WESTERLY, R.I. (CNS) — Father Raymond Suriani, pastor emeritus of St. Pius X Parish in Westerly, visited with a few close friends, family and parishioners around the rectory dining table Aug. 31.
Green and yellow balloons tied to his chair danced as his loved ones enjoyed sweet treats and sips of Del’s lemonade.
Notably, the atmosphere was filled with a feeling of friendship and gratefulness to God. The late August afternoon marked the end of Father Suriani’s last treatment for prostate cancer. After nine weeks of radiation therapy and 44 treatments it was certainly a day worth celebrating.
And before the afternoon was over, he’d learn about something else to celebrate — the gift of tickets to see his favorite football team in person.
The lifelong fan of the Green Bay Packers is traveling to Wisconsin, where he’ll see the Packers for the first time in person as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field Oct. 3.
“I’m thrilled,” he told Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence. “I always wanted to do this. I’m really happy. It’s nice to be loved and appreciated. These people are really near and dear to me.”
Father Suriani served as associate and pastor of St. Pius X Church in Westerly from 1988 to 2016.
Even despite this challenging time in his life — he also was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease several years ago — Father Suriani has kept the faith and has never complained throughout this battle, explained Father Michael Najim, pastor of St. Pius X.
During what Father Suriani thought would be just a short and sweet visit with friends, Father Najim let his brother priest in on a big surprise — the two tickets for the Packers game.
“He just deserves a really nice gift,” said Father Najim. “He’s a dedicated priest. He’s a good and faithful priest. Father Ray is beloved around here, not just in the parish, but in the town. There is just a deep care and affection for him. They want him to be OK.
“Father Ray is a big inspiration to me and it’s a blessing that he lives here with me and is such a great help to the parish. Any good things and graces in the parish are because he’s praying.”
Father Najim explained to Father Suriani that they wanted to give him a gift that was going to be filled with memories.
“The gift that we want to give you is in this envelope,” he told him.
“Open it! Open it!” his friends exclaimed.
“Are you serious?” asked Father Suriani. He was stunned at the unexpected gesture.
Father Najim’s idea came about with the help of parish secretary Debra Carey, and thanks to a special call by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence.
Bishop Tobin didn’t hesitate to reach out to Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay to see if he could help facilitate this special surprise.
Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, Father Suriani could look forward to joining fans inside Lambeau Field with a loud “Go Pack Go” chant in just a few days.
Longtime friend and fellow priest Father Dean Perri, pastor of St. Timothy and St. Rita Churches in Warwick, Rhode Island, planned to accompany him on the trip — although he, like Bishop Tobin, will be rooting for a Steelers win.
Father Suriani quietly looked at his gift in his hands, reeling in genuine surprise and deep gratitude, not just for the tickets, but for the unwavering support and love of his family and friends.
“I just want to say thank you to all of you. Cancer is not a favorite word of mine, in fact my parents both died of it. You made it a lot easier to deal with,” he said. “You were a good distraction on the way there (to radiation treatments). I appreciate your prayers and your support and your love. I’m going to get too emotional. But thank you.”
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Kilgus is assistant editor of Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence.