Dedicated priest cared for souls, gave everything to his priesthood and parish family

Laura Keener, Editor.

Father Mario Joseph Tizziani, a priest of the Diocese of Covington, died Saturday, Dec. 26, at Carmel Manor in Ft. Thomas, Ky. He was born April 8, 1954, in Steubenville, Ohio, to Lino John and Catherine Gabriel Tizziani. A 1972 graduate of Toronto High School, Toronto, Ohio, he proudly served in the U.S. Navy, then later graduated from Liberty University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in education. For 15 years he taught elementary, middle and high school in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was named Regional Teacher of the Year in 1999. Later, he pursued a doctorate degree in history from his beloved Ohio State University. On June 23, 2006, he was ordained as a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Covington, Ky.

In a 2004 interview with the Messenger, as a seminarian looking toward priesthood Father Tizziani said, “I think that the important factor is that I be a holy priest, a man of God and live a life that challenges my flock to live holy lives.”

Father Mario was installed as pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, Independence, Aug. 10, 2008. In 2015, he received the Distinguished Pastor Award from the National Catholic Educational Association. On July 10, 2017, he led in the groundbreaking of a $5.5 million expansion, including a gymnasium at St. Cecilia Catholic School, to its completion in 2019. In October of 2018, under his leadership, St. Cecilia School was named a Blue Ribbon School. Father Mario was also instrumental in the success of St. Cecilia’s annual Labor Day Festivals during his tenure. Toronto High School named him a Distinguished Alumni in September of 2019.

“Father Mario Tizziani was ordained for almost 15 years and spent that entire time at St. Cecilia Parish in Independence, first as parochial vicar and then as pastor,” said Bishop Roger Foys. “He referred to the parish as his home and to his parishioners as his family. To say he was actively involved in every aspect of the parish and parish life would be an understatement. His priesthood absorbed his life and it was demonstrated in any number of ways, especially in the fact that he seldom left the parish for any length of time.”

“It (being a priest) was something that tugged at him his entire life, but he was always busy with something else,” said Gina Motto, Father Tizziani’s sister.

While studying at OSU, Father Tizziani finally surrendered to God’s call to the priesthood. When Father Tizziani told the family that he was entering seminary, he thought he would catch them off guard. But his mom said, she already knew what he was going to say.

“You’re going to be a priest, I’ve known it my whole life,” Mrs. Tizziani said to her son.

What tipped his mother off? When he was a boy and came across a dead animal, he would give the fallen creature a proper funeral and burial, making a popsicle-stick cross to mark the grave.

Father Tizziani began studying to the priesthood for the Diocese of Steubenville. He became familiar with and drawn to the Diocese of Covington when his pastor, Father Roger Foys, was appointed bishop of Covington.

“When he came here he said he saw a great need here, he wasn’t just following his pastor, he saw a need here and he felt called to be here,” said Father Raymond Enzweiler, who was ordained along with Father Tizziani.

Father Enzweiler said, “I was always impressed with how devoted he was to people, especially at St. Cecilia.”
Kendra McGuire, who was principal at St. Cecilia School prior to being named superintendent of Catholic Schools, said that, as a former teacher himself, Father Tizziani was always interested in making sure that the students were doing well academically.

“He had a goal to apply for the Blue Ribbon. He told the school board St. Cecilia was going to be a standout school and he put the people in place to make that happen.”

More importantly, Father Tizziani was dedicated not only to teaching his students the Catholic faith, but also living the faith — teaching religious hymns at Christmas, initiating the annual Saints Parade at Halloween, praying the rosary, and saying prayers before Mass, the Anima Christi after Communion and prayers after Mass.

“At each grade level the altar servers would learn something more about the Mass; it kept the students involved in the Mass and learning about it,” Mrs. McGuire said. “He was the kind of person that cared about everybody. He made St. Cecilia such a welcoming community. He connected with people and he cared about their souls. He gave everything to being a priest.”

Kenneth Collopy, currently in his second year as principal at St. Cecilia School, agreed.
“He was involved in the everyday operations of the school. He was a huge factor in the $6 million addition that was put on; he took to heart the evangelization of the students; he was a great mentor to them.”

Speaking personally, Mr. Collopy said that Father Tizziani has made a big impact on his faith life. “He helped me grow in my faith which I am very appreciative of. We all want to get to heaven and if I get there he will have contributed to helping me achieve that,” he said.

Father Tizziani was a fourth degree Knight of Columbus. In 2016 he was appointed chaplain for the State of Kentucky Knights of Columbus, a position he held until his death.

“Father Mario was a dedicated Knight of Columbus, he was State Chaplain for the Knights of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, a position he cherished and to which he dedicated himself wholeheartedly,” said Bishop Foys.

Like the many other people in Father Tizziani’s life, Steve Zanone, State deputy, Knights of Columbus, found him readily available.

“In spite of Father Mario’s horrendously busy schedule, he was extremely committed to the Knights,” Mr. Zanone said. “He took an active part celebrating Mass for us, providing Eucharistic adoration, praying the rosary with us, trying to grow our faith by his example and through his leadership. Personally, Father Mario was a very trusted advisor and confidant, he was the guy you could go to.”

Mr. Zanone said that Father Tizziani wasn’t shy about correcting a person if he felt they were out of line. “If he thought you were out to lunch, he’d let you know. That’s what made him so valuable.”
“I will always remember his joy and his levity,” Mr. Zanone said. “When it was time to be serious, he was serious, when it was time to have fun, he knew how to have fun, he knew how to live life.”

“He loved Christmas,” said Mrs. Motto as she recalled a very special Christmas Father Tizziani arranged for his mother. Each night during the 12 days of Christmas, he would secretly knock on the front door, sitting on the doorstep would be a gift corresponding to the popular song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

“He had a friend do the knocking a few nights while he was with her,” said Mrs. Motto. “That was her best Christmas ever and every Christmas she would reminisce back to that Christmas. He put so much thought into everything he did.”

“I had the privilege of knowing Father Mario, first as his pastor for 20 some years, and then as his bishop,” said Bishop Foys. “I will miss him, as will so many whose lives he touched by his devoted ministry. We thank God for his life and for his ministry. May he rest in peace with the God he knew and served so well in this life.”

His father, Lino John Tizziani; nephew, Jason Joseph Motto; brother-in-law, Tom Anderson and uncle, Gino Tizziani, preceded him in death. Survivors include his mother, Catherine Gabriel Tizziani, sisters, Gina (Joe) Motto and Esther Anderson; brothers, Dan (Maggie) Tizziani and Anthony (Lisa) Tizziani; many nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews.

Bishop Foys celebrated the funeral Mass Dec. 31, at St. Cecilia Parish. Interment was held Jan. 2 in Toronto. Memorials are suggested to St. Cecilia School and St. Cecilia Catholic Church.