Meet Our Parishioners!
Meet Our Parishioners!
The year 2015 will mark the 60th anniversary of our parish. In preparation, I have been reflecting on what makes our parish unique. One word came to mind – personal. We are small – and everyone knows the saying – “Good things come in small packages!” What some might consider a disadvantage is truly a gift for our parish of St. Pius X. Because we are small in size we can be – and ARE personal – we have the opportunity to know each other. So – who are we? There is no better way to honor this momentous occasion in the history of our parish than to pause and take the time to get to know our parishioners. Where do we start? We are privileged to have parishioners who are part of the founding families or our parish. Can you believe it! Among these parishioners is Marion Celenza who graciously compiled our parish history. I hope you have been reading the installments which have been published in our bulletin and also on our website (http://www.stpiusxrc.com/Pari). But who are the people who are part of this wonderful history? What we are in search of now is the heart of our parish – our parishioners.
As a part of our ongoing engagement efforts, we have come to realize the importance of parishioners sharing their personal stories of how they have connected with St. Pius X parish life as an important factor in their lives. As a feature twice a month, Ms Denise DeSousa will introduce us to the stories and reflections of our parishioners who are living a stewardship life of prayer, service and giving.
God Bless You -
About Our Interviewer – Denise DeSousa
If you have stopped by the Faith Formation Office or the Parish Office on weekends, you were greeted by the warm, smiling face of Denise De Sousa. Denise has been part of our staff for over a year. She has been an asset to Michelle Mascolo, Director of Faith Formation, assisting her with the many administrative tasks necessary to serve the children, parents and catechists in our Faith Formation program. On weekends, it is Denise’s pleasant voice that greets callers whether on the phone or in person.
Denise is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook University. Her major is journalism with a minor in anthropology. So, when it came to deciding who should interview our parishioners, Denise was a natural selection. Denise is excited to put her journalism skills into practice as well as having the opportunity to get to know some of the parishioners on a more personal level.
In her spare time, you can find Denise volunteering for a worthy cause, like Right to Life, or engrossed in reading a meaningful book.
I am grateful to Denise for taking on this project as part of the activities planned during for our 60th Anniversary year.
~ Fr. Valentine
Meet the Faggiano Family
It’s church first for the Faggiano family, active members of the St. Pius X parish, who strive to keep God centered throughout their daily lives. Full-time working parents, Dawn and Bill Faggiano, set an example for their son Luca- a third grade faith formation student- as they emphasize the importance of attending mass together and getting involved in parish life.
“We do try to make church a priority and that we do this together. It feels like family time,” Dawn said and explained how blessed she feels at the fact the both she and her husband are in agreement with how to raise their son in the Catholic faith. “This is one of the most wholesome places.”
For Luca, St. Pius X is a holy place where he is now able to help Father Valentine during mass since becoming an altar server.
After his initial altar serving training, Luca had jumped at the opportunity to serve at Sunday mass.
“It’s such a nice job to be able to help the priest,” Luca said- sharing that although he was a bit nervous at first, the other altar servers helped throughout the mass. “It’s very exciting.”
Like father like son, Bill Faggiano also recently became more involved in his parish with the Knights of Columbus and pointed out how he and Luca will start helping to set and clean up during and after parish events- especially in the coming Christmas season.
“We are a minority in this community,” Bill said, who appreciates the family like structure of the parish. “Having a place where like-minded people can get together is easy.”
Gathering their belongings, the Faggiano’s headed over to 10:30 mass 15 minutes early. Luca had to prepare for mass, after all. He was scheduled to altar serve.
Meet Barbara Brown!
As the memories of former pastors, parish events, and bittersweet moments resurfaced, Barbara Brown- one of the first baptized at St. Pius X Church- didn’t hesitate or stumble when it came to recounting the names of each parishioner she had encountered throughout the years.
Between her secretarial work lasting from the late 70s through the early 90s to her current role as the president of the Rosary Society, Brown has long since familiarized herself with the many aspects of the church community as well as the members of the parish.
“The community of people that gather [here] are unique in their own respect,” Brown, who holds a special place in her heart for parishioners, said. “St. Pius is a family.”
With dreams of writing a novel based on her knowledge of the church and the amount of heartwarming stories she’s accumulated of St. Pius X over time, Brown emphasized the importance of having a strong faith and of getting involved in the parish.
“God is life. You can’t have one without the other,” Brown shared as she spoke of hardships she’s overcome through the grace of God. “I don’t know how [people] do it without God in their lives.”
Focused now on continuing to enjoy life, Brown is determined to further surround herself with friends, family, and positivity.
“Life is very short,” Brown said, advising against negative environments. “God has been my direction. My trust in Him guides me through every single day.”
Meet Arthur & Naomi Fonesca!
Witnesses to the evolvement of St. Pius X, Arthur and Naomi Fonseca affectionately referred to their 60 year old parish as their home away from home.
