Diocese of Springfield mourns passing of Father Robert H. Riel, 71, retired Chicopee pastor
By Terence Hegarty
(Catholic Communications file photo)
SPRINGFIELD – Father Robert H. Riel, a retired priest for the Diocese of Springfield passed away Dec. 27 at the age of 71 at the Heritage Hall West skilled nursing facility in Agawam.
Father Riel was perhaps best known recently as pastor of the former St. George Parish in Chicopee where he served from 2002 until the closure of the parish in 2010. Previous to that, he served for nine years as pastor of another Chicopee parish, the former Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish.
Following the closure of St. George Parish, Father Riel officially retired but served as the diocesan liaison to the Knights of Columbus (K of C) in the diocese. He also served as chaplain of the Archbishop Williams Assembly of the Fourth Degree of the Knights of Columbus and the Loyalty Circle of the Daughters of Isabella.
"Father Riel visited many of the councils and spoke to the membership. He truly cared about the Knights of Columbus and what a council or assembly could do for the Catholic Church and community," said Peter Healy, Massachusetts state deputy for the K of C. "He will be greatly missed by all the Knights in Massachusetts."
Father Riel was ordained May 24, 1980 at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield by Springfield Bishop Joseph F. Maguire. Born June 11, 1941, he was raised in Springfield and belonged to the former St. Joseph Parish there. He graduated from the former Saint Joseph Elementary School and attended both Cathedral High School and the former Technical High School, all in Springfield. He studied at the Andover Institute of Business, American International College and Westfield State College. During the Vietnam War, he served his country at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield.
He prepared for the priesthood at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., where he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1976, and at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
Father Riel also served as pastor of the former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Ware from November of 1990 until becoming pastor at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in September, 1993. He served as a parochial vicar at Holy Cross Parish from 1987 to 1990. Prior to that, he served as chaplain at Mercy Hospital. Upon ordination and until June 1987, he served as parochial vicar at St. Rose de Lima Parish in Chicopee. He served as a transitional deacon at Nativity Parish.
Father Riel loved photography and was a lifelong avid amateur photographer. For the last two years, he served as a photographer for Catholic Communications, providing photos for The Catholic Mirror magazine and the other communications tools offered by the diocesan ministry, including iobserve. He also served as an ocassional celebrant for "Chalice of Salvation," the Catholic Communications' weekly televised Mass that airs Sunday mornings at 10 on WWLP-22NEWS.
"Father Riel served the people of God here in the Diocese of Springfield with great distinction, " said Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield. "He always strived to be a good pastor, whether at one of his many parish assignments, his faithful dedication to the Knights of Columbus or, in recent years, during his tenure as a member of the diocesan staff as liaison to the Knights of Columbus."
Father Riel was predeceased by his parents, Henry and Yvette (Martin) Riel. He leaves a sister, Elaine Bloniasz, a nephew, Justin Bloniasz, and a niece, Julie Bloniasz. He also leaves his aunts, Lorraine Martin of Springfield and Rose Lee Martin of Pennsylvania; and his cousins, Richard and Virginia Gilsinger and family of Springfield, Thomas and Ann Martin and family, Timothy and Mary Lavigne and family, Richard and Theresa MacGregor and family, and Richard and Pamela Weston and family, all of Vermont, Christopher Martin of Pennsylvania and Valerie Odrechowski of Vermont.
Father Riel will lie in state at Holy Cross Church, 219 Plumtree Rd., Springfield, on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 from 4 to 7 p.m. followed by a prayer vigil service at 7 p.m. A Pontifical Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell at Holy Cross Church on Thursday, January 3, 2013, at 10 a.m. His burial will follow the Mass at Saint Aloysius Cemetery, 1273 Berkshire Avenue, Indian Orchard. His funeral arrangements have been entrusted to the St. Pierre – Phaneuf Springfield Chapels, (413) 737-1177, 7 Chapin Terrace, Springfield, MA 01107. His family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be made in his memory to Catholic Communications Corporation, PO Box 1730, Springfield, MA 01102-1730. For more details, please visit: