Father Fidelis Levri never thought he would live this long. A sickly child, he thought his days were numbered. So, he vowed that if he got stronger, he would devote his life to the Lord. Now, he is celebrating his 50th anniversary as an ordained priest.
The self-described runt of the family, Father Fid was born with a congenital heart defect that prevented oxygen from flowing through his blood. When his parents heard about his condition and saw his bluish tint, they immediately baptized him.
His problems continued into his teenage years. As a child, Father Fid had difficulty exercising. Pain would shoot down his arm and radiate in his chest. The pain was so severe by the time he was 13 that Father Fid began bargaining with God. If He let Father Fid live and heal, Father Fid would join the priesthood.
But he was scared of his calling. In high school, Father Fid had difficulty committing to the vocation. He was not ready to enter the seminary, so he chose to become a nurse instead.
He trained at the St. Francis School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio, graduating in 1956. By the time he finished college, Father Fid had the courage to enter the seminary. He first attended St. Joseph’s College in Indiana, followed by the novitiate in Marysville, Ohio, which allowed him “a year of special reflection.”
He moved on to St. Charles Seminary in Carthagena, Ohio, and then St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Penn. Once he finished at St. Francis, he was ordained in the Diocese of Greensburg in 1967 and was assigned to St. Therese in Uniontown, followed by Sts. Simon and Jude in Blairsville, Penn.
“It is beyond me how God used me,” Father Fid said. “The Lord gives you strength.”
God also gave Father Fid a special bond with his parishioners during their times of need. Father Fid felt comfortable in the hospital. When he would visit parishioners, he understood what was happening. He could comfort the patient and explain their situation.
“The body is as important as the soul,” Father Fid said. “Being a nurse helped me develop a holistic way of helping my parishioners and community.”
But Father Fid yearned to be a more hands-on priest. He wanted to serve his community more actively and delve into social justice issues. He had contemplated mission work both domestically and internationally.
“Christ was concerned with the total man,” Father Fid said in a Boost-A-Month Club article about his journey to Glenmary. “He saw an integrated person. I think we make a mistake when we are concerned with the spiritual man only.”
One day, Glenmary Father John Barry visited the Greensburg, Penn., diocese. Father Fid heard him speak about the home missions and asked for more information. Father John connected Father Fid with then-Glenmary president Father Charlie Hughes.
“I was enchanted by his enthusiasm,” Father Fid said.
He began a seven-year placement with Glenmary, working in a variety of missions across the country providing a voice to under served populations, giving them hope and faith in their times of need. The experience allowed Father Fid to seek out “the forgotten” segments of his community, particularly the Hispanic population. Father Fid said if people do not make an effort to serve and include the Hispanic population, they will go to another church or no church.
He began taking Spanish classes in Virginia and Texas to strengthen his Spanish and spent time in Cuernavaca, Mexico, living with a family so that he was forced to speak Spanish.
In 1980, Father Fid formally joined Glenmary, taking his first oath.
“The Glenmary men are not hung up on clothing and beards,” Father Fid said in a Boost-A-Month Club article. “They know the thing is to make the faith come alive to people.”
Father Fid likes the freedom of Glenmary. He can minister to his parishioners as well as identify larger issues that affect the entire community and devise solutions to address the problems.
“God doesn’t call the qualified, but he qualifies the chosen,” Father Fid said. “I do not often feel qualified in what I am doing, but He chose me to do it.”
Now, the former sickly child is extremely active, riding his bicycle, hiking and volunteering in a soup kitchen a few days a week. He also plays the mandolin and guitar.
In the last month, Father Fid had two celebrations to honor his 50-year anniversary, one in Greensburg, Penn., and one in Beaver Dam, Ky., his last and favorite Glenmary assignment.
In Beaver Dam, Father Fid concelebrated Mass with several other priests. Father Vic Subb and Deacon Jose Pineda from the Holy Family mission in Lafayette, Tenn., joined Father Fid for the celebration. After Mass, the congregation had a party in the church basement with food, skits, a presentation and a parody or roast of Father Fid. Later, a Bluegrass band played, and Brother Larry Johnson, Glenmary’s second vice president, joined the band for a performance. The choir also got in on the act, dressing in faux nun’s habits, see the video HERE.
See also: The Moment I knew: Fr. Bruce Brylinski