Sister of Late Priest Shares His Life Lessons in New Book

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Rev. Stephen Popovich left a strong impression on people because of his deep faith, generosity, ability to relate to all people and bold personality.

In his 40-year career, the Catholic priest served as pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Austintown, St. Lucy in Campbell and St. Paul in New Middletown, and had also been a teacher and administrator at Cardinal Mooney High School.

Popovich’s active service as a priest ended after a 2013 traffic accident left him paralyzed. The accident occurred on an icy road as he was driving to a Youngstown penitentiary where he led a ministry for inmates.

Popovich died Jan. 14 at age 69.

But while he was still alive, Popvich’s sister, Margie Cretella of Austintown, decided to write about him. She wrote a series of short stories and essays as a form of therapy and also to remember and share the lessons she learned from him.

She has compiled those stories into a book, “Have You Seen My Brother? Discovering that God Is Good Even in a Tragedy” (Christian Faith Publishing), which was published in February. The book can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the Apple iTunes store.

Popovich lived in Windsor House Healthcare Center in Liberty Township for the final decade of life. He left his mark on the staff and fellow residents at the facility, and regularly led them in Mass.

Cretella, 71, regularly visited him at the care home, and it was during those visits that she became aware of his specialness.

She learned life lessons from the dignified and faith-filled way he handled himself after the accident.

At first, she kept them to herself. But, eventually, “it came to the point where I just needed to write about it,” she said.

Cretella began writing her thoughts on notebook paper but still wasn’t sure if she wanted to share them.

After her son read what she had completed, he encouraged her to send it to a publisher. She did, and quickly received a positive response. The firm wanted to publish her work as a book.

“I owed it to my brother to share his story,” Cretella said. “I would tell people every day, ‘This is what I learned from him today.’ I prayed to the Lord and asked, ‘If you want me to spread his story, help me.’”

She was recently contacted by a filmmaker about the possibility of turning her book into a movie but has rejected the offer.

Cretella’s book reveals her thoughts and memories of her brother, who died shortly before it was published. “It’s filled with a lot of little stories from the past and also from what he was currently doing,” she said.

The meaning of the title reveals itself once the reader reaches the end, she said.

Her brother, she said, was “a legend in his own time. He walked the walk, and he talked the talk.”

A weightlifter and a motorcyclist, Popovich could be an imposing figure, but he made everyone feel at home. “A lot of prisoners sent beautiful, handmade sympathy cards after the accident,” Cretella said, after they found out Popovich was on his way to the penitentiary when the crash occurred.

The Rev. Edward Noga, former pastor of Youngstown St. Patrick’s Church, was a longtime friend of Popovich’s. He took over Popovich’s prison ministry after the accident.

“[Popovich] loved being a priest, and it showed,” Noga told the Catholic Echo, the magazine of the Diocese of Youngstown.

Ironically, it was only when his mobility was taken from him that Popovich’s true strength revealed itself.

“He never once said, ‘Why me?’” Cretella said. “I think God chose him [for this burden] because He knew he would never question his faith. He knew how to handle it. He taught me how to live with dignity.”

Pictured at top: The late Rev. Stephen Popovich and Margie Cretella.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.