Give Us Shepherds

You joined the Air Force as a young man — what was that experience like for you?

I was an airplane and engine mechanic stationed in Puerto Rico for three years, at Ramey Air Force Base near Aguadilla. I learned Spanish while I was there. I said, “If a 3-year-old can speak it pretty good, I should be able to pick up a little of the language.”

Can you still speak it?

Seguro. I just talked to somebody today in the elevator in Spanish. Now, that’s almost 60 years ago since I was in Puerto Rico, so I don’t remember all of the palabras. But I get by.

Tell us what you remember from being a member of the first class of permanent deacons ordained in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Fr. Paul Esser was our leader. We would spend from nine in the morning until nine at night in formation every Saturday for two years, but after we were ordained we had to go back in order to get our preaching faculty and the faculty to marry. We were ordained on Dec. 26, 1975 — the feast of St. Stephen, but they never had it during the Christmas season again because they realized the deacons wanted to be with their families for Christmas.

What has been your greatest joy as a deacon?

When I first got to St. Ben’s, there were a lot of older women who couldn’t come to church on Sunday. I worked downtown; so I could go and pray with them on my lunch hour and bring them Communion. They had a lot of stories. I worked the meal at St. Ben’s every Wednesday night, making potatoes for the guests that we had. I also worked in a healthcare clinic for the homeless that St. Ben’s had every Monday. Those were my real fulfilling roles. You get to know the people who are regulars. Some of them were some of the most educated people, but they fell on hard times because of mental health issues.

How has St. Ben’s changed over the years?

It’s always been a Capuchin-served parish, which is wonderful. In the beginning, when I first got there, some people didn’t want to take Communion from me — they would cross over to the priest’s line. Deacons were brand new. At that time, we also didn’t have any microphones, so I put out a coffee can on Sundays and we collected enough money so we could have microphones. In those days, they had long cords, and during the prayers of the faithful, we go out to the people. So I’d go with this long-corded microphone and hand it to the people. We also never had collections — we still don’t. Just put a plate in the back for people to contribute. We don’t want to embarrass people.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I do jigsaw puzzles. It keeps you sharp — you’ve got to remember all the colors and sizes of the pieces. The biggest one I ever did was 1,000 pieces.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve ever traveled?

I have two sons who are professors, and the one who teaches English has a place in Italy that he bought for retirement. Another son is a voice professor who sang in Germany for 10 years. So, we’ve been to Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Tunisia. Our youngest son is a salesman, and our three daughters are a social worker, lawyer and nurse practitioner. One of our trips was a family cruise to Canada to celebrate my wife’s birthday. That was especially enjoyable as the whole family was able to be together.

Does your son get his musical abilities from you?

No. I can’t carry a tune in a basket. He gets it from my wife — she’s Sicilian. In fact, during our travels, we were able to visit the place where her parents were born in Sicily.

Do you have any favorite TV show?

We watch a lot of public TV — PBS, Masterpiece Theater.

You recently downsized. Has it been interesting to go through all the things you’ve accrued through the years?

Oh yeah, I went through a lot of the deacon stuff — I had saved everything from years ago. We were very fortunate to be able to give all our excess furniture to people who needed it.

Do you have a favorite saint or Scripture verse?

St. Anthony — because I misplace stuff a lot. “Tony, Tony, look around, something’s lost and must be found.” This little prayer I learned from one of my Sicilian relatives.