Bob Hanley and I graduated from Saint Frances of Rome in 1961. After graduation we went our separate ways. It would take 50 years before we’d reconnect in a serendipitous encounter at Penelope’s Cafe.
A few days ago out of the clear blue, I received a note from Bob. “Joe, I am performing at Saint Bede’s for their 61st birthday celebration. Please come.”
Bob has a voice like Frank Sinatra’s and is backed by a 17-piece orchestra. I loved listening to Bob’s New York accent. Once again I was back on the streets of the Bronx, hanging out at Puglia’s Deli on Pitman Avenue.
I arrived at Saint Bede Church smack dab in the middle of the celebration. It’s the big social event of the year, filled with families, games, music and food. I saw the obvious. But the obvious was incidental to the alchemy of the evening. The community was coming together as friends, united in good will and under the banner of heaven. Watching what was happening, I was glad to call La Cañada home.
But there was something about the evening gnawing at my consciousness. Over the years I have struggled with faith and throughout the birthday party I looked with envy at those who readily grasp it.
Moira Arjani, the chair of the celebration, developed the theme, “Fun and Fund,” putting the emphasis of joy on the event; fundraising was auxiliary. Subsequently, the birthday party had a lot of class. Arjani was sensitive to the current economic state; she made everything affordable.
This was a party by parishioners and for parishioners. John Ursini’s Newport Rib Company brought the food and cooked more than 840 dinners. The Gavina family made the cappuccinos. Elser and Alicia Pinto took the pizza oven from the school cafeteria and made more than 300 pizza dinners. Joan Gantus made the root beer floats and Tom Passanisi the gelato. I like the way they did it, together.
The evening was a kaleidoscope of sensation. I met friends and hung out with my buddy Bob and his wife Corine. But the real treasure was meeting Monsignor Antonio Cacciapuoti. His effect on the parish is more than bringing a touch of Italy. I believe he’s perfected the rationale that liturgy, music, and hospitality are the cornerstones of Saint Bede’s.
“Father, this is a remarkable evening,” I said. I was drawn to the magic and still didn’t know why.
Monsignor remarked, “La Cañada is a special community; we are all here together under love and faith.”
Faith is a gift, but it is a gift I was yet to receive. Adoring parishioners swallowed up Monsignor. Bob stepped up, hastened the pastor to the stage and together they sang Dean Martin’s “That’s Amoré.”
Bob then grabbed the microphone and began the beat of Frankie Lymon’s “Why do Fools Fall in Love.” I watched as children danced while a few older couples did the Lindy Hop. I saw laughter at the tables, children playing games and joy abound. Cacciapuoti’ hospitality consumed me as the faithful brought me into the flock.
You don’t always find what you look for, but you often find what you need. I saw it clearly. Monsignor was right. Love through community was the catalyst to the magic of the evening and faith is the acknowledgment of that love.
I left the church after serving in Vietnam. It was hard to believe after experiencing all the disbelief. But I have to tell you that after this magical evening at Saint Bede’s, I think I’ve found my way home. I had finally found what I was looking for.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.