Father Louis Maria Solcia was more than a “father” in the religious sense, but a true father figure to many in San Diego’s Italian community.
An associate pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Little Italy since 1990, he was a staple in the community. “Father Louie,” as many lovingly referred to him, was known for his long confession lines and kind, gentle soul.
Father Solcia died March 2 at age 91 at the church’s residence. Those close to the pastor say his legacy will live on through the church that has been a cornerstone for the Italian-American community since it was established in 1925.
“Father Louie was a true father to us all, unafraid to give us the tough truths but with lots of love,” his spiritual daughter Crystalina Evert told the crowded chapel Wednesday evening at Father Soclia’s vigil. “All of us are here tonight because he touched our lives in some way. … He had a way about him that made you want to become a better person.”
Following his death, the Little Italy community has come together to remember the beloved pastor. More than 100 people gathered at the church Wednesday to pray, sing and pay their respects.
In the chapel, adorned with murals, stained glass and sculptures, many parishioners clutched their rosaries, eyes shut as they recited prayers along with the clergy. Some prayed in Italian. More parishioners filled the pews Thursday morning to attend Solcia’s funeral Mass, presided over by Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano.
A lifelong dedication to the clergy
Father Solcia was born in Cologno Monzese, near Milan, Italy, on Nov. 15, 1931.
Following his uncle, he enrolled in the Barnabite Seminary at 14 years old. He continued his education in Italy, and just after his 26th birthday, he was ordained in the Clerics Regular of St. Paul on Dec. 8, 1957.
He and Father Steve Grancini, another of Our Lady of the Rosary’s beloved pastors who died in 2015, attended the same seminary in Italy and were among a group sent to Buffalo, N.Y., in the late 1950s to teach at a Catholic high school.
Although he didn’t speak English, he quickly learned the language and enrolled in school to continue his studies. Father Solcia would go on to earn a master’s in education and a master’s of arts in social studies, while teaching at high schools across the U.S.
He then ministered at two Canadian parishes and served as superior in various Barnabite communities before he was assigned to San Diego in 1990.
‘God bless you real good’
In his 33 years at Our Lady of the Rosary, Father Solcia, alongside Grancini, played a major role in preserving the traditions and history of the church and Little Italy, said Luke Vinci, executive board member of the Little Italy Association.
“There is no Little Italy without Our Lady of the Rosary,” Vinci said.
With the large Italian community, Father Solcia immediately felt at home at Our Lady of the Rosary, he told the Union-Tribune in a previous interview.
“He used to say, ‘You’re not all Italian, but you’re all in this Italian family, so love one another,’” recalled longtime parishioner Marcia Buompensiero. “He was like the father that you could go to and talk to and he would hear you and he would give you wise counsel and pray for you. … As long Father Louie was there, you knew everything would be OK.”
Nearly everyone knew Father Solcia by his signature phrase, “God bless you real good,” which encompassed his compassion and love for his parishioners.
“God bless you is a common phrase. In the church, it can sometimes become almost a cliche,” said Father Peter Calabrese, a fellow Barnabite priest who traveled from New York for the funeral Mass. “Father Louie’s adaptation took away the cliche potential for that phrase. It woke you up a little bit.”
Vincent Florentino recalls his nearly daily visits to the church as a young child with his aunt Cathy. “He was teaching you the tenets of the faith, but the way he did it more so felt like a grandfather just teaching you life lessons. So I kind of fell in love with that.”
Now 22, Florentino says he’s thankful for Father Solcia’s mentorship, which taught him to simply be a good man.
“He was consistently encouraging and using his love to teach and to promote — not himself, but others,” Calabrese added.
Father Solica’s confessional lines were legendary. “There would be lines up and down the aisles of people wanting to go to confession,” Buompensiero recalled.
“I’ve heard stories of countless lives that he changed in that confessional back there,” said Evert, his spiritual daughter. “He was never afraid to do what was right or say what needed to be said.”
Father Solcia even found a way to safely hear confessions through the pandemic and continued to do so up until his final days.
Although Solcia stopped presiding over noon Mass at the church about two and a half years ago, he still said Mass in his residence daily.
Through the years, he also served as chaplain and spiritual adviser for various groups, including the Knights of Columbus, Bernardi Center at Rady Children’s Hospital and Padre Pio devotions. He also had the chance to meet Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in Rome.
Father Solcia will be interned at the Barnabite Cemetary in Lewiston, N.Y., on Saturday.