HAVERHILL — At age 91, the Very Reverend Gino Marchesani can recall the faces of young men with intellectual disabilities that he cared for and nurtured at the Don Orione home off Old Groveland Road in Bradford.
"My best memories are the life I spent with these young men, who I used to call my angels," he said following a ceremony on Friday during which the city dedicated a marker stone at the corner of Old Groveland Road and Robert Road, on a small patch of city land bordered by a small white fence and shrubs.
An inscription on the granite marker reads, "Historic former site of Don Orione Fathers seminary, summer camp for children and residential home for the intellectually disabled, 1958-2006, directed by Very Reverend Gino Marchesani, FDP and esteemed and beloved member of the Haverhill community."
Marchesani said he is proud of what he accomplished and who he inspired at the Don Orione home.
"Seven of our summer campers became priests," he said proudly. "Our examples were contagious."
More than 20 guests gathered at the site on Friday to honor Marchesani, who was a mentor to many young Catholic boys in the community who attended summer camp at Don Orione and also weekend retreats, where they learned about their faith and their community.
"They had a pool and we also had archery and baseball," said Rick Bevilacqua, 67, a retired court officer. "Father Gino has been friends with my family since I was a child, and three years ago he baptized my daughter, Mary Catherine, who is now 5."
Former Mayor James Rurak fondly recalls attending weekend retreats led by Marchesani.
"Father Gino was a combination of friend and saint who respected children with disabilities," he said. "He taught new priests and in 1985 he was a co-celebrant at my father's funeral Mass."
When he was a teenager, City Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua mowed the lawn of the Don Orione home.
"I went to retreats there as well," he said. "Father Gino was the best. He really took good care of kids in the community."
During the ceremony announcing the new marker, Mayor James Fiorentini noted that Louise Bevilacqua organized the event.
Fiorentini presented Marchesani with a framed photograph taken decades ago by the late Haverhill Gazette photojournalist Tom Vartabedian. The photo shows a young Marchesani with a 5-year-old boy sitting on his shoulders.
Following the ceremony, the mayor hosted a reception in his office in City Hall.
Marchesani, born in Chieti, Abruzzo, in central Italy, is a priest in the Sons of Divine Providence, the order founded in Italy in 1893 by St. Luigi Orione, who was beatified and canonized by St. John Paul II.
The order is dedicated to improving the lives of the intellectually challenged, the infirm and elderly, the homeless, addicted, the poor and the suffering.
In the early 1960s, Marchesani was assigned to Haverhill, where the order owned an estate on Groveland Road.
For nearly the next 50 years, Marchesani directed a summer camp for children, a seminary, and the home for intellectually challenged youth and young men.
In 2006, when the order sold the property on Old Groveland Road, Marchesani moved to Orient Heights in East Boston, where he lives in retirement near the National Shrine. He continues to perform the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, to participate in meetings with priests of the order in Boston, and to maintain the daily life of prayer in pastoral care and residents of the neighborhood.