Laura Keener, Editor.
Joseph Rielage has thought about a vocation to the priesthood for most of his life. The first person to comment to him that he might have a vocation was one of his customers at a Sherwin Williams paint store. A customer, “Jim,” unexpectedly said, “Joe, someday you’re going to be a priest.”
“I told him he must have smelled to many paint fumes,” Mr. Rielage said.
But the truth is, Mr. Rielage had thought about a priestly vocation when he was in high school at Elder High School, Cincinnati. As life went on, the idea would present itself often, whenever he came to a crossroad in his life, but the time was never right.
Mr. Rielage is one of two children of Tom and Carol Rielage. While he was in college, Mrs. Rielage became very ill and Mr. Rielage felt an obligation to care for his mother. She didn’t recover. Before she died, Mr. Rielage assured his mother that he would take care of his father.
“My dad was lost because he was so dedicated to my mom. I basically had to look out for him,” said Mr. Rielage. “I had promised mom, not to worry about dad that I would take care of him.”
And so he did — happily and without any regret.
When his father passed away in 2013 the call to the priesthood overtook his imagination.
“I woke up on Pentecost Sunday and I said, ‘Lord, my life is okay right now but if there is something you want me to do let me know.’ The thought of seminary entered my mind again and I had this fire inside of me that I can’t describe. I thought that must be the call,” Mr. Rielage said.
For over a year Mr. Rielage has had the date April 4, 2020, marked on his calendar as the day Bishop Roger Foys will ordain him to the transitional diaconate — a step in his formation to ordination to the priesthood next year.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that have been placed on public celebration of the Mass and sacraments, the question of whether this was the right time came up. Mr. Rielage was asked if he wanted to postpone his ordination or have a private ceremony with only 10 people present — including celebrants. Without hesitation, Mr. Rielage chose to go ahead with the scheduled ordination as a private ceremony, Saturday, April 4, 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington. The ceremony was live-streamed online; a link to the livestream is on the diocesan website www.covdio.org.
“I think its important because in this time of uncertainty, this time of lockdown, it’s important to show that the life of the Church does go on,” said Mr. Rielage.
Mr. Rielage was able to invite four people to the private ceremony. They were: his sister Melissa Ruhnke (his only sibling), her husband, Chris, and their two sons — J.T. and Kevin. Mr. Rielage said that there are other family members who would have liked to come but “It’s important for me, and important for them, to take precautions to avoid any potential tragedy or infection They understand it’s one of those things we don’t have control over.”
Going back to the classroom for seminary studies after many years away from school has been a challenge, Mr. Rielage said.
“But, when I am back at the parish during the summer, I am peaceful, I am calm, I am in my element, and I know this is what I need to do, to be there for people and bring them the Lord,” he said.
Mr. Rielage said that all of the pastors that he has worked with during his formation have been wonderful mentors and supporters.
“They have all added some insights, encouragement and support which has helped me to move along,” he said.
These priests are: Father Gregory Bach, St. Henry Parish, Elsmere; Msgr. William Cleves, Holy Spirit Parish, Newport; Father Phillip DeVous, St. Joseph Parish, Crescent Springs and Father Mario Tizziani, St. Cecelia Parish, Independence.
The pastor of his current home parish, Father Kevin Kahmann, Mary, Queen of Heaven Parish, Erlanger, has been especially influential. “He’s part of the reason why I am here; how humble he is … he helped me become more serious about the call,” he said.
Mr. Rielage said that he admires St. Alphonsus Roderiquez. Older in life, St. Alphonsus sought to become a Jesuit priest and was twice rejected before being admitted. After ordination, he was assigned the humble position of porter and served in that position for many years. And while others might tire of servitude, it brought St. Alphonsus happiness.
“He greeted everybody with a smile and was content with whatever he was told to do. That’s what I want to be able to do,” Mr. Rielage said.
To the people of the Diocese of Covington Mr. Rielage said, “I appreciate the sacrifices and the support they have given to me. I want to do all I can, to be the best I can, in serving them and I look forward to that day. This is a step to one-day, God willing, becoming priest.”