August 10, 1913 – August 9, 2013
Father Roberto Balducelli, OSFS, a priest with the Oblate of St. Francis de Sales for 77 years as a priest, died on August 9–just 100 minutes shy of his 100th birthday–at the retirement center of his religious community in Childs, Maryland.
A Wilmington, Delaware legend, Father Roberto was born in Costeluccio (Bologna), Italy, on August 10, 1913. He graduated from Collegio Murialdo in Albano in 1928, after which he entered the Rome Minor Seminary and the Oblate Novitiate in Marin. In 1930, he was professed and became a student at Propaganda Fide University in Rome, followed by three years at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland where he received his education in philosophy and theology, along with a major in art. He was ordained to the priesthood on July 12, 1936, in Fribourg, Switzerland at St. Peter Canisius Church. The first year of his priesthood was spent as superior of the Oblate Minor Seminary in Albano, Rome. For two years following, he assisted at Our Lady of Hope Church in Paris, France. From 1939 to 1946, Father Roberto returned to Albano to teach at the Oblate Scholasticate.
Father Roberto came to America in 1946 to serve as assistant to Father J. Francis Tucker, OSFS, founding pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Delaware, and then as assistant to Father Joseph McCoy, OSFS, second pastor of St. Anthony’s.
In 1959, Father Roberto was appointed Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua. He was first and foremost a priest seeking to fulfill the spiritual needs of his people—a shepherd looking after all the needs of his flock—and dedicating his priesthood to showing those in need that God and his people love them enough to help them. Father Roberto’s achievements include the development of lay leadership and volunteerism; the vision of the parish as an extended family; and the extension of this “family” concern to a broad range of community needs beyond the parish serving all without distinction.
Father Balducelli was also a great builder. His vision, spirit, and hands built two schools—St. Anthony’s Grade School and Padua Academy, a new parish house, the establishment of three convents for the sisters associated with the Parish, and a summer camp, St. Anthony’s in the Hills, developed on 140 rolling acres in Kaolin, PA, all constructed by the famous St. Anthony’s Construction Company, with volunteer labor at substantial savings and Father Roberto as the CEO. He worked daily at the camp until two months prior to his death.
As the people of the community are of all ages and social and cultural backgrounds, the needs of the community are varied. To address these needs, Father Roberto established St. Anthony’s Community Center, one of the largest social service agencies in the state, providing daycare for children, a senior activity center, and an extensive social services program. Father Roberto is also responsible for the founding of the Hilltop Renewal Association Program, a program of housing rehabilitation, reconstruction and new housing development.
The Antonian, a 138-unit high rise apartment building for the elderly was constructed on the old Wilmington Armory site with state and federal assistance. The lease was Father Roberto’s kind of deal—$1.00 for 99 years. Along side the Antonian, the old Drill Hall was converted into a two story comprehensive Senior Center with a few community development grants, a corporate grant, and volunteer labor.
Other very noteworthy achievements of Father Roberto include:
- Recipient of the Pro Ecclesia and Pontifice Award given by Pope John Paul II
- Awarded “Commendatore” by the Italian Government
- Honorary Ph.D. in Humanities from DeSales University, Center Valley, PA
- Honorary Ph.D. in Humane Letters from Goldey-Beacom College, Wilmington, DE
- The foundation of the first educational supplement foundation for aid to pupils and schools
- The founding of the Wilmington Friends of Italian Culture
- The expansion of the ”Parish Carnivale” to the “Italian Fesitval”
- The annual production of the Via Crucis
Father Roberto never lost faith and St. Anthony’s was growing and building. Father met the challenges of the changing times, and the changing needs with new institutions and new programs. He was an outstanding clergyman who truly saw God in all his fellow men and women. Each accomplishment has been marked with the stamp of Father Roberto’s spirit, a distinctive blend of engaging humility, winning gentleness, deep faith, unfailing charity, a great sense of humor, and absolute disregard of self.
In addition to his Oblate religious community, Father is survived by his sister, Maria, who lives in Italy.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Wednesday, August 14, 11:00 AM, at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Ninth and DuPont Streets, Wilmington, DE. Viewing will be held at the church on Tuesday, August 13, 2:00 – 7:00 PM, followed by Vespers. Interment is at the Oblate Community Cemetery, Childs, MD, at 2 PM on Wednesday, August 14.