Italian priest to lead Little Italy Catholic church Salerno succeeds Pandola as pastor of St. Leo's


A headline yesterday identified the new pastor of St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church as Italian. In fact, he is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The new pastor of St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore's Little Italy is the Rev. Michael Louis Salerno. Just call him Father Mike.

The 51-year-old priest of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate replaces the late pastor, the Rev. Oreste "Rusty" Pandola, who died Jan. 17 after suffering a heart attack in a local restaurant.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Salerno was assigned to St. Leo's, in the 200 block of S. Exeter St., by the Pallotine provincial director, the Rev. Peter Sticco. Cardinal William H. Keeler approved the appointment last month.

"I used to play football with Father Rusty, and believe me when I tell you I ran the other way every time I caught the ball," Salerno said with a laugh. "Father Rusty was a big man. Filling his shoes won't be easy."

But the new pastor is "thrilled to be in Little Italy."

Ordained a priest in 1993, this is Salerno's first pastorate.

"I've been preparing for this challenge for more than two decades," he said.

Educated at the Immaculate Conception Seminary of Seton Hall University in New Jersey and the Washington Theological Union in Washington, Salerno was a Pallotine brother for almost 20 years and became a deacon before entering the priesthood.

He had been associate pastor for the past six years at Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompei in Brooklyn, a Hispanic church that had once been Italian. Salerno, whose grandparents were from Naples, Italy, speaks Spanish and Italian fluently.

"Where I grew up, there weren't many places for kids to go, so I was always at church," Salerno said. "The pastor would take us to Coney Island. To us that was like a trip to Disney World.

"Our pastor was more than a friend to the kids in the neighborhood. He was also a mentor who helped us find jobs in the community."

Salerno said he hopes to do the same kind of work with youngsters in Little Italy. "I'm going to try to find the local kids jobs in the neighborhood," he said. And if the business owners can't pay the youths, Salerno said he'll pay them with part of his stipend.

Although he has been at St. Leo's for less than a month, Salerno has already put one teen-ager to work in the church.

For a few hours after school each day, Marco Poma helps Salerno clean the parish. The 13-year-old altar server volunteers to help the pastor dust, vacuum and clean windows.

"I like doing the work," said Marco, who lives across the street from the church. "It gives me a chance to spend some time with Father Mike."

The two met about three weeks ago and became fast friends.

Spend a few minutes with them and you'll understand why. They have the same dry wit and speak the same language: Italian.

"Actually, the way I speak it, I'm not sure you can call it fluent Italian," Salerno said jokingly. "I have a habit of using five different dialects in the same sentence."

But Salerno said he hopes to deliver some of his sermons in the language of the Old World.

"On special occasions -- like Christmas and Columbus Day, and the feasts of St. Anthony and St. Gabriel -- I'd like to have a bilingual Mass," Salerno said. "I think it would really spiff things up."

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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