Romano “Ron” Mazzoli, a devout Catholic and 12-term U.S. Congressman, died Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints, a day short of his 90th birthday.
He and his late wife Helen Dillon Mazzoli were members of Our Mother of Sorrows Church and supporters of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Those who worked with him on church matters say he was a model lawmaker and Catholic layman.
“As a politician, he was very grounded in the voices of the individual person,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz in a Nov. 1 interview. “I think he was very strongly affected by the sentiments and the hearts of people. I think that’s why he’s been so admired. He is a model.”
Archbishop Kurtz, who retired earlier this year, said he met the Mazzolis a few months after his installation as Archbishop of Louisville in 2007 and already admired the lawmaker for his work on immigration reform. In 1986, Mazzoli and Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, of Wyoming, crafted the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, bipartisan immigration reform that still stands today.
In 2008, Archbishop Kurtz asked the Mazzolis to chair the archdiocese’s Building a Future of Hope capital campaign.
“He really helped in the formulation of our campaign,” Archbishop Kurtz said, noting that the lawmaker was “very hands-on.”
“The campaign was really grounded in the parish first and the key areas of vocations and promoting Catholic schools. He was very instrumental in identifying the goals,” the archbishop said.
In everything Mazzoli did, his love for his family was evident, the archbishop added.
“Ron was deeply in love with his wife and his children,” he noted. “Believe it or not, anytime he and I communicated we always ended our notes and emails saying we hope Helen is in heaven smiling down on us.”
In 2013, a year after Mazzoli’s wife died, Archbishop Kurtz recommended him for the papal Benemerenti Medal, awarded to him by Pope Benedict XVI for “dedicated service to the church.”
In addition to his work on the capital campaign, Mazzoli was a member of the St. Serra Club, which is dedicated to promoting vocations. He attended ordinations and offered support to priests around the archdiocese.
Father Joseph Merkt, who anointed Mazzoli the night before he died, said his funeral plans included the names of at least 30 priests who might concelebrate the Mass.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Father Merkt said. “Ron was very close with a number of priests. He supported priests in so many ways.”
Father Merkt, who served in education and is a national leader in lay ministry formation, met Mazzoli in the 1970s, while studying for a doctoral degree in Washington, D.C.
“There were protests about the war in Vietnam,” he said. “I made an appointment to meet with my Congressman to tell him my concerns. It was wonderful, we developed a friendly, respectful relationship.”
Over the years, Mazzoli became a model for him in his ministry, Father Merkt said, referring to Mazzoli’s work as a ministry, too.
“He was a support, who encouraged me as a priest, who put the service of others and their needs always in the forefront of his ministry,” Father Merkt said, noting that the lawmaker was also a supporter of Catholic schools.
Mazzoli’s service to the church extended beyond direct involvement in his parish and the archdiocese. In his political life, he addressed issues important to the church, sometimes taking positions unpopular with his party.
He was a pro-life Democrat, known most commonly for his efforts to institute immigration reform through the Simpson-Mazzoli Act.
“We had no laws on immigration hardly at all that were balanced until Ron helped put together a joint committee,” Father Merkt noted. “No one since then has been able to get the groups together to talk about immigration in a healthy way.”
Mazzoli, the son of Italian immigrants, continued to call for immigration reform after he left politics in 1995. In a 2017 interview with The Record, he made it clear that additional reform was needed — and that it is a moral issue.
“Immigration is an economic, sociological, demographic and political issue, but it’s also a moral issue,” Mazzoli said in the 2017 interview. “In the Bible, Jesus said take care of the little people, take care of the people among you who are strangers.”
He also noted that it’s important to speak up for what’s right, even if it’s unpopular.
“The faithful’s responsibility is not to be pushed away by the fact that there are narrow voices in our midst preaching a certain siren song of exclusion,” Mazzoli said. “We have to be aware that there are siren songs of inclusion and we have to listen to those voices of inclusion and say ‘this may be tough to talk about, but I know it’s right.’ ”
Mazzoli attended St. James School, St. Xavier High School and the University of Notre Dame. He served in the United States Army before attending law school at the University of Louisville.
He and his wife had two children and four grandchildren.
He served a term in the Kentucky Senate before his election to the U.S. House of Representatives. His service in the U.S. House began in 1971 and concluded in January of 1995. That year, the Federal Building in downtown Louisville was named the Romano L. Mazzoli Federal Building.
He also practiced law and taught at the University of Louisville and Bellarmine University. In 2002, he became a Fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The following year he attended the school, earning a master’s in Public Administration.
In 2018, Mazzoli established a fund to benefit the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville in the name of his wife, who died in 2012. The Helen Dillon Mazzoli Memorial Fund is intended to support the ministries, needs and services of the Ursulines who educated her.
The visitation will be held from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 6 at Ratterman and Sons Funeral Home, 3800 Bardstown Road.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Nov. 7 at 10 a.m. at Our Mother of Sorrows Church, 760 Eastern Parkway. Burial will follow in Calvary Cemetery, 1600 Newburg Road.