PIQUA — The Rev. Fr. Angelo C. Caserta, a prominent Piqua figure and previously the oldest active priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, passed away Sunday morning, leaving behind a community in mourning who remembered him as an “extraordinary man” and “a saint in our midst.”
“He has been such a landmark in the community,” Piqua Mayor Kazy Hinds said. “His parish really was Piqua.”
Fr. Caserta was a Piqua native, one of 12 children born to Charles and Nancy Caserta. When he was a second grader at St. Boniface School, he dreamed of becoming a priest. After graduating from Piqua Catholic High School in 1936, he entered the seminary. He was ordained on Feb. 24, 1945, by then-Archbishop John Timothy McNicholas.
According to a Catholic Telegraph article from 2015, Fr. Caserta was the oldest active priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. During his priesthood, Fr. Caserta spent many of his years at St. Gregory Seminary, a former college seminary of the archdiocese that closed in 1980, and at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, according to the Catholic Telegraph. He also spent time serving at Elder High School, Xavier University, St. Lawrence Catholic Church, and St. Aloysius, all in Cincinnati.
In 1984, Fr. Caserta came home when he was appointed as pastor at St. Boniface Catholic Church, a position he held until 1993. While at St. Boniface, he spearheaded a building fund drive for the addition of St. Boniface School’s activity center, established no-cost tuition, and started perpetual Eucharistic adoration, which continues today in St. Clare Chapel.
Fr. Caserta was recognized in the past for being instrumental in the merger agreement between St. Mary and St. Boniface schools, which officially created the Piqua Catholic Schools in 1987. Fr. Caserta also did numerous home visits during his time in Piqua, handing out baskets to those in need, counseling many people, and visiting many patients in the hospital.
Angie Tyler, his niece, remembered Fr. Caserta as an “incredible person.”
“It’s really hard to put into words the kind of person he was,” Tyler said. “He was kind. He was gentle.”
Tyler said he was the type of person one would want “ministering the good news and word of Christ,” adding that Fr. Caserta was also “humble beyond belief.” Tyler said that Fr. Caserta always attributed gifts with people to God.
Tyler said that Fr. Caserta was so well-known because of the level of human being he was, saying that people sought him out because he was an “incredible counsel” and a “gentle soul.” She added that, no matter what things a person might have done, “He always made you feel and believe that you were still loved.”
Tyler said that while the family is mourning his loss and already missing him, they recognize that Fr. Caserta’s faith came to fruition when God called him home.
“We are so happy and joyful he has reunited with God and his family who has gone before him,” Tyler said.
Members of the local Catholic community echoed similar comments.
“We’re sad that he’s gone, but we all know that God was waiting for him with open arms, and he’s happy, and he’s in Heaven,” said Heather Smith, who teaches fifth through eighth graders at Piqua Catholic School.
“We know that he’s not in any pain. He’s free of all that,” said Sister Mary Alice Haithcoat, who teaches second grade at Piqua Catholic School. “When you think about that part of it, it really makes you happy to know that he is where he needs to be and wants to be.”
Smith said that Fr. Caserta was someone who “was always there for anyone who needed him, day or night.”
Smith knew Fr. Caserta for her entire life, and to her, he was like a grandfather.
“He was there for all of my sacraments,” said Smith, who said her wedding was one of the last marriage ceremonies that Fr. Caserta performed.
“He really encouraged me to go into Catholic education,” Smith said.
Sister Haithcoat remembered Fr. Caserta as “an extraordinary man” with the rare ability of making everyone to whom he spoke feel important.
“He was very gentle, very kind, and he really uplifted you, made you feel important,” Sister Haithcoat said.
Smith and Sister Haithcoat recalled how Fr. Caserta had a gift for people — remembering, counseling, and even acting as an instrument for healing for people — and he did not waste it.
“He enjoyed people, and he enjoyed making people happy,” Sister Haithcoat said.
She said that, when he held Mass, he would take extra time to greet everyone afterward. He would also be there for people in need of prayer, counseling, and even healing as she and Smith said that there were times that people received healing after praying with him.
“He would say it wasn’t him, it was the Lord,” Sister Haithcoat said.
Sister Haithcoat also went to Fr. Caserta for confession, saying, “He was so comforting … He just always had the right words to say.”
Smith and Sister Haithcoat also agreed that Fr. Caserta was “as close as you’re going to come to a saint.”
They not only recalled Fr. Caserta’s talent for people, but also reminisced about Fr. Caserta’s talent in the kitchen with his special spagetti sauce recipe. It was sold at the annual Parish Festival before Fr. Caserta eventually had it canned and sold in local grocery stores for a short period of time.
“We have his recipes,” said Sister Haithcoat, adding that they still use it during certain parish events. “It’s not the same without him.”
Fr. Caserta was also an Order of George recipient, and he also received recognition from other community organizations like Positively Promoting Piqua, who recognized Fr. Caserta with their “Pass the Positive” award.
“Fr. Caserta touched so many in our community … He truly was a saint in our midst,” said Hinds said, who first knew Fr. Caserta as a colleague in ministry when she first came to Piqua to be the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church before she later became the mayor of Piqua.
“He loved Piqua. He loved this community,” Hinds said. “We definitely mourn his loss.”
Services are pending at Melcher-Sowers Funeral Home, Piqua.
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