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Brother Mike Rosenello, OSFS • A Giant Among Men

It is with great sadness that Padua Academy announce the passing of our beloved Brother Michael Rosenello, OSFS. Before leaving us on Friday evening, September 20, 2019, at the age of 92, Brother Mike spent the better part of a century serving Padua Academy. 

As an Oblate, Brother Mike knew the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales well. One of St. Francis's sayings, often quoted by Father McCue in Camden, is "nothing is small in the service of God." In so many ways, Brother Mike modeled this to us in both his stature and his actions.

He was strong enough to do the physically arduous tasks required of building a school. But at the same time, he was humble enough to do tasks that some of us would never even consider, including keeping our beautiful building immaculately clean. 

For over six decades, Brother Mike wore the true definition of “many hats” at Padua. He was a master builder, custodian, dog lover, grilled cheese maker, lunchtime prayer leader, coach, fan, referee, train conductor, Santa Claus, bingo number caller, carnival barker, mentor, friend, but most importantly, our Brother.

There are emotions that the brevity of an obituary simply cannot articulate. The sound of someone’s voice. The warmth of their hug. The amazing taste of their grilled cheese sandwiches.

For that reason, we have compiled the following memories from our faculty and staff, both past and present, some of whom are Alumnae. Brother Mike touched the lives of thousands with his huge smile, his booming voice and his gigantic heart. A pillar, figuratively and literally in the history and future of Padua Academy, he was and will always remain, a giant among men.

To say he will be dearly missed is truly an understatement.


From the Big Box of Love...Our Memories of Brother Mike
Reflections by Susan BurrisRainbow Shaw-Giaquinto & Lauren Disabatino, Rebecca ManelskiBarbara MarkhamShana RossiVanessa Vavala

“Good morning, you know me as Mrs. Burris, but maybe you didn’t know that I am the daughter of a Panda, Jane Lemon class of ’68. However I, Susan Fitzpatrick graduated in 1998, the good old days when salad was single serve with one dressing choice, ziti had one meatball, and grilled cheese Fridays were all you lived for in Lent. Brother was ever present in our school day; he was at my basketball games cheering for us and if it was a home game, his beloved Saint Bernard joined him. 

My favorite Brother memory though, pertains to Winter Ball. Yes, we had those in our day too. However we didn’t have Fancy Nancy decorations and seating arrangements. We had a helium tank and Brother Mike.

At my last Winter Ball as a student, I helped Student Council set up for the night. The balloons that we were inflating and tying around kept flying up and Brother was ever so slightly worried they would set off the alarm. I pointed out another balloon to Brother, and he disappeared without saying a word into the kitchen. He reappeared and handed me what I can only describe as a flag pole….at the end of which there was a wad of duct and masking tape the size of a hornet’s nest. 

He looked at me and said ‘There you go Fitzpatrick you’re tall, try not to kill anyone.’ 

So. I took the tool, or weapon from Brother MacGyver I mean Brother Mike’s hands and…I handled it. Fortunately no lives or balloons were lost in the process. 

I learned a great lesson from Brother that day, and I have carried it with me as a teacher here. At Padua, no matter what obstacles we face, we have faith in each other, and we find a way to handle it.  I am grateful for Brother and the confidence he instilled in me in his ‘gentle’ way. Rest easy brother, Padua can handle it from here. “

- Susan Burris

"I had not seen Brother Mike since he retired two years ago. Over Labor Day, I visited him with Mr. Miller, a former physics teacher. As I stood in the doorway, all I had to say was, “Hi Brother” and he bellowed back, “Barbara!”

Bellowing was his vocal default.
 
Our visit was delightful. He was weak but in good spirits. He insisted with a wink that he was 82, “give or take a decade.” We reminisced about the days at Padua when he was vibrant, vigorous and impossibly resourceful, clad habitually in his work suspenders and Brother Bear apron. Because he supervised the construction of Padua, he knew every inch of this building and treated the facilities as though it were a living being.   
 
Brother saw his labor as an act of grace. He and his cohort Sister Ann also loved celebrations. Every year, they would convert the cafeteria into a theme park and invite the Padua community with their families for pizza and games.  On his 80th, we had a huge block party.  Everyone associated with Padua was invited. Hundreds came: teachers, students, alums and parishioners. Even a few mummers showed up and strutted up 10th street. 
 
As a student of stories, I appreciated that Brother was a primary source of Padua history. As my friend Mr. Miller said, “He helped connect all of us to those came before.”  This week, I heard from former colleagues—some of whom had not been in this building for more than twenty years. Everyone had a story about Brother--his limitless dedication, his willingness to care for you as a person. His unvarnished rhetoric that was colorful if unprintable.   
 
In Brother’s time, Padua was more like a family whose quirks and ethos would seem unrecognizable, perhaps unsuitable by today’s standards.  You didn’t just work at Padua or attend school there. You joined the tribe. Sometimes that meant that you got chastised, even yelled at for something stupid. You might roll your eyes, but you didn’t take it seriously or file some grievance. Brother Mike made you feel that no matter what you did, even if you messed up, he could never stay “mad” at you, nor you at him.
 
