Bruno Daniel-Garcia, 24, first came to my attention during a benefit marking the 15th anniversary of the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center. The Belle Harbor Yacht Club in Rockaway Park, a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, was 12 miles and a world away from the center and the Brooklyn neighborhood where this composed, handsome college graduate grew up with his parents and brother.
Conversations with Sr. Camille
On Dec. 9, Miss Vida Toppin, 81, invited a few friends to celebrate her son Paul's 46th birthday.
Those who came to her assisted-living apartment in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y., enjoyed soft drinks and snacks, conversation and blessings. Paul's close friend, Daniel Escalera, was there, but Paul was not. He was murdered in October 1992, when he went to the aid of a friend being menaced by a 16-year-old with a gun. Paul, thinking he had diffused the volatile situation, turned to walk away. Bullets in his lung, arm and leg put him in the hospital, where he died 10 days later without regaining consciousness.
D'Arienzo: I am so sorry you suffered that loss. Are you able to talk about that night?
John J. Snyder, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., was born in Manhattan to the late John Joseph and Katherine Walsh Snyder on Oct. 25, 1925. Jack, as he is known to his friends, grew up in Queens, N.Y., with a younger brother and an adopted sister. Their home had a finished basement, which became a welcoming gathering place for relatives and friends.
Ordained in 1951, Jack, 86, spent six years at St. Mel's parish priest in Flushing, N.Y. He later served as assistant secretary to Bishop Bryan McEntegart, then as secretary to Bishop Francis Mugavero, both of the Brooklyn Diocese. On Dec. 13, 1972, Pope Paul VI appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn. Seven years later, Pope John Paul II named him Bishop of St. Augustine.
It's been a dozen years since I first met Sr. Rita Clare Gerardot, 85, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. Her community, Sisters of Providence, generously gave me hospitality during the 30 or so visits I made to visit David Hammer, who is on death row in the federal penitentiary in nearby Terre Haute.
Rita Clare's friendship became an unanticipated gift when she agreed to visit David more regularly than distance allowed me to do. I cannot introduce her to you without acknowledging her wholesome holiness, incredible energy and expansive generosity. The only gift she lacks is the ability to sleep late. Often she begins her day walking around St. Mary's beautiful campus while stars are still out.
Sr. Camille: Rita Clare, how does this fit into your daily prayer?
Gil Hodges is a name that evokes admiration akin to idolatry. An enduring figure in the annals of baseball, his career spanned 18 years and three teams. During the 1950s, when he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he hit 30 home runs per season for five years. In the late 1960s, he became manager of the Mets, leading them to the World Series.
His son, Gil Hodges Jr., was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. He went to a Catholic elementary school and both Catholic and public high schools. After he graduated from C.W. Post College on Long Island, he was drafted by the New York Mets, but a shoulder injury prevented his pursuit of the sport for which his father was famous.
Julia Occhiogrosso, 50, was the sixth of seven children born to Frank and Gloria Occhiogrosso. Her twin sister, Christa, followed her by 3 minutes.
Her parents, respected leaders in their local parish of St. Jerome in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, sent their children to its elementary school. And as owners and agents of Ideal World Travel, they could arrange trips for anyone to go anywhere in the world, taking particular delight in sending tourists to the Holy Land.
They could not have guessed that three of their daughters would journey across the country to live among the destitute served by Catholic Worker communities in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. These are lands made holy by those who devote themselves to serving society's homeless and hungry men, women and children.
Julia, what values did your parents instill in you?
Except for travel tied to his military service in Vietnam, Robert Lohrey has never been outside the United States. Early most mornings, the slim, energetic man can be seen walking briskly along Myrtle Avenue, an old commercial street in the traditionally German, Ridgewood section of Queens, N.Y.
This is where Lohrey grew up, where he met and married his wife, and where they raised two daughters. After St. Matthias Elementary, Grover Cleveland High School and one year at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, he landed what would be his lifetime job at ABC-Disney in Manhattan. The following year he was drafted, spent two years in the infantry and returned to ABC-Disney.
Sherry Warden grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., on the same street on which she's lived with her husband, Eric, since they married 45 years ago. Their two children, Evalyn and David, are on their own now. Evalyn has given her parents a granddaughter.
The University of Michigan always has been part of the family's lives. Sherry's father, Edward Stasheff, was a legendary, beloved professor, who came from New York with his wife, Evelyn Maher Stasheff, after a pioneering career in commercial television. He directed Bishop Fulton Sheen's first television program. "Prof," as he was affectionately known, came from a Jewish tradition. His parents sat shiva when he married someone from another faith.
But later, Sherry recalls, "When my dad's father was ill and my mother cared for him, my grandfather declared, 'She may be a shiksa but she has a Jewish heart.'"
Siobhan Byrne O'Connor enjoys her life as wife to Daniel O'Connor and mother of their three children, ages 12, 8 and 6.
"My children and my family are my greatest joy," she said. "I have a terrific husband and so I feel like I've won some cosmic jackpot."
She's also happy in her chosen career as script writer and supervising producer of the popular television series "Blue Bloods."
Ask John Castellano for his title at Mercy Haven, an agency that provides housing for mentally dependent adults, and his first response is: "Friend."
Only then does he add the one he earned through years of hard work, sacrifice and college tuition: "Attorney in charge of the Mercy advocacy program."
This extraordinary unassuming 62-year-old plays an important role in a program that recently won a grant close to $2.5 million from New York state as part of its Homeless and Assistance Program.