Diocese of Lake Charles
The Reverend John A. Poerio enjoys telling the story of officiating at his mother’s wedding.
“My father died when I was 11 years old. My mother, who was about 34 at that time, did not remarry until she was 65. I officiated at her wedding. I like to say, ‘I married my momma,’” he chuckled.
On Friday, Dec. 20, Father Poerio will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood and said he does not have any regrets.
“It’s been great getting to know a lot of different families over the years,” he said. “Officiating the sacraments for so many has always been a source of joy and strength for me.”
Being an instrument of God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation has also been significant in his vocation.
“Hearing confessions and having people open up and trust me enough to share their pain and sorrows, being able to help relieve people from the heavy load of their sins has been a blessing,” said Father Poerio.
A native of Chicago Heights, Ill., Father Poerio, the third of four children, grew up surrounded by the influence of two uncles who were priests and an aunt who was a religious sister. His only sister would also join a religious order.
“God put priests in our family, and I was part of that plan. Bishops down south were recruiting young men from up north in the 1950s. My uncle Mike, who was a priest for the Lafayette diocese at the time, invited me to enter the seminary,” explaining how he ended up in Louisiana. “I never really think about what else I would have done,” he said.
Father Poerio was ordained in Rome in 1959 after seminary studies at Immaculata in Lafayette, Notre Dame in New Orleans, and Gregorian University in Rome. He celebrated his first Solemn Mass on Dec. 21, 1959, in St. Peter’s Basilica, and his Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Agnes Catholic Church in Chicago Heights in July of 1960.
While in Rome, Father Poerio recalls being one of several seminarians who stood vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica after Pope Pius XII died.
Father Poerio’s first assignment was at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Lake Charles as associate pastor. Other assignments included St. John Cathedral in Lafayette, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Iberia, St. Raphael Parish in Iowa, St. Lawrence Parish in Raymond, Sacred Heart Parish in Oakdale, St. John Vianney Parish in Bell City, and St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Big Lake before retiring in 2003. He also held positions in the diocesan Tribunal.
A resident at Villa Maria Retirement Center for the past six years, Father Poerio has slowed down a little, but he hasn’t stopped completely.
“I don’t travel as much to other parishes as I did when I first retired, but I do help out at Christ the King Parish and Our Lady Queen of Heaven as well as celebrate Mass here at Villa Maria for the residents,” he said. “I always try to be available if someone needs a blessing, or anointing of the sick, or helping hear confessions.”
One of 11 retired priests in the Diocese of Lake Charles, Father Poerio had hoped he would have time to paint the 14 Stations of the Cross. “I managed to paint the first station, but it’s the only one I’ve painted so far. I stay so busy.” That special work of art is framed and hangs in his studio apartment.
He said he was sort of the class artist back in Illinois. “I used to sketch in school. During the second World War, I was in the sixth grade. My teacher asked me to draw Christmas cards for soldiers. Another teacher gave me a quarter for every Christmas card I would draw for her,” he recalls. “A quarter at that time was pretty good.”
Father Poerio’s advice to newly ordained priests: prayer is key to your vocation. “There are so many demands on priests. I have always remained hopeful and faithful in my vocation by spending at least one hour a day in prayer, even if it is split up throughout my day. Making time to read the breviary gives me strength,” he said.
A reception in Father Poerio’s honor will be at 2 p.m. Dec. 20 in Villa Maria Retirement Center, 3905 Kingston St. No gifts please, as requested by Father Poerio.