things I told him during our last one-on-one was: ‘The Lord has a special place for you,’” Brother Stephen told the Register. “I don’t know why I said it. Holy Spirit, I guess. I just felt it.”