Father Peter Riani announced that he will retire in September.
For the past 13 years, Father Peter Riani has presided over the St. Elizabeth’s and St. Philip Neri Catholic Churches in Elizabethtown and Westport.
Last week, Riani, 82, announced that it was time to retire.
“They usually have pastors retire at the end of June because of the fiscal year, but I have committents over the summer and asked to stay on,” Riani said. “The Bishop (Terry LaValley) was gracious enough to say, ‘call the shots.”‘
Riani, who is currently the oldest serving member of the clergy in the Ogdensburg Diocese, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in January and said while that was one of the reasons he was retiring, it was just one of several.
“I have to keep in mind the health reasons, but there are other reasons, too,” he said. “After all, I will be turning 83 in August. I have always told people that I want to go out on my own two feet, and not two feet first.”
Riani said when he came to serve in Elizabethtown and Westport, he was about to turn 70 and had a plan to head the two churches for five years.
“The retirement age for this diocese is 75, so that was the plan,” he said. “When I got there, I said to myself why would I want to retire. I am in a great place and back near where I grew up. I love it.”
Riani said the people that made up the parishes became part of his family over the past 13 years.
“Getting involved with people on a church level is always a pleasant thing,” he said. “I will miss the people the most. You get very involved and they become family to you. This particular group of people in both places are very open and welcoming. I am very happy here.”
Riani also said he was pleased with how well the local churches of different faiths have worked together for the benefit of the community.
Along with serving the two churches, Riani also had the responsibility of working with the Elizabethtown Community Hospital, Horace Nye Nursing Home and Essex County Jail to provide services when needed.
“I have told the diocese that whoever you decide to send here, they have to be prepared to take on that responsibility,” Riani said.
A life of service
Father Riani was born and grew up in Keeseville, where he graduated from high school.
“I still remember playing basketball in the small gym here in Elizabethtown where you would always run into the walls,” he said.
Riani has spent 57 years in the Priesthood after his ordination on May 21, 1955, being educated at Wadhams Hall in Ogdensburg, St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, the University of Ottawa, Union College and the Pontifical Athenaeum Angelicum in Rome, Italy.
He spent over 30 years at Wadhams Hall, starting as an instructor and working through the ranks of associate professor, professor, lecturer, Dean of Students, Vice President, Academic Dean and then President from 1974 until 1982.
He was an assistant pastor at St. Paul’s in Black River and St. Bernard’s in Saranac Lake before his time at Wadhams Hall. Afterward, he was the pastor for St. Agnes in Lake Placid from 1982 until 1985, St. Raphael’s in Heuvelton from 1988 until 1993 and St. Augustine’s in Peru from 1993 until 1999.
“I have really enjoyed it. One thing about the priesthood is that you never get bored. There is always something going on,” Riani said.
Riani also had the chance to be one of 30 chaplains for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, where he stayed with the others at the empty convent in Saranac Lake.
“There were three ladies with us, and they got one restroom and the 27 men got the other,” he said. “It really was a great experience because we got to see all of the games, including the skiing events and th hockey game.”
“The hockey game,” was the Feb. 22, 1980 game between the United States and Soviet Union, refered to as, “The Miracle on Ice.”
“It truly was a miracle,” Riani said. “Unbelieveable. I have never witnessed such a thing, except for a couple of religious ceremonies that were very powerful.”
Riani said that, unfortunately, he will not be able to spend retirement in one of his most favorite places, the slopes, due to illness.
“I was given 75 seasons to ski,” he said. “I think now I will have to give the skis away.”
As for the future, Riani said that he was taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I am leaving it all open and have no definite plans,” he said. “I do know where I will live. There is a new rectory and education center in Morrisonville that has two apartments that were built for retiring pastors, so I will be there. I plan to also help out wherever there is a need.”
Riani said that he has even received advice from friends on what he should do.
“I have two or three people that I have know throughout my adult life that keep telling me to write a book,” he said. “I tell them to please not plan my whole future, because it takes a lot more than writing to do that.”
The Father said he has not yet thought about what will happen when he addresses the members of the two churches for the final time as he departs Sept. 19.
“I don’t look forward to it,” he said. “It will be a little painful, but I am not going too far away and I am sure that I will be by from time to time.”
“After all, I have already had a couple of threats to make sure I come by or they will track me down.”