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Fr. Gio’s Story

Fr. Giordano Belanich

Father Giordano Belanich has wanted to be a priest since he was a little five-year-old Croatian boy. “I always thought God was calling me to be a priest, but I dismissed the idea when I turned eleven,” Father Gio began. “That’s how old I was when my family had to leave what was then Yugoslavia and run for our lives to Italy, away from Communism.” In the refugee camp in Italy, for the first time, Father heard English spoken. He knew it would be the language of their soon-to-be country, the United States of America. “I thought I would never be able to learn that language so I dismissed the idea of the priesthood, assuming I wasn’t smart enough to ever master it, so forget it. I also decided I wasn’t worthy to be a priest.”

A family with three children immigrated to America with Father Gio’s family. One morning, as was his custom, he went to their house to join the boys in play. They were still asleep but the boys’ father had left the door open when he went to work and Gio went inside and sat quietly at the kitchen table, waiting for the others to awaken. On the table, open, lay a magazine someone must have been reading the night before. It was St. Anthony’s Messenger, printed in that time in Chicago by the Croatian Franciscans from Mostar. There was a story with a large headline reading, How Did I Become a Priest? Father told us, “I devoured that story. It was about a young boy in Spain who thought he was unworthy to be a priest. Reading that, I realized this was how I thought about myself becoming a priest. I finished the story, banged my fist on the table and said, �Darn it, if this kid could make it, I can too;” Giordano Belanich was twelve years old and he never looked back.

Fr. Gio was born in this lovely town of Ilovik, Croatia, on the Adriatic Sea. His family fled their homes to escape communism, comming to the US by way of refugee camps in Italy

“I started going to Mass every morning. One cold, snowy morning I passed my father waiting for the bus to take him to work. When he saw me, he asked, �Why didn’t you stay in bed? Can’t you see nobody’s out today?’ I told him, �But daddy, you are out. You’re going to work. You have to be about your business and I have to be about my Father’s business.’”

One evening, Gio’s cousins came to take him to a dance in the church hall. “Of course,” Father Gio laughingly admitted, “in those days that meant going at eight and coming home at nine. The priest was there, walking from table to table greeting everyone. When he came to our table, he looked at me and asked, �What is your name?’ When I told him, he said, �I thought you were a seminarian.’

“‘What?’ “‘I see you at Mass every morning so I thought you were a seminarian.’ I told him I wasn’t but that I’d like to talk to him about the priesthood. “‘How about tomorrow?’ The next afternoon we were discussing the possibility of my going into the priesthood.”

Gio was attending public school and his counselor was a Jewish lady. One day she asked Gio what he intended to major in college. He explained he wanted to be a priest. The lady looked at him as if in shock. “Is that bad?” asked Gio. “No, no, no, but I can’t help you there. You’d better see your parish priest!” Gio assured her he had already done so.

He joined the minor seminary of the Edmundite Fathers at the Mother of the Savior Seminary in New Jersey. He was sixteen years old. He had no Latin so they told him he must repeat his junior year. “Whatever is the will of God,” Gio responded. Then, through a remarkable series of events, he ended up being a senior at Easter, graduating in June, entering the novitiate and eventually being professed for three years. When his temporary vows expired, however, Gio decided not to extend them or renew them.

“I decided I wasn’t meant to be an order priest. I went to my local bishop but he told me he couldn’t accept me without my having to go through the seminary again. Then he said that the Patterson, New Jersey Diocese was very small and I should go there. As soon as the vocation director saw me, he said, �We have a Slovak church and they don’t have a priest. You are just what they need.’ �I’m not Slovak, I’m Croatian.’ Low and behold, I was ordained in 1975 but even as a deacon my first assignment was to St. Mary’s Slovak church. When I started saying mass in Slovak the people understood me better than the pastor, who was a native American. To this day, I can say the Mass in Slovak, I learned it that well.”

After seventeen months, Father was transferred to another St. Mary’s where he stayed for four years until the new Archbishop of Newark called the Bishop of Patterson and said, “Father Gio is the only Croatian priest in New Jersey, and we need him here. Will you lend him to us?” Father’s bishop agreed but Father himself had to give consent. “I told him I’d think about it and pray. I asked my father what he thought I should do. He told me, �If it’s the will of God, why not just say yes and go there, where you’re needed?’”

It was twenty years ago that Father Gio accepted that new assignment at St. John’s Catholic Church, where he remains today.

Two years ago the Patterson bishop called. Father asked him, “What’s the matter, bishop? You want me back home?” “No, no,” replied the bishop, “but to tell you the truth, I’ve forgotten what you look like. Gio you’ve been there eighteen years now and you’re welcome back but if you intend to stay there why not get incardinated in Newark?” Father Giordano’s position then simply became the reality he was already living.

He laughed, “So, last March, I was made part of the Archdiocese of Newark, exactly what I wanted to be thirty years ago!”

2 comments to Fr. Gio’s Story

  • A beautiful story and makes you understand the power of God’s love and calling. My husband shared with me as father gio is from my husband’s island in Croatia we too will now support his coalition please view video on this organization on you tube

    Lauren Raguzin happily married to John (fanito) Raguzin who When father gio was ordained he told my husband he was “special” and indeed he is as is Father Gio

  • Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

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