ASTORIA — Father Vincent Chirichella has many friends who are priests that he considers part of his family. But he’s just as close to priests who really are his family.
“We have a lot of vocations,” said Father Chirichella, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Astoria. “I’m one of four priests. There’s also my brother Michael, who answered God’s call to become a deacon. And we have a seminarian. All on my mother’s side of the family.”
In addition to Father Chirichella, the family tree includes: Father Gennaro DiSpigno, a priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre; Father Francis DiSpigno O.F.M., a Franciscan; Father Andrea LaRegina, an Italian priest working with Caritas Italiana, a pastoral organization of the Italian Bishops Conference; and Joseph Siano, a seminarian at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston.
There’s also Michael Chirichella, who was recently ordained as a permanent deacon and is assigned to the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Williamsburg. The Chirichella Brothers were born and raised in Williamsburg and carried the giglio at the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel many times over the years.
Fathers Gennaro and Francis DiSpigno, who are brothers, are cousins of the Chirichellas. Siano is also a cousin. The Chirichellas’ mother, Michela, and the DiSpignos’ mom, Mildred, were first cousins. Joseph Siano’s great-grandfather and the Chirichellas’ grandfather were brothers.
Not only are there many vocations in the one family, but the DiSpignos and the Chirichellas lived consecutively in the same two-bedroom, 700-square-foot apartment in Williamsburg. The DiSpignos rented it first and lived there when Gennaro and Francis were babies. The family then moved to Elmont, Long Island and the Chirichellas moved in.
“Four vocations came out of that one tiny little apartment,” Deacon Chirichella said.
Father LaRegina was the first to be ordained — becoming a priest more than 40 years ago.
When asked why six different people in the same family answered God’s call, Deacon Chirichella thought for a moment. “I guess it had to do with our upbringing. Our parents were very religious,” he said. Their dad, John, a television repairman and their mom, Michela, a homemaker, faithfully attended Mass every Sunday.
Michela was also devoted to St. Cono, the patron saint of Teggiano, Italy. And the family was devoted to St. Therese of Lisieux, known as “The Little Flower.”
“I think they all went into the church because they saw it at home,” Michela Chirichella said. “We were a very religious family.”
When they were boys, the Chirichellas played “church,” a game in which they would imagine they were priests. They used to take small prices of bread out of their mother’s kitchen and pretend it was communion.
Father Gennaro DiSpigno was greatly influenced by his grandparents. “They were simple, immigrants coming from Italy, a small little town, very poor. But God was the mainstay. Sundays you prayed. You went to church,” he said.
His parents, Joseph and Mildred, also set a good example. “Going to church, my father would say, ‘It’s the Eucharist. It’s not the priests.’ So my father had a great devotion to Eucharist, He made us understand that the Eucharist is the center of everything,” Father DiSpigno said.
Each of the priests has found his particular calling within the church.
As pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Father Chirichella works at the local level to bring people closer to the Catholic Church. His cousin Gennaro ministers to prison inmates and operates a hermitage for priests. Father Francis DiSpigno served as a parish priest, executive director of ministries at St. Bonaventure University and has traveled to South America to help people in need. At Caritas Italiana, Father LaRegina has worked on local and international issues.
Deacon Chirichella enjoys working with young people and plans to start a men’s group at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Joseph Siano is busy with his studies and is looking forward to his future in the church, his cousins said.
Do they ever compare notes? “All the time,” Father Chirichella said. “We’re all doing something different but what we have in common is the most important thing — serving the Lord.”