Because he worked so hard, he expected others to cherish his building, and to respect the sacrifice of those who, like him, loved this place beyond the bricks and books. And while very few of you even knew him, all of you young women of Padua, owe a debt to Brother Mike. For his dream and his devotion is your inheritance. 
 
Sleep in peace, Brother Bear."

- Barbara Marham
 

“I met Brother Mike in 2002 when I was the freshman volleyball coach. I knew OF him and his history of building Padua, but had never actually met him. I was excited when he entered the gym one evening, thinking he wanted to say hi and meet a new coach. Well, excitement turned to fear as he stormed over to me to yell at me for leaving lights on the night before…even though I had no idea where the switches were or that it was my responsibility.  Needless to say, the lights were never left on again, at least not on my watch. 

Fast forward a few years later when I started working at Padua full-time. Br Mike and I spent a lot of time bonding over sports and sitting with each other during many volleyball and basketball games. He always had a comment when girls would miss serves, shank a pass, miss a break away lay-up, or a foul shot. He would yell at the players “How did you MISS that?” or “Hell, even I can make that shot” or even yelling towards the coaches “I guess you forgot to practice serving yesterday?”  When prompted to be a little quiet, he would always respond even louder, “Well, somebody needs to tell ‘em.” 

I sat next to him at the Bob in 2012 when Coach DiSab won her first state championship. It was one of the best volleyball matches I had ever seen. And I’ll let Disab tell the rest.”

 - Rainbow Shaw-Giaquinto 

“We were playing against Ursuline and even though we had beaten them twice in the regular season, this match was going back and forth. We get to a fifth and deciding set, and the pressure was on. I could see so many people in the stands, but Brother Mike was one who stood out. I imagined him muttering something smart when we made mistakes, but when that winning point finally came, he was the first fan I saw. I climbed over the bench and scorer’s table to a great big hug, and his words were simple “You’re making me feel like a celebrity, we finally did it!!!”

Without him, none of it would have been possible. We’ll miss you in your chair, Brother, but whenever we look over at your corner in the gym, we’ll be sure not to miss the serve.”

- Lauren Disabatino

“Brother Mike was bigger than life because he had a God-sized view of living.  You wouldn't have thought of him as a "godly" guy at first. He was a  "man's man” -- rough, tough, and loud.  A working man, he was many things to Padua- our builder, our cook, the biggest PANDA fan, but in his heart he was the caretaker of 9000 girls, his beloved girls.  He poured his life into providing a safe, loving, lasting home for his girls. 

I loved Brother Mike because behind that strong man, there was a tenderhearted man of God. I found that I could make that tough guy cry!  When I spoke to parents about what really mattered, that God's presence is what makes Padua such a special place, I would return to find him tearing up. He’d say, “You got that right, girl.” I am sad that most of you never had the chance to know Brother. You may not have met him, but you do know him. His heart is in everything you love about Padua.  I thank our God for Him.” 

- Rebecca Manelski

"Doorstops…yes, doorstops… those almost invisible triangles of wood that prop open our classroom doors. That is what reminds me most of my beloved Brother Mike. A huge fan of our annual Open House, Brother Mike did many a job to prepare the school building to welcome hundreds of guests each year. 

One such job was making doorstops. Brother Mike spent countless hours sawing and cutting doorstops so that each and every classroom door could be propped open during Open House. His “behind the scenes” work allowed the beauty and brilliance of Padua to be seen and appreciated by all. He lovingly made those doorstops, and, even more lovingly, walked each hallway on every floor propping open each and every classroom door before Open House. He was so proud of our school, our teachers, and our students.

Brother Mike built Padua, a school that opened many a door for many a young woman over the years. His hard work, love, and dedication enabled thousands of young women 
to discover their unique strengths, cultivate their God-given gifts, and achieve their highest goals. One by one, he touched our students’ lives, and, one by one, our graduates have gone on to make this world a better place.

We will forever be grateful TO and FOR Brother Mike.  We love you."

- Shana Rossi

“As you have heard already, Brother Mike was a larger than life figure in this building. I met him when I was a new teacher to Padua, a LONG time ago, and it’s safe to say that Brother could be a little intimidating if you didn’t know him. You usually heard Brother even before you saw him. He had a voice that could project across the café or the gym without a microphone. And he frequently yelled, not because he was always angry, but because he wanted to get your attention.

