SHARPSVILLE, Pennsylvania (MyValleyTributes) – The Honorable Francis J. Fornelli passed away Tuesday, August 2, 2022 in UPMC Presbyterian with his family by his side.
Fran was born August 1, 1941 in Sharon to Louis and Quin (Ruscio) Fornelli.
Fran graduated as salutatorian of Sharpsville class of 1959. He received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame graduating magna cum laude in 1963. He attended Universidad de Concepcion in Santiago, Chile while attending Notre Dame. He was also an intern in Washington, D.C. in the senate for the senator from Indiana. He was a Root Tilden scholar attending NYU School of Law and receiving his J.D. in 1966. He attended the National Judicial College in 1982.
Fran began his law career in the firm of Cusick, Madden, Joyce & McKay in Sharon, Pennsylvania. As an attorney, Fran helped many people, often pro bono. He spent many late nights taking calls from people who needed help and giving advice.
In 1981, Fran announced his candidacy for the newly created third judgeship in Mercer County. He greatly enjoyed campaigning, meeting many people and sharing stories. He often brought his children along on the trail creating wonderful memories of going door to door, laying match books at card parties and throwing candy on the parade routes. Upon winning, he became the youngest person elected to the bench. He always prayed before ascending the bench, “Lord, your words not mine. Your ways not mine. Please help me to do what you want me to do.”
At the time of his mandatory retirement at age 70, he was the longest serving president judge in Mercer County history. During his tenure, he oversaw the renovation of the courthouse and the addition of the fourth judgeship. He ran the courts with ethics, high expectations and compassion, demanding excellence from those working for him in order to best help the people passing through his court system. Upon his retirement, he became a senior judge, traveling through the state to hear cases until a second forced retirement at 78.
He was a member of the PA conference of State Trial Judges, American Judges Association, American Judicature Society, PA Bar Association, Judicial Ethics Committee for State Trial Judges for which he served as chair, and many other ethic committee positions. He also was a teacher of ethics for new judges. He was a former chairman of the Pennsylvania Corrections Policy committee.
An excellent teacher, he taught Business Law at Shenango Campus of Penn State for many years.
A man of great faith, he taught religious education for over 39 years. He taught both ninth grade and confirmation classes at St. Bartholomew’s where he was director of religious education, St. Joseph’s and most recently Notre Dame Parish. He was cursillista, making his Cursillo in May of 1985.
Fran often attended daily mass before heading to work. His faith and trust in God’s ways helped him greatly throughout his life and illness. He always said to turn it over to God and trust. God knows what he is doing.
A man with a servant’s heart, he gave his time to many organizations throughout his life. Some of the organizations include Board of Directors of Southwest Gardens, Board of Directors of Mercer County Hall of Fame, John XXIII Board, Sharpsville Service Club for which he was a Santa visiting homes on Christmas Eve, Christopher Columbus Society, Italian Home, Knights of Columbus, Board of Directors Willow Women’s Center, Board of Directors of Community Food Warehouse, St. Thomas Moore Society, Board of Directors of Shenango Valley Catholic School System, Pro Life of Mercer County of which he was a founding member.
He received many honors and awards throughout his life including lifetime achievement award from Pro-Life of Mercer County. He always sought to be useful and help anyway he could.
Fran was a lifetime runner completing the Bavarian half marathon twice. An avid reader, his favorite book was “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He cites Atticus Finch and his character’s ability to do what was right as an inspiration for becoming a lawyer. He was a Notre Dame Football fan and enjoyed traveling back to campus with his son to cheer on the Irish every year. As a boy, he was an outstanding second baseman and remained a baseball fan his entire life. He was a long suffering Pirates fan and enjoyed cheering on the team. Fran enjoyed traveling and treasured family vacations to Hilton Head with his daughter and six grandchildren. An ice cream fanatic, a stop at Hilton Head ice cream was the end to most beach nights. He loved a great meal and sitting around the table talking. There was no one who could carry a conversation like Fran. He loved running into people while out running errands and would always be interested in how their lives were. Throughout his life, he enjoyed having morning coffee with friends. What he loved most was spending time with family and was so very proud to be Daddy and “Granfee.”
Fran is survived by his daughter, Jill Fornelli-Stanek and her husband, Ross and their children, Joseph, Jacob, Elisabeth, Justin Francis, Jason and Jonathon, of Sharon, Pennsylvania; a son, Nicholas J. Fornelli of Naples Florida; stepdaughters, Corinne Offutt and Alison MacMillan; a brother, Louis N. Fornelli and his wife, Dee, of Fairview, Pennsylvania and many nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his second wife, Suzanne Marie Fornelli, whom he married September 19, 1997; she passed away October 6, 2010. They had a wonderful life together traveling and creating many treasured memories. He was also preceded in death by his parents; a sister, Gloria Sinnott, who passed away October 8, 2019 and his brother-in-law, Edward Sinnott, who died July 7, 2021
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Mercer County Community Food Warehouse; St. Jude’s Hospital; Willow Women’s Center or ALS Association.
Visitation will be held Monday, August 8, 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. at John Flynn Funeral Home and Crematory, Inc.
Funeral service will be held Tuesday, August 9, 11:00 a.m. at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Sharpsville; officiated by the Very Rev. Richard J. Allen, E.V., Pastor with Co-Celebrant Father Glenn Whitman.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Francis J. Fornelli, please visit our Heartfelt Sympathies Store.
A television tribute will air Friday, August 5 at the following approximate times: 6:43 a.m. on WYTV, 9:32 a.m. on WKBN, 10:58 a.m. on FOX and 8:12 p.m. on MyYTV.