Former Pastor Looks Down The Road The Rev. Anthony Michael Genovese Will Start An Evangelization Program.

Posted: August 24, 1994

VILLANOVA — Someone's missing at St. Thomas of Villanova Church.

The Rev. Anthony Michael Genovese, pastor for eight years, took a sabbatical from January through May, and returned to a new job. Although he will live at the rectory, now it is just a home base for his travels.

The new pastor is the Rev. Dennis J. Harten.

"There was agreement between myself and my provincial that I would not come back and I would use my time away to reflect on what I wanted to do," Father Mickey, as he is known, said of his discussion with the regional supervisor of the Order of St. Augustine.

While reflecting, the 47-year-old priest attended a "Ministry to Ministers" program in San Antonio, Texas, for Catholic priests, nuns and brothers. What he decided to do was become a preaching apostle for the Augustinians.

Starting at the end of this month, he will travel to parishes as a missionary for a program of evangelization he has dubbed: "Believe in the good news. We are loved."

"It's as simple as that," he said, laughing, as he often does while talking.

Explaining the new job, Father Genovese said, "I'll be traveling to different parishes around the country and conducting three-day mission programs.

"There's a big movement in the church to evangelize the unchurched, the churched and those who have never heard the word of God. There is nothing like the people in the pew experiencing the love of God, and once they do, they talk about it and they share it and, lo and behold, you touch other people.

"We've always been taught that we have to love other people, but we really have to recognize that we are loved first. God is the only constant in our life."

Father Genovese said he would not be like the missionary priests of old who used to visit parishes yearly and give a hell-and-damnation kind of talk.

"I remember when I was a little boy and we used to play ball in the streets," he said. "I used to have to come in and take a bath and get dressed up and go to the novena. While you sat there, the old-fashioned

preachers would be banging on the pulpit, and you could feel the fires of hell.

"And I'm sitting there as a little boy and thinking, 'I gave up ball. I'm in church. I'm good.' "

Father Genovese, a tall, jovial man who greets visitors with a bear hug and a booming "Hello," is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He grew up on Staten Island, N.Y., graduated from Villanova University in 1970, attended Washington Theological Union and was ordained in 1973 at Our Mother of Consolation Church in Chestnut Hill.

He has been a pastor for 17 of his 21 years as a priest. During his priestly career, he has run Marriage Encounter programs, including training priests to conduct them; served on various community boards in the Bronx, N.Y., while pastor of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, and was a member of the New York State Human Rights Advisory Council.

As pastor of St. Thomas of Villanova, he expanded the preschool from 15 to 75 students, established a youth ministry program and created a large stewardship program with members of the parish.

Along the way, he has ruffled some feathers.

For instance, he and the pastor of Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Bryn Mawr encountered protest from some parents in 1989 over the way a raffle was run for their jointly operated St. Thomas-Good Counsel School. The parents criticized a requirement that they had to sell a certain number of $100 raffle tickets or pay a higher tuition.

Father Genovese's $2 million renovation of the cathedrallike church on the campus of Villanova University in 1991-92 upset many parishioners, who did not like his plans.

When asked if he had been requested to step down, Father Genovese shook his head emphatically and said, "Oh no, no. Believe me, uh-uh."

And he shrugged when asked about the renovation controversy.

"You have to realize that if you move from A to B, someone's going to get upset," he said. "You know Jesus didn't do too well, and I'm not equating myself with Him. But if you want to look at success, well. . . ."

He laughed again. "I can always say, at least they didn't hang me on a cross."

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