“I think one of the biggest things I love about St. Pius X is that sense of community and family,” Naomi shared as her husband nodded in agreement beside her. “What I love to see is all the young families.”
The Fonseca’s, who- in 1956- were introduced to each other through a friend of Naomi’s engaged to Arthur’s brother, Jim- built their marriage on a strong foundation of faith, love and family values which has helped in making “the last better than the first” with each year of married life that passes by.
“Marriage is wonderful,” Naomi said, as she shared her thoughts of the sacrament for those preparing for marriage and for those already married. “But there will come moments when you have disagreements. Don’t let that block you.”
As a couple, not only have Arthur and Naomi-parents of three- continuously involved themselves in church ministries, such as the parish council and the St. Pius X Feast, but they have kept Christ centered in their lives by attending Sunday mass.
“The gift of being able to connect, to renew with my brother Jesus- who is unconditional love- is a gift,” Arthur said. “I think that every Christian has to remember that Jesus is unconditional love and the enormity of that unconditional love.”
Meet Dario Rossi!
From the very first time he received Christ in second grade, Dario Rossi - a parishioner of St. Pius X for 26 years - desired to devote his time and talent to serving God and the Catholic Church.
“I started to develop my faith from those very early years, and I never let go,” Rossi said - who has now found his niche in the church as a lector. “It started with my mom and dad. They had very strong religious beliefs, and that translated into my strong religious beliefs, faith and background.”
Rossi credits his deep faith in God as what gave his life direction during difficult times.
“A few years back, my sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer,” Rossi said, pausing as memories of her fatal prognosis resurfaced. “I will tell you, having a deep prayer through faith and belief in miracles, I witnessed a miracle in my own sister’s life.”
Today, through the power of prayer and experimental medication, Rossi’s sister is experiencing life in remission.
“It’s all faith. I prayed to St. Jude. He’s the patron of hopeless cases,” Rossi shared noting that Jude is his middle name. “I would consider my sister a hopeless case at that time.”
For now, Rossi looks forward to watching his family grow alongside his wife Donna and to witnessing his two adult sons deepen their own faith lives.
“I consider myself the luckiest man on the planet because of what I’ve been through, and where I am today,” Rossi said. “God has blessed me with so many beautiful things, and that’s why I give back to the church. It’s not just a one way street.”
Meet Millie and Mike Di Carlo!
Faithful to the 3:45 Saturday evening mass, Mike Di Carlo continues a weekly Catholic tradition instilled in him as a boy.
“The family was always very religious,” Di Carlo said as he recalled how close his childhood home was in relation to the family’s parish. “We lived down a block from St. Bernadette’s [in Brooklyn], and they built an elementary school. My younger brother went there.”
A member of St. Pius X for 15 years, Di Carlo is a sponsor to both the St. Pius X Golf Outing and Feast.
“It’s a thank you for my fortune over the years,” Di Carlo said as he explained his reasons for giving back and getting involved in church life. “Anything to support the church.”
Recently retired after 48 years of business, both Di Carlo and his wife Millie- who he met while in elementary school- continue to support the church as a Knight of Columbus and a Columbiette.
“Being in business, [I learned] you have to be ready to stand up and do something,” Di Carlo said- who is a firm believer in attending mass and living out the Catholic faith. “You gotta be involved.”
Meet Suzanne Balestriere!
With faith as the underlying foundation of the Balestriere household, Suzanne Balestriere placed all of her trust in God’s hands as He helped guide her along her spiritual journey.
“My parents were Buddhist, but we didn’t really practice it,” Suzanne said as she shared the challenges of growing up without a faith life. “Now I want to learn about the church and God.”
Suzanne’s husband, Louis Balestriere- who was raised in an Italian Catholic family-expressed his deep appreciation for his wife’s commitment to the Catholic Church.
“This is a big deal,” Louis said pointing out that a few weeks after the two started dating, Suzanne began to attend Sunday Mass alongside him. “The church has been a big part of our life together.”
To Suzanne, understanding the significance of Easter and Christmas has deepened her faith and renewed in her hope, which she now desires to share with others.
“I want to make sure that after the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults Program (RCIA) is completed that I do make a difference,” Suzanne said as her three year old son Giovanni, who has already memorized The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, sat quietly on her lap. “I need to live by the teachings of Jesus, and I want to make sure my son is brought up that way as well.”
Meet Gregory May!
To Gregory May, converting to Catholicism just confirmed everything he had already experienced.
“I’ve been to more Catholic ceremonies than I have Protestant,” Gregory said as he spoke of his background knowledge of the Catholic faith before even entering the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults Program (RCIA). “It’s not that alien to me.”
Receiving full Communion with the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday, Gregory has had the support of his fiancée, Kara Guy, throughout the entire process.
