Monsignor John Romaniello, MM
Born: September 11, 1900
Ordained: June 17, 1928
Died: October 22, 1985
Monsignor Romaniello died on October 22, 1985 at St. Teresa’s Residence after a brief illness. He was 85 years old. Perhaps the most concise description of his life was given recently by a Regional Superior who wrote, “He is an amazing man.”
Monsignor was born in Avigliana, Italy, on September 11, 1900. His family arrived in the U.S. when he was five and made their home in New Rochelle, N.Y. Msgr. John attributes his mission vocation to the good Catholic training he received at home as well as the years of schooling he received from the Sisters of St. Francis. He mentioned that it was through them that he first heard of Maryknoll. He applied in September, 1916 and was accepted for the Venard in July of 1917. He was ordained June 17, 1928 and took his final Oath on October 9, 1930.
His missionary career was varied and very rich. He was assigned to Wuchow, Kweilin in 1935. His leadership qualities led him to be named the first Prefect Apostolic of the Kweiling Mission, and he served there until he was forced out by the Communists in 1951. He was always hopeful that some day he would return to Kweilin. His first years in China were filled with dangers and near death. He writes of his experiences and survival efforts during a civil war back in 1930. As a man of faith, he wrote: “I have just passed through a dangerous period. The city has been besieged for almost a month. Since January 23rd the besiegers again and again have stormed the city in an effort to scale its massive wall, but failed. It was only yesterday that a relief army reached the city and the besiegers withdrew to the mountains. On the first day of the siege a cannon shell struck in the compound and cracked a small house wall. After this, almost daily, shells pierced the roofs of neighboring houses but the mission was spared and I could not help but feel that God was watching over His House.”
His forced departure from China in 1951 left him to accept other assignments such as teaching on the Maryknoll faculty, a short assignment to Rome and studies. In 1956 he was asked to take a position for the Catholic Relief Services in Hong Kong, which he gracefully accepted. He remained with them for many years in various capacities and through many other countries besides Hong Kong; in the Philippines and also in Portugal. While in Hong Kong he came upon a simple machine for making noodles. With the relief food supplied by the CRS many of the refugees in Hong Kong had access to flour and other products needed to make noodles. He then became an international figure and was referred to as the “Noodle Priest” and many people know him today by this endearing title.
Among his many talents was his writing. He wrote a vast number of articles, at least one book, and he was an excellent correspondent. Many of his articles have appeared in the Maryknoll magazine and other publications. Some of his more popular stories were read in the seminary during meals and inspired many a young man to mission.
His sense of humor was also a big part of his life. Writing to Father General about his mission many years ago, he says: “I am well and happy; and have learned some Chinese. Also I have put on some weight and look like a ‘circular missioner.’ His many vignettes also bring out the light side of Monsignor John. On his writing paper he had imprinted: “Noodles bring happiness to millions of refugees” together with a drawing of some Chinese children eating noodles. The “Noodle Priest” won international recognition and was presented with the Dr. Paul Dudley White International Bicentennial Humanitarian Award in October, 1976.
Monsignor was a faithful Maryknoller to the end. One of his last requests to the Superior General and the last General Council was for permission to attend the last Chapter as an observer. He looked forward to being at these events. Before the 6th General Chapter he wrote: “I’ll be there for the Chapter and I suppose I can contribute by sitting quietly and saying the Rosary, hoping the Holy Spirit will get a chance to guide our great Society.”
It was difficult to keep up with him. He was a tireless missioner, travelling and promoting missionary work around the world. He tells how hectic his life could be with these words: “My stay in Hong Kong this time is short, for as you know, I intend to be in the U.S. in January. I’ll be going on to Los Angeles and then to Florida to attend the Macaroni Convention. After Florida I will return to San Francisco where friends are arranging several little noodle parties to fight hunger.” This was a typical schedule for this unique man who seemed to be in perpetual movement and always working for the cause of mission. He described himself in one of his letters to the previous Superior General in the following manner: “You are a kind priest and I am a modern Don Quixote.” He then quoted from Chesterton: “Men signed on the Cross of Christ – go gaily in the dark.”
The Wake Service was held on October 23 with Fr. John J. Casey conducting. Funeral Mass was celebrated the next day with Fr. John Cioppa as main concelebrant. Fr. Raymond Hill conducted the graveside rites.