Natalizia installed as new pastor at St. Mary Church

Natalizia installed as new pastor at St. Mary Church

Hall at St. Edward will help church toward its goals

PAWTUCKET - Let's just say the Rev. Louis Natalizia has a bit of experience serving churches that are steeped in tradition.

After two decades as the leader of the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a church that celebrated 100 years in 2012, Natalizia was installed on Sunday as the new pastor of the state's second oldest parish, St. Mary Church in Pawtucket.

A lifelong Cranston resident, Natalizia said it was just "time to move on" from the North Providence church that he loved so much. He noted, "You can only give so much to a parish."

In February, Bishop Thomas Tobin appointed the Rev. Edward Cardente, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in North Providence, to also lead the Church of the Presentation.

St. Mary Church, the oldest parish in Pawtucket, was established in 1829 as St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. The present church was dedicated in November of 1887. Today, there are more than 1,600 parishioners that participate in the life of the parish, which is located at 103 Pine St. near the city's downtown and within easy sight of the Pawtucket River Bridge.

Natalizia, 64, told The Breeze he would love to see St. Mary Church once again be the center of community life in Pawtucket. St. Mary's "is the beacon" in the city, said its new pastor, but he sees it being more like many of the churches built in the center of towns across Europe.

"That's what I would like St. Mary's to be, not just a place where people come to Mass to get it over with, but more of a family that's an active part of their lives."

Natalizia said that the people of St. Mary's are "the salt of the earth." He can't say enough about how welcoming and warm they've been to him in just a few weeks at the church.

A lover of history, Natalizia said he's also intrigued by the "very rich history" at St. Mary. That past is very visible in the church's prominent cemetery, where Irish hero John Gordon, the last man executed in Rhode Island, is among the many historical figures buried.

As of July 1, Natalizia will also be serving as administrator at Pawtucket's St. Edward Church. The "fringe benefit" of gaining access to the St. Edward Parish hall will be that the people of St. Mary's will have the chance to hold "social and communal events and functions" on a regular basis, said Natalizia. His parishioners currently do not have access to such facilities.

Masses at St. Mary and St. Edward will remain separate, said Natalizia, with him running both.

The future of the Catholic church both in Rhode Island and across the country is a "complex problem with a complex answer," according to Natalizia. On a very simple level, the church, both locally and nationally, will again be headed in the "right direction" as it engages the younger generation. Churches must do better in attracting 20- and the 30-year-olds in large numbers, said Natalizia, and he intends to make it happen at St. Mary's.

Natalizia sees himself as an easy-going person who loves humor.

"I love to be on the grassroots level with the people," he said. "I don't see myself as the priest in the tower."

According to Natalizia, St. Mary's is the last stop in his long career.

He expects to be in Pawtucket for the duration of his remaining five years before retirement.

Natalizia was born in Providence and attended La Salle Academy and Providence College.

He studied for the priesthood at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., receiving a master's in theology. Natalizia was ordained by Bishop Louis Gelineau in 1980 at St. Mary Church of Cranston and assigned to St. Ann in Providence where he served as assistant pastor.

His next appointments included pastor of St. Thomas in Providence, chaplain of St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, pastor of Notre Dame Church in Central Falls, pastor of St. Teresa in Pawtucket, St. Leo the Great in Pawtucket, and Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in North Providence, where he served the past two decades.