“I’m his sponsor,” Kara said smiling as she shared her excitement at the prospect of her soon-to-be husband receiving the Eucharist alongside her now. “When we have kids, I definitely want to take them to church as a family. I like the idea of everyone being able to get communion.”
Together, Gregory and Kara labeled St. Pius X Church as awesome.
“This is the only parish that I’ve ever known,” Kara said. “I like that I get to bring Gregory to the Church and share it together.”
Meet Anne Bantleon!
Lost in a moment of emotion, Anne Bantleon, St. Pius X’s minister of consolation, gently wiped a tear from her cheek as the story of her faith journey unfolded.
“Why do I cry so easily?” Bantleon asked. “I think it’s because I’m witnessing love. And my faith translates that to me because I see people living God’s love to each other, and they don’t even realize it.”
A Eucharistic Minister and a member of the Pastoral Council, Bantleon pointed out that many people today are too distracted to experience Jesus’ presence.
“I think we live the life that Jesus wants us to live when we have an encounter with Jesus,” Bantleon said. “And I don’t think most people realize that they have encounters with Jesus all the time.”
A mother of four from a previous marriage, Bantleon and her husband George constantly find themselves involved in different aspects of church life.
“I’m proud to be Catholic,” Bantleon said with a smile. “St. Pius X is family.”
Meet Heather & Alen Lonic!
Glancing over at her fiancé and breaking out into a wide smile, Heather Cussen, soon-to-be Mrs. Alen Lonic, jokingly denied liking anything about her future husband.
“No. I’m kidding,” Cussen said as she and Lonic laughed over the playful jab. “I love his kindness. He’s got a good heart.”
The couple,engaged since April after Lonic proposed at Westbury Gardens on Dog Walk Weekend, is set to wed at 2pm this Valentine’s Day.
“I’m nervous,” Cussen said as the couple shared their final wedding preparations. “I want everything to go right that day.”
As wedding arrangements started to come underway, Lonic and Cussen both found themselves making their way back into the pews of the church.
“When we started thinking about the wedding, we started coming back to church,” Cussen shared. “We come every week. It should be a family thing.” Lonic added that the two plan to start volunteering in different ministries of the church one way or another.
Along with attending Sunday mass, the couple also participated in Pre-Cana, a marriage preparation program intended for engaged couples marrying in the Catholic Church.
“Pre-Cana was awesome,” the couple exclaimed as they noted the biggest takeaway of the course: patience. “We really learned a lot.”
With the arrows of Cupid pointing us closer and closer to Valentine’s Day, Father Valentine used this time to remind couples about the power of prayer in relationships.
“Prayer has the biggest impact on your marriage,” Father Valentine said. “Use that as your daily tool.”
Meet Rosemarie & Thomas Burke!
Leaning forward in her chair and clasping her hands together atop her lap, Rosemarie Burke sat in wonderment of how people are able to go through life without God.
“I would never,” she said as her husband Thomas nodded slowly in agreement beside her. “How do you not believe?”
A nightmare turned reality, Thomas and Rosemarie Burke faced the unimaginable after their 15 year old son, Thomas Michael Burke, passed away shortly after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, AML .
“You bury a 15 year old child, he was a twin, and people ask me, ‘Aren’t you mad at God?’” Rosemarie said. “No. God gave me three beautiful, healthy grandsons. And I personally believe that my son was too good for this world. I’m going to be with him again someday.”
The couple’s religious convictions along with the support of the church community, pulled them through the dark times of their lives.
“We always feel that there’s somebody there who really cares,” Rosemarie said as she noted how fundamental priests were during their time of grief. Thomas, an original member of the Knights of Columbus and a Eucharistic Minister, added how the couple would go to mass every morning.
“I feel sorry for people who don’t have any beliefs,” Rosemarie, a Columbiette, said. “What do they do? Where do they go?”
The Burke’s, who met at a Christmas party and married the following November, credit God with giving them the grace to push on.
“I drop everything in God’s lap,” Rosemarie shared as she took note of trying times that she and her husband recently experienced throughout these past few months. “I pray all the time, ‘just give me the strength.’”
Meet Fran & Neil DeRosa!
As Neil DeRosa made his way into the rectory alongside his wife Frances, he was quickly greeted with the responsibilities that only a Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus and member of the pastoral council could be greeted with. Stopping to shuffle through mail, overlook paperwork with the parish administrator, and comment on the success of the Knights of Columbus Breakfast with Santa, DeRosa began to sketch his involvement in the church simply through his routine actions.
A parishioner of St. Pius X since 1966, Neil DeRosa attributed his involvement in the youth group to his continued involvement in ministry work. “I started up the Antioch group, which was a youth group,” Neil said. “I ran that for two years. We had prayer meetings and Bible readings…it changed the course of my life for the better.” Frances, treasurer of the Columbiettes, added that the Antioch is where she and Neil had met each other.
