Phyllis and Art Longano, left, are seen doing what they do best — greeting parishioners and visitors of the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples.

How many smiles is that?

NAPLES  |  If you have ever been to the 8 a.m. Mass at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples and entered the main entrance, you have likely been greeted by Art and Phyllis Longano.

The couple takes their post in the narthex, in front of a large baptismal font, wearing color-coordinated outfits while smiling and saying hello to everyone who enters, inspiring others by their presence. The outfits are planned the night before based on which of the two first prepares for the next day. Art always wears a sports jacket, while Phyllis often wears a colorful hat. No matter though, they match.

A welcoming smile, a kind word and a gracious handshake are the least of what the Longanos do each week. They radiate a love for each other, for their Parish, and most importantly for Jesus Christ.

Greeters for more than 10 years, the couple — he’s 92, she’s 91 — agree they are blessed to have found a place they have called home for more than 30 years. “It is such a special place,” Phyllis explained. “We felt immediately welcomed here. It is our home.”

Originally from Cleveland, the Longanos moved to Florida 33 years ago, primarily to avoid brutal winters in their retirement years. After a brief time in Ellenton, where they said the winters were still a little too chilly, they settled in Naples and began to attend St. Peter the Apostle Parish.

From their first Mass, they felt welcomed, giving them the inspiration to give back. When the call for greeters went out more than a decade ago, they were quick to enthusiastically respond. “The parish was looking for volunteer greeters,” Phyllis explained while showing off her radiant smile. “And they got stuck with us. It really is something we enjoy to do.”

The couple says hello, shakes hands and as the years have gone by learned the names of countless fellow parishioners. “It is so nice to see old friends come in,” Art said. “When they have been gone for a while, or up north or something, it is nice to know that they are returning to St. Peter’s.”

One cannot help but be impressed by the Longanos, said Father Gerard Critch, Pastor of the Parish. He described the couple as a Parish institution, having seen the construction of a new Parish Church and now a new Parish hall where the first Church used to stand. “They are inspiring in their presence each week; reflecting Christ’s love in their commitment to each other and to St. Peter’s,” he said.

In early August, the Loganos celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary, a number that easily impresses but reflects a great deal of hard work, a strong commitment to one another, and a reliance on Christ as their guide. With five children (one girl, four boys), eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren, they have much to be thankful for, but most importantly it is their time together that has been special.

Art said the secret to their lengthy marriage is that they respect each other deeply. “You need that so when there is a disagreement you can come up with a solution without having hard feelings.”
Phyllis admits that the disagreements are less and less as the years have gone by. “We are a team, working through everything together.”

Their lasting impact was noticed when Phyllis battled cancer three years ago, and the resulting outpouring of support from the parishioners was overwhelming. “So many people prayed, and one woman gave me a medal (she wears every day) to protect me from cancer. We are truly blessed to be at St. Peter’s,” Phyllis said.

While the couple realizes that they are an inspiration for others, they don’t really understand it. “We are simply parishioners, nothing more,” Art said. “We come each week and greet people to let them know they are welcome here, just as we were welcomed when we first arrived.”