Diocese of Brooklyn’s Immigrants’ Rights Advocate Msgr. Marino Retires After 49 Years of Service

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By Currents News Staff and Bill Miller

Pastor steps aside, but legacy of innovation endures for immigrants and a changing world

DYKER HEIGHTS — In Isaiah 56:7, the Lord says, “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

And so it is at St. Rosalia-Basilica of Regina Pacis Parish at the border of Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights. Here, Mass is celebrated each week in English, Italian, Mandarin, and Spanish.

Msgr. Ronald Marino grew up in a family of Italian heritage just a few blocks from the basilica. He recalls, as a little boy in the late 1940s, watching its construction.

He served most of his priesthood at Regina Pacis, including 16 years as pastor, overseeing dramatic growth of the congregation’s diverse cultural backgrounds. Under his leadership in 2012, the iconic house of worship received Vatican approval to be a minor basilica.

On Jan. 1, Msgr. Marino retired from administrative duties at the parish, but not from priestly work.

“I will have the title ‘pastor emeritus,’ ” he said with a soft-spoken demeanor. “But I will be helping out here, whenever they need help.”

With nearly 50 years as a priest, Msgr. Marino is also a lifelong resident of southeast Brooklyn, having grown up in Bensonhurt’s “Little Italy” enclave. He has observed enormous expansions of the neighboring Hispanic and Asian communities, and not just at his parish.

Until 2018, he was the episcopal vicar for ethnic and migrant apostolates for the Diocese of Brooklyn. He fought for immigrants’ rights and causes, and he testified about those issues before government panels.

He has collaborated with Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio on immigrant issues since the mid 1980s. At that time, the now-retired bishop was a monsignor directing the Office of Migration and Refugee Services at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington D.C.

“I do go way back with him,” said Bishop DiMarzio, who retired Nov. 30. “I’ve seen him obviously stay with the issues so well, and really be somebody you could go to and get a view on the ground level of what was happening. Then becoming pastor there at Regina Pacis, and having it become a basilica, I think is a tribute to his ingenuity. So, I really do thank him for his wonderful ministry.”

Ironically, Msgr. Marino, ordained in 1973, was apprehensive when first tasked to help immigrants.

Msgr. Anthony Bevilacqua, the future cardinal and archbishop of Philadelphia, requested that the young priest join him at the migration office that he created for the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1971.

It began as a part-time job, because Msgr. Marino was still at his first assignment as a parish priest at Our Lady of Grace in Gravesend.

“I said to him, ‘But I don’t know anything about immigrants,’ ” Msgr. Marino recalled. “He said, ‘The immigrants themselves will teach you everything you need to know.’ And that was true.”

Msgr. Marino said he did not understand why he got picked for the job, considering his misgivings and because he was an inexperienced young priest. But now he understands.

“It was the Holy Spirit,” he said, “because the Holy Spirit guides everybody to do the work he wants done. I believe that to this day.”

Subsequently, Msgr. Marino plunged into migration issues, including a massive effort to help newcomers to the U.S. via the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986.

That legislation covered many issues and officially outlawed businesses from knowingly giving work to undocu