By Michael Rizzo
JAMAICA — Residents of Briarwood, Queens, gathered at nearby St. John’s University on March 24 along with scholars, students, and clergy, including Bishop Robert Brennan, to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Fernando Rielo, a philosopher and founder of the Idente Missionaries.
Rielo, who was born in Spain, lived in Briarwood from 1988 to his death in 2004 and is being promoted for consideration to sainthood.
Rielo was a poet, author, and lecturer on philosophy, including his original concept of Genetic metaphysics, which focuses on the relationship between beings and the human relationship with God.
The daylong event at St. John’s attracted about 30 attendees and featured recollections from those who knew Rielo personally, scholarly presentations on his work, and reflections about him by members of the Idente community.
In the New York City area, the Idente serve parishes in the Bronx and on Long Island. Bishop Brennan said he knows the Idente Missionaries from his days as an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
“This was a man who found himself in Queens and was witnessing to Christ in the city, engaging Christ in the culture of New York,” Bishop Brennan said in an interview before the formal proceedings began. He added that Rielo’s “embrace of the intellectual life in philosophy, in culture, and in the sciences were all points of encounter with Jesus Christ and showed how we can be holy in society.”
Sister Elaine Schenk, celebrating 50 years as an Idente missionary, lives at the home the community still maintains in Briarwood.
“He saw God as his own father,” she said of Rielo, adding that he would feel the world desperately needed God’s paternal presence now. “We’re all God’s sons and daughters, and our first relationship is with our parents. When we don’t have a dad, everything is messed up.”
In his prepared remarks, Bishop Brennan, an alumnus of St. John’s, called it appropriate that the gathering was being held in St. Augustine Hall, a building named for the early Church philosopher and theologian.
“We encounter truth here,” Bishop Brennan said, referencing the building as the university’s main library. “Fernando Rielo formed the Idente Missionaries as a call to holiness, to go deeper in the pursuit of truth, and it’s there that you encounter God.”
Rielo founded the Institute Id of Christ the Redeemer, Idente Missionaries, in 1959.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI elevated the Idente Missionaries to a religious institute of consecrated life of pontifical right.
Emily Battaglia, a 21-year-old junior from St. Mary Mother of Jesus Church in Brooklyn, attended the event as part of a metaphysics class she was enrolled in. She admitted she didn’t know much about Rielo but had a different perspective as the day progressed.
“To find out about someone who lived around here, someone contemporary, makes me want to know more,” she said. “It’s interesting to see this modern person with a connection to God.”
Basilio Monteiro, director of the university’s Institute for International Communication, was the sponsor and moderator of the event. He said the philosopher’s insights are especially relatable to Gen Z, the colloquial name for persons born between the late 1990s and 2010.
“He had no pretenses and lived just like everyone else in his neighborhood,” Monteiro said of Rielo. “He was a role model in his scholarly work and life. Gen Z is looking for mystical experiences. Rielo invites them to reflect on their faith and to find that moment of transcendence to make a connection with God.”