Thursday, November 24, 2022

Marking Mom and Dad's 67th Anniversary

Following is an excerpt from my contribution to "New Jersey Fan Club," an anthology published earlier this year by Rutgers University Press.

As described by the editor, on this page with ordering information, the book features personal essays, interviews and comics, offering a multifaceted look at the state's history and significance. My essay was about why I post images of New Jersey churches on Instagram every Sunday, and I wrote this about my favorite church:

My favorite church is the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, which opened in October 1954. It was the site of my parents’ wedding on Thanksgiving Day -- November 24, 1955.

People flock to nearby Branch Brook Park every April for the Cherry Blossom Festival. New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington, DC, with over 2,700 bursting into full bloom each spring.

It doesn't matter to this church. This church is always in full bloom.

Its magnificence is such that my mother, upon finding out she could secure the cathedral for her wedding, sought permission from her pastor in Garfield not to have her ceremony at her family's local church on Lanza Avenue.

Instead, Mom arranged for her immigrant Polish-speaking parents to take the first limo ride of their lives to travel to Newark, where her bridesmaids needed to stitch together two red carpets to cover the distance down the long center aisle.

Mom's wedding was an American fairy tale made possible by my wife's great-grandfather. He was one of the Irish day laborers who laid the stones when the cathedral’s construction began at the turn of the century.

My Babci was in tears when she beheld Sacred Heart. It appeared to her then, as it does to me now, the closest place to heaven in New Jersey.


Dad died before my parents could celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Yesterday, Mom and I visited his gravesite at Laurel Grove in Totowa and, just like every year, Mom placed a single red rose there.

Mom and Dad, November 1955 and October 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Last Waltz: Goodbye, Catholic New York

I met Nancy, my wife, in the 1980s at a newspaper called Catholic New York.

That paper published its last edition today. Its editor, my friend John Woods, published this informative article about the publication's history.

In it, he mentions two editors I worked for at the start of my career: Anne Buckley and Gerald M. ("Jerry") Costello.

Both are now gone.

When Anne died in 2019, I posted about her life and legacy.

Anne was a wise woman; she suspected I wasn't good enough to marry Nancy.

Nevertheless, she wrote a charming column about our wedding day. There's an image of it below, and if you can't read the words in the photo, the words are posted here:

At Jerry's funeral in 2021, recalling that he recommended me for my first job and subsequently hired me twice, I learned he had sponsored many other journalists' careers... including another friend I met at Catholic New York, Monica Yehle, who sat beside me, and the Catholic Standard reporter in the pew behind us, and reporters, columnists, and editors who posted similar expressions of thanks on social media.

Jerry's obituary, written by his daughter Eileen, was wonderfully detailed:

His eulogy, delivered by his son Bob, focused on the impact of Jerry's life on his six children, 21 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. Bob also spoke of Jerry's love of music, concluding with lyrics from Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band" and applause from the congregation.

The photo here, from the funeral Mass program, includes Jerry's written reflection as he neared the end of his life and battled with Parkinson's disease.

The words in the photo are too muddy to read there, and Jerry's words were always precise. So here's what he wrote:

"The special memory I keep is one where I'm part of a band -- a big one, of course -- on a night when everything is going just right. All the sections are working together, and the five saxes that I'm leading are playing in perfect harmony, the music we're making is so good, so joyous that the crowd on the floor in front of us stops dancing -- just so they can listen. It may not have happened all the time, but often enough. And when it did, it brought a feeling of excited contentment that I remember still."


To this day, I still remember, and miss, everyone at Catholic New York.

I appreciate that the cover of its last issue this week features a photo of St. Patrick's Cathedral, just like its first issue did. The photo is by Chris Sheridan, one of the most talented photographers I've ever had the honor to work with.

So I guess that's an appropriate "30."

And yes, Anne, we still have your wedding present. It's displayed proudly in our dining room.

It plays a waltz, and the music is forever haunting and joyous.

Thank you, Catholic New York.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

A Lesson in Poetry, Thanks to Marianne Moore

This is the story of my first public poetry reading.

I love hearing poems read aloud by their authors in real life. That and listening to musicians perform are two things that always rekindle my sense of wonder and reaffirm my faith in humanity.

Having recently attended both the Paterson and Dodge poetry festivals in New Jersey, I was energized and excited by the poets I heard. The experience inspired me to write a trilogy of poems that share the theme of looking back at my life and family.

Just for kicks, I decided to share these poems in public, out loud, during the open mic portion of a poetry reading at the Fort Lee Public Library this past weekend. There were a few other men approximately my age who also read, including one who read a poem about an imaginary conversation with the poet Marianne Moore.

So I was emboldened to walk to the mic in front of the room and read the set of poems below. The crowd of perhaps two dozen was attentive, and applauded, and I felt pretty good about the experience.

At the end, as I gathered my coat and notebook, an older gentleman hurried toward me. There was joy in his eyes, and it was as if he couldn't wait to tell me how much he enjoyed my poems. I thought, "I have a fan!"

He shook my hand vigorously and smiled warmly. He said, "I bet you didn't know that Marianne Moore loved baseball and was a big fan of the Dodgers!"

I smiled just as warmly, admitted I didn't know that, and thanked him for the information.

Then, turning and turning, I slouched towards home.

Elegy in a Living Room

Roman Holiday

Unopened Prayers