CHILDS, Md. – For nearly 60 years, Brother Michael J. Rosenello called Wilmington home. The Oblate of St. Francis de Sales was an integral part of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, known primarily for his work at Padua Academy. Brother Mike, 92, died Sept. 20. He was a member of the Oblates for 71 years.
The Padua community remembered Brother Mike at a prayer service on Sept. 24. Several staff members recalled how Brother Mike influenced them in his own, distinct way. Lauren DiSabatino, the varsity volleyball coach, recalled Brother Mike attending matches, never afraid to give his opinion about how things were going.
When the Pandas won their first state championship in 2012 after a five-set nailbiter, however, DiSabatino sought him out at the Bob Carpenter Center.
“When that winning point finally came, Brother Mike was the first face I saw,” she said. “He made me feel like a celebrity.”
A Camden, N.J. native, he attended North Catholic High School in Philadelphia, which was operated by the Oblates. A priest at the school asked him once about his future plans and suggested he give the priesthood a shot like several of his friends. He politely demurred.
“I said I can’t even pass Spanish, let alone that Latin and everything like that,” Brother Mike told The Dialog in 2011.
The priest then mentioned becoming an Oblate brother. “I gave it a shot for a couple of weeks. That was in 1946.”
He arrived in Wilmington in 1954 and helped build the current St. Anthony of Padua School. He also served as the director of youth ministry, as well as director of maintenance and the cafeteria at the original Padua Academy. The Oblates assigned him to supervise construction of the Villa Maria Retreat House – today’s Caron Foundation – from 1962-66. In 1966, he returned to Wilmington, where he would remain until his retirement in 2017.
Brother Mike assisted with the construction of the current Padua Academy and worked at the school for nearly five decades. He oversaw maintenance and the lunch program. He spent a lot of mornings in the kitchen making meals, including a student favorite, his Friday grilled-cheese sandwiches. You could often find him in the school gymnasium, watching the Pandas from the front row of the bleachers or, in later years, his chair by the entrance.
Vanessa Vavala, a theology teacher, said she got engaged during the spring of her first year at Padua. She was walking down a hallway one day when she heard Brother Mike call her name. She was wondering if she had left the lights on in her classroom the day before, which was certain to get his attention.
Instead, Brother Mike said he had heard Vavala was engaged to a St. Anthony’s parishioner whose father had died some years before. Brother Mike used to stop by the family’s house every few days to see how Vavala’s future mother-in-law was doing.
“Until he retired and left the building, he always asked how my mother-in-law was doing,” Vavala said.
He could be loud and intimidating, she continued, “but he had a heart of gold, and I’m so glad I got to know that side of him.”
While very few of the current students interacted with Brother Mike, his work influences everything they love about Padua, dean of students Rebecca Manelski said.
“He poured his life into providing a safe and loving home for his girls,” she said.
He remained in Wilmington until 2017, when he moved to the Oblate retirement community in Childs. He told The Dialog that God would tell him when it was time to move on.
“You don’t have to slow down,” Brother Mike said. “He’ll slow you down. He’s definitely slowed me down because I can’t walk as fast as I used to or run as fast as I used to.”
A Mass of Christian Burial was scheduled for Sept. 28 at 10:45 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 901 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, with visitation beginning at 8:30 a.m. Burial will follow at the Oblate Cemetery, 1120 Blue Ball Road, Childs. Donations in Brother Mike’s name can be made to the Oblate Development Fund, 2200 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE 19806.