“You have the ugliest toes I have ever seen in my life,” exclaimed 5-year-old Michael, after observing the sandaled feet of Fr. Domenic Roscioli at Festa Italiana. More than 20 years ago, the two of them bonded over ice cream and pizza and talked about everything, except the boy’s cancer.
A year after Michael went into remission, Fr. Roscioli, found a lump on his own body and was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. His Mayo Clinic doctors considered his survival miraculous; and following a lengthy treatment and recovery, he partnered with the late Paul Newman to raise money for children and adolescents with life-threatening illnesses.
The retired Milwaukee Archdiocesan priest travels the country giving parish missions and sharing the children’s stories. Recently, he teamed with Catholic singer and songwriter Anna Nuzzo, member of St. Anne Parish, Pleasant Prairie, and released a CD combining some of his stories and her songs.
“It was really God’s idea,” said Fr. Roscioli. “I was presiding at a funeral and Anna was singing, and afterwards she gave me her new CD. After listening to it, I called her and thought that we might be able to combine some of my stories with her songs.”
Nuzzo, a Kenosha native, began singing while in fourth grade at St. Mary Parish, Kenosha, and is a self-taught pianist. She and her husband, Mike, president of Southport Heating and Cooling, have two children, Drake, 14, and Luke, 13. A member of the music ministry team at St. Anne Parish, she sings for Masses, weddings and funerals and has also sung at Carnegie Hall with John Angotti.
If you want to go
“Believe” Citywide Advent Mission
The CD “Believe” will be available at the mission for purchase.
She and Fr. Roscioli met several times to discuss the music that would accompany the priest’s stories and they created an album. “Believe,” a compilation of six original songs and six inspirational stories, was released before Thanksgiving. The two will share some of those stories and music while hosting an Advent mission at St. Anne Parish, Dec. 8-10.
“I am very excited that we are going to do this,” said Nuzzo. “We are living in an exciting time as Catholics and we hope to share the joy of our faith and how precious we are to God. I am hoping people can own that preciousness and allow it bring them to action and to be a source of hope for others.”
The three-day morning and evening mission will commence with Fr. Roscioli preaching at the weekend Masses and Nuzzo singing some of her songs and prayers transcribed to music.
“I am always nervous before giving a mission and ask God to make me an empty vessel to have the Spirit flow through me,” Fr. Roscioli said. “There is also something that moves me at each one of them and often the stories I tell choke me up and bring me back to that moment.”
Collaborating with Fr. Roscioli has been life changing for Nuzzo.
“He has such an eloquent way of storytelling and is so soothing and visual. You can picture the whole story as he is telling it and when it is done, he gives you a lesson to apply to your everyday life,” she said. “There is always something to take away. When I was listening to the CD, I was bawling my eyes out, crying and laughing at the same time. My emotions were just so heightened.”
The reaction was similar with Fr. Roscioli who admitted he never expected to be so moved by the music and the stories.
“It feels good to do this and I am happy to get the stories out there, and if we can move and evangelize and give glory to God, it is wonderful,” he said.
Nuzzo said listening to the CD brought about a whole new level of prayers for her.
“This is an experience where I could feel that the Holy Spirit was with me as I was listening. It was prayerful, meditative, emotional and beyond my imagination,” she said. “I think God has put us together with our gifts and allowing us to share them at a whole new level. I am excited and I feel called to do this. We are both Italian, so we have a little bond there, too.”
Through his own illness and spending time with families of children with life- threatening illnesses, Fr. Roscioli discovered the ancient spider web analogy.
“Ancient people believed that the spider web was sacred and huge and connected earth to heaven,” he explained. “Life’s journey is making your way up, like a spider, but the spider sometimes catches us on the web. The crisis spider is close, but the remission spider is at a distance, but you can still see him.
The chronic spider is circling around no matter where you are. People can relate to this story because of the images and then I add humor to it and tell them it is bad luck to kill a spider and ask them if they have ever killed one. Of course they have, so then I tell them that no wonder they have had problems. Spider webs are considered to be a blessing from God. In fact, there are spider web Christmas ornaments to remind us of this.”
Working together has been a lesson in trusting the Lord, said Nuzzo who had no money to make the CD with Fr. Roscioli as she had used the money in her savings to release her first album, “Be Love.”
“I just didn’t know how we were going to do it,” she said. “But then I was able to sell some of my CDs and knew that God would provide what we needed, so we did it. Just having the faith that I really feel this is what I am meant to do and spread God’s glory with my music and bringing it to a new level with Fr. Dom is amazing.”
Fr. Roscioli admitted God calls us to try something new, no matter what age you are.
“I have always done the missions by myself, but now I think that God is saying that it isn’t about me, it is about him and let’s see what happens when we do it,” he said. “I learned that Anna’s faith is humbling for me and how what a gift she has to be able to put her struggles and joys into music. I know we are supposed to be doing this.”
Some of the proceeds will benefit Next Step, an offshoot of Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children transitioning into adulthood.
“He is a very good listener and remembers everyone he meets,” said Nuzzo of Fr. Roscioli. “I have become much more aware and also want to be able to help sick children and children with cancer. I pray for them and it has also made me very thankful for my healthy kids and grateful for my parish family and friends.”