On his one day off each week, Father Roberto Pirrone built models of the world’s great ocean liners

By STAFF     6/2/2016

The Queen Mary recently celebrated the 80th anniversary of its maiden voyage with a media screening of “The Queen Mary: Greatest Ocean Liner,” a new documentary on the history of the ship that took producers all over the world to bring to life the stories of those who traveled the famous luxury liner.

Randolph Churchill, the great grandson of Winston Churchill, one of the ship’s most-famous passengers, was on deck at the premiere of the documentary to greet guests and take selfies with history enthusiasts. Several of those featured in the film were also in the attendance and sat for interviews and photos.

Sitting quietly in the audience, however, was perhaps the single individual that best offers visitors to the Queen Mary a glimpse of what life was like aboard the storied ship.

Father Roberto Pirrone, a priest at St. Catherine of Alexandria on Catalina Island (he moves to St. Theresa of Avila at Silverlake beginning in July), built three of the scale model ships that are displayed in the Queen Mary’s Model Gallery. Guests snap photos and peer through the glass enclosure to get a closer look at the incredible detail of the 1/48th scale models he has built of the RMS Titanic, the RMS Lusitania and the SS Normandie.

His first ship, the Titanic, took five years to complete. Fr. Pirrone started building it when he was just 15 years old, working on it in his parents’ garage.

“It’s my favorite ship,” he says of the three on display. The Lusitania was the second built, followed by the Normandie, the biggest one, at 21-feet long.

When asked where one begins to build a model of this size, Fr. Pirrone says, “From the bottom up… I try not to think about the whole thing or you’d go mad.”

The ship was crafted from scrap cardboard his father brought home from work and his tools were a simple Exacto knife, a pair of scissors and a ruler.

Special attention was given to the Catholic Church aboard the Normandie. Fr. Pirrone says he worked from actual blueprints of the ship and then considered the period in which it sailed when selecting the vestments the tiny priest figure wears.

“He’s wearing white vestments,” he said, “because it was the Easter season when it sailed.”

Was it tedious? Was it hard? “No,” Father Pirrone said. “It doesn’t take much patience because it doesn’t talk back,” he added laughing. “I listen to Catholic radio while I’m working, he said, “and the time goes by.”