By Katherine Long | Editor

The life of Father Louis F. Aiello, Jr., a man whose big laugh was matched by his big heart, was celebrated and commemorated last week by the many who loved him.

Father Lou — priest, brother, mentor, and friend — died unexpectedly April 8 at the age of 69.

Father Lou’s friend and brother priest Father Henry Pedzich offered the homily at the Mass of Christian Burial, celebrated April 12 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

“If you’re in this cathedral this morning, it’s because you are very special,” Father Pedzich, pastor of St. Michael-St. Peter Church in Syracuse, told those in the full pews. “You and hundreds of others are very special because Louie made you feel special.”

A native of Syracuse, Father Lou graduated from St. John the Baptist. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at Le Moyne College and both his master of divinity degree and his master of arts in theology degree at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, N.Y. He later continued his graduate studies at Syracuse University, where he earned a master of arts in philosophy degree and an interdisciplinary doctorate in philosophy and religious studies.

Father Pedzich explained that in preparing his homily, he read scripture, did research, listened to stories, and spent a lot of time in prayer. And more than once during that preparation, he had the overwhelming feeling that “I better call Lou,” because “that’s what I usually would have done — called Lou and sought his advice.” He noted that before there was Alexa or Google, it was “ask Louie,” and that Father Lou was one of the first priests he knew to have a computer.

Ordained for the diocese by Bishop Frank J. Harrison May 7, 1977, Father Lou served 30 years in parish ministry. That ministry included service as associate pastor of St. James Church in Cazenovia from 1977 to 1983, associate pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Syracuse from 1983 to 1987, pastor of St. Leo Church in Tully and its mission St. Patrick Church in Otisco from 1991 to 2003, and as pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Syracuse from 2003 to 2006.

Father Pedzich shared a story about Father Lou that offered some insight on his personality and ministry. Not long after his ordination, Father Lou was to lead a retreat for a group of teens at a Highland Forest lodge. He asked Father Pedzich to help. It was hard to say no to someone so enthusiastic, Father Pedzich noted. Father Lou planned to show some films at the retreat, but the lodge had no electricity. “‘Don’t worry, boss. I got it covered,’” Father Pedzich recalled his friend saying. 

On the day of the retreat, Father Lou had a power source rigged to the parish truck. He plugged in the projector — and it blew up, complete with flames and smoke, Father Pedzich remembered. They borrowed a second projector from a nearby parish, plugged it in — and it blew up. They “had the audacity to borrow a third one,” but Father Pedzich told Father Lou they couldn’t plug it in. Luckily, it was pouring rain that day, and the folks who had reserved the site’s other lodges — with electricity — didn’t show and the park ranger said the retreat group could use one.

Despite everyone being wet, cold, and covered in mud, “Louie never gave up, never complained, never blamed anyone, never lost enthusiasm” and the day turned out to be “great for us and great for the kids,” Father Pedzich said.

Father Lou’s diocesan ministry included service in the Office of Pastoral Planning, as the director of Religious Education, and as a member of the priest senate and the priest personnel committee.

His most lasting diocesan legacy, however, may be his service to the Office of Deacon Formation, which he led since 2002. In that time, 60 men were ordained permanent deacons for the diocese, according to the office; 14 men are currently in formation as candidates for ordination in 2020 and 10 men entered formation in September as aspirants in the Class of 2022.

“From his experiences as a student, a counselor, a teacher, a deacon, a pastor, a healthcare chaplain, he was able to craft the wonderful diaconate program that serves our diocese,” Father Pedzich said.

Deacon Tom Cuskey, one of Father Lou’s students, colleagues, and friends offered the homily at Father Lou’s vigil service, celebrated April 11 at the Cathedral.

“My history with Father Lou predates ordination,” he said in his homily, the text of which he shared with the Sun. “I am from Christ the King Church in Liverpool where Father Lou has served as a weekend assistant for the past 13 years or so. He also served as our facilitator for a pastoral care area profile we were working on way back then. I took notes for those meetings and he liked the way I did that. He said to me ‘I’m going to have a job for you after ordination.’ And that call came.”

Deacon Cuskey went on to serve with Father Lou as an associate director in the Office of Deacon Formation, “a part-time job I actually quit twice,” he quipped. But a call from Father Lou always brought him back.

Father Lou made people “feel so good about who they were and what they were doing; how special they were to him and to others; and how deeply grateful he was for the pleasure and privilege of friendship,” Deacon Cuskey said. “He was the most intelligent person I have ever known, yet the most humble. The most wise, yet so prone to a little foolish fun. That smile, that voice, and that laugh…”

Deacon Cuskey said he believed that, in his heart, Father Lou was a deacon. “Father Lou calls all of us to never give up the role of ‘diakonos,’ the lowest rung on the ladder of service, supporting and serving all who are above us. He was the ultimate humble servant leader and he so loved helping others, through formation, become servants like him. We owe him our best efforts. He made this program great, always striving for something even better. We will never be the same without him, but we would never be who we are if not for him.”

Deacon Cuskey told the Sun in an email that “as Father Lou’s associate director of the formation program, I had the privilege to work closely with him these past years. As we often learn in life, I had no idea how significant a privilege that was until it was over. And I’m certain that there many who are experiencing that same sense of loss; he meant so much to so many! Thank God for the blessing of having known him, to have been with him, and to have called him friend and mentor.”

Family was very important to Father Lou, and both Father Pedzich and Deacon Cuskey spoke of how much he adored his siblings, their spouses, his nieces and nephews, and his beloved parents. His family “took his joy to heavenly heights,” Deacon Cuskey said.

But it was Father Lou’s priesthood that was essential to him, Father Pedzich affirmed, and though he never took himself seriously, he took his ministry seriously. On his ordination day, when Bishop Harrison laid his hands upon his head, Father Lou felt he was entrusted with the responsibility to preach and teach, to celebrate Christ in word and sacrament, and to bring Christ to the people of God, Father Pedzich said. Over his years of ministry, Father Lou was a counselor and consoler, a reconciler and healer, who in his humble, joyful service opened “the eyes of many souls to the salvation of God,” he said.

“Louie, you are a priest forever.”

   Father Louis F. Aiello, Jr., was predeceased by his parents, Louis and Frances (Morga) Aiello. He is survived by three siblings, Caroline (John) Wilson of Liverpool, Mary (Chet) Wisniewski of Liverpool, and Steven (Lori) Aiello of Fayetteville; nieces and nephews Christina (Pete) Heacox, Daniel (Kaitlin) Wilson, Matthew Wisniewski, Steven Aiello, Elizabeth Aiello and Thomas Aiello; and one great-nephew, Malcolm Wilson.

   In lieu of flowers, contributions in his name can be made to the Office of Deacon Formation, 240 East Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202, or In My Father’s Kitchen, Inc., PO Box 11328, Syracuse, N.Y. 13218.

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