As a boy, Father Kenneth Riello was fascinated by his First Holy Communion missal. In fact, he was practically “enamored” with it, he recently recalled.
“The Mass mystified me,” he said. “I remember one priest would very solemnly and reverently purify the vessels” that held the bread and wine consecrated into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
“Ironically, I never served as an altar boy,” added Father Riello, 49. “I wanted to be an altar boy, but the priest had these tests and I would choke under pressure” while repeating the requisite prayers of the Mass one-on-one to the priest, even though he knew them by heart.
“I never actually got to serve until much later,” he said.
Not only did the lad imagine being a priest as he paged through his little prayer book and paid attention at Mass, he frequently played priest at home. “As far back as my memory goes, I thought about being a priest,” Father Riello added. “That idea never left me but I kind of brushed it aside.”
He placed a priestly vocation on a shelf of sorts as he worked in the food brokerage business and managed his family’s delicatessen for nearly 10 years. From 2006 to 2009, he managed the gift shop at the Salesian National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Stony Point.
Father Riello, the fourth of seven sons of Marie and the late Frank Riello, was raised in St. Gregory Barbarigo parish in Garnerville and Immaculate Conception parish in Stony Point.
An alumnus of St. Gregory Barbarigo School in Garnerville, he graduated from North Rockland High School in Thiells.
He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill and studied theology at the Fraternity of St. Peter in Lincoln, Neb.
In 1989, he became acquainted with the late Msgr. John Harrington, who was pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Stony Point. While prayerfully protesting abortion outside a clinic alongside Msgr. Harrington, Kenneth Riello said to himself, “I’ve got to make the decision” about the priesthood. “I started seeing Msgr. Harrington for spiritual direction. By that time, though, it wasn’t a matter of if; it was just a matter of when.”
In 1996, he began studies with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York. After discerning he was not called to be a friar, he concluded those studies in 1999.
He entered St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, in 2009.
Apostolic assignments as a seminarian included teacher, School of Religion at Immaculate Conception, and ministry, Calvary Hospital and Westchester Correctional Facility.
Hobbies include baseball, basketball, football and running.
Father Riello eagerly awaits celebrating Mass, administering the sacrament of reconciliation and anointing the sick and dying, he said.
And generally reaching out to those entrusted to his care. “There’s a challenge to reach people in the context of how they’re fed today,” he said of the prevailing “instantaneous” social communications.
But as the relatable Father Riello strives to meet people wherever they are, there is one message he plans to relay that will never be passé: “hope.”
“There were times where I couldn’t even pray, except to hold onto the rosary in my pocket. Ultimately, as much as we try to fight it and we might shake our fist at God sometimes, there’s no explanation other than the cross, of Christ Himself.”
Father Riello will celebrate his first Mass at St. Gregory Barbarigo Church on Saturday, May 25 at 5:30 p.m.