In the spring of my first year at Padua, I got engaged. About two weeks after that, I was walking down the hall when I heard Brother yell my name. My first thought was, what did I do wrong? did I leave the lights on in my classroom? Why was Brother yelling my name? But I turned around and he came up and said, “I heard you’re engaged to Mark Vavala. That’s a good family you’ve got there. You tell his mom I was asking about her.” I mumbled ok and that was it. But when I mentioned it to Mark later on, he just smiled. And then I began to hear the stories of how Brother Mike had been so good to his family when his dad died 20 years before. His family went to St. Anthony’s and Brother Mike made it his job to stop by the house and see how they were doing. He checked up on This mother with 5 kids to make sure that she knew they weren’t alone. And until he retired, whenever I had a conversation with Brother, no matter what it was about, he always asked me how my mother in law was doing. He always said, “you tell her I was asking for her.” And I knew it wasn’t just something he said in conversation.

He genuinely cared how she was and wanted her to know she still had his prayers and support. Brother Mike may have been loud, and he may have been intimidating if you didn’t know him, but he had a heart of gold and I’m so glad I got to know that side of him.” 
 
- Vanessa Vavala

 
Early Life & Spiritual Service
 
Born on July 17, 1927 in Camden, New Jersey, Brother Mike was the son of the late Michael J. Rosenello, Sr. and Anna (Carey) Rosenello. He attended St. Benedict parochial school in Philadelphia and graduated from Northeast Catholic High School in 1946. That summer, he entered the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, made first profession of vows on January 18, 1948 and made perpetual profession on January 18, 1953.

From 1948 through 1954, Brother Mike served as Director of Maintenance and Reconstruction at de Chantal Hall in Lewistown, NY. From 1954 through 1962, he served as Pastoral Assistant at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Wilmington, Delaware.

Other duties included Director of Youth Ministry, Director of Maintenance/Cafeteria at the original Padua Academy and helping with the construction of the new parish elementary school. From 1962 through 1966, Brother Mike supervised the reconstruction of the Villa Maria Retreat House (today’s Caron Foundation) in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. 
In 1966 he returned to St. Anthony of Padua Parish and resumed his former responsibilities, including assisting with the construction of the present-day Padua Academy beginning in 1967. 
His model railroad display at Padua during the Christmas season was legendary, as was his affection for St. Bernard dogs. He was featured in articles in the News Journal and the Dialog, and in 1990, even made the cover of Delaware Today magazine. Simply put, Brother Mike Rosenello, OSFS was bigger than life.

After serving both the Church and the City of Wilmington’s “Little Italy” neighborhood for over six decades, Brother Mike was assigned to the Oblate retirement community at Childs, Maryland in 2017. He celebrated his 70th anniversary as an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales just last year. But sadly he left us before he could join in on the 65th Anniversary of the school he built with his own hands.

Go Build a Church

Through all of the memories, stories, and reflections on this man, we laugh and cry remembering Brother Mike, by no means a perfect person; and yet, we can see that Brother was perfect inhis call, responding to Christ’s call to build Padua.
  
Jesus called men and women, and they were by no means perfect.  His disciples were fishermen. They were not perfect, and yet, they responded to Jesus’ call.  They left their nets and immediately followed Jesus. When we think of our own history, we remember one of our Patron Saints, St. Francis of Assisi, who heard from God the call to “build my Church.”  St. Francis was in a dilapidated church, in front of the San Damiano cross -- the one visible in each of our classrooms. St. Francis immediately responded and rebuilt the literal church on the spot. It was only afterwards that Francis realized the importance of building the Church community, rather than just a building.  

Brother Mike received a call to “build the Church” as well.  And he very literally built this school with Father. Roberto.  And then maintained it. Just like St. Francis of Assisi, Brother Mike built both a space and a community.  He was such a light. For those who remember Brother Mike in this building, he was everywhere, and kept this school running.  He did the hard work of the everyday -- not just creating something beautiful, but putting in the work to keep it going. He was so much a part of this community, and was so passionately involved in its upkeep every day.  As our Maintenance Staff attest, “you just don’t find a person like that anymore.” He knew this community, this building, this Church, and loved us well.

Brother Mike, with all his gruffness and character, was perfect in the way he responded with a “yes” to God’s call.  Learning from him, we now can better respond to the unique call God has for each one of us. Let us remember him well. 


A Prayer for Brother Mike from the Padua Community

Lord, as we remember and celebrate the life of Brother Mike Rosenello, we recognize the unique call you had for him.  You called him to be a builder, both of the building we sit in today as well at the community we cherish. He brought people into the vision of this place, and did it in his own style.  May we learn from him, especially from his faithfulness and humility. In the witness of his “yes,” may we also have the courage to answer your call. We pray that Brother, and all who mourn his loss, may experience peace.  And as he joins the communion of saints, we ask for his continued prayers for this community.

We pray all of this in Christ’s holy name, which Brother so often invoked,

Amen.


Funeral Service for Brother Mike

The funeral service for Brother Mike will be held on Saturday, September 28, 2019 at St. Anthony of Padua Church. The arrangements are as follows:
Viewing- 8:30 AM 
Mass of Christian Burial- 10:45 AM 
Internment at the Oblate Cemetery, in Childs, MD following the Mass
 
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