Neil, who also serves as chairman of the St. Pius X feast and as a member of the finance and golf committees, noted the significance that St. Pius X has had on his life. “I grew up here, I was married here, and my kids were baptized here…” he shared. Frances finished her husband’s sentence labeling St. Pius X as home. “I don’t remember anything before St. Pius,” she stated.
Both Neil and Frances emphasized the importance of families coming together and sharing in church events. “The way to get involved is just to get involved,” Neil said. “There are so many different organizations to participate in.”
Meet Rita & Jack Hansen!
A couple that prays together, stays together is the underlying motto between the marriage of Jack and Rita Hansen. The Hansen’s, who read together from the Bible regularly, have been committed to serving God throughout their 60 years of marriage.
“Praying and playing,” Rita Hansen said, “keeps you close together and close to God.”
Members of St. Pius X for 57 years, the Hansen’s stressed the importance of incorporating the church into daily life, something that they have yet to stop doing.
“Jack was the coach and manager of the baseball team for the youth council and CYO basketball,” Rita noted. “And I was in the Rosary Society. I was also involved in St. Vincent de Paul for many years.”
Together, the couple used to share their time and talent within the liturgy committee and the St. Pius X feast. They now continue to serve the church as Eucharistic Ministers.
“Becoming involved is really a self-thing,” Jack explained. “You can’t tell somebody to do it. They have to want to do it.” Rita added that volunteering in parish ministries; however, is a way of doing God’s work.
But, resting his hand upon his wife’s knee, Jack shared that his favorite ministry of all is the ministry of marriage.
“It’s the best,” Jack stated. “I’ve got a good lady. I love her... I have for many years.”
Meet Charles Pendola!
An active member of the church since childhood, Charles Pendola, both a CPA and attorney, has served St. Pius X in different capacities for the past 40 years.
“With ministry,” Pendola said, “you have to talk in terms of the three T’s: time, talent, and treasure.”
Both Charles and his wife, Marie, recipients of the St. Agnes Medal Award, have tried to offer the church all three.
Chairperson of the finance committee and a founding member of the Knights of Columbus, Pendola has steered clear of the limelight, and instead, has chosen to serve from behind the scenes.
“I’m not looking for recognition,” Pendola noted. “I just decide what I’m going to do and how I’m going to be of assistance.”
Pendola, who became a Eucharistic Minister in 1980, pointed out the resilience of the church in both good times and bad.
“There’s a certain unique character to the parish,” Pendola said, “which I believe emanates from its humble beginnings.”
Meet Janet & Tom Reilly!
Similar to a scene pulled from a classic romance film, the story of Tom and Janet Reilly begins with a young sailor, a pretty girl, and a first dance. Tom Reilly, who was home from the Navy for a weekend leave, first laid eyes on his wife at the Lorelei dance hall in New York City.
“I asked her for a dance,” Tom reminisced as he settled back comfortably into the office chair. “The rest is history.”
The couple, since then, has tried to lead by example.
Recipients of the St. Agnes Medal Award and parishioners for over 50 years, Tom and Janet became increasingly involved in the church life as their family grew.
“We did a lot of volunteering,” Janet, president of the senior club, said as Tom made note of their significant involvement in the parish youth council. “Tom was coach of the different teams in the youth council, and I volunteered wherever they needed me.”
Along with ushering at the weekend masses, praying with the rosary society, and organizing the St. Pius X Gala Dinner Dance, Tom and Janet have coordinated the Pre-Cana program at St. Pius for approximately 40 years... a ministry they’ve continued to be committed to because of its spiritual and emotional fulfillments. Tom added that working with the young couples brings back memories from his and Janet’s beginning years.
“We’ve learned a lot from the young people,” Janet said as she and Tom emphasized the importance of the Pre-Cana program for engaged couples. “We love them.”
Tom and Janet unanimously agreed that in St. Pius, family is what makes the church so unique. “We enjoy what we do within the parish,” Janet said. “We became part of the social life of the parish. It was great for our children, and it was great for us.”
Meet Steven Lesetz!
Interview by Denise De Sousa
Steven Lesetz, a man well-acquainted with struggle and sacrifice, strives to continue his mission of paying it forward. After losing his home in Hungary to Russian bombings, Lesetz relied on the kindness of strangers to help him and his family through dark times.
“When my family and I were in need, people helped us out,” Lesetz said. “Now I want to give something back to the people.”
Upon moving to Long Island, Lesetz, a parishioner of St. Pius for 49 years, embraced opportunities to involve himself in ministries early on.
As captain of the blood drive and member of the Lions Club, a club dedicated to helping those in need, Lesetz has devoted himself to doing good works for others. “It always was my dream to help people who are less fortunate than you and I are,” he shared. “I’m just about involved in everything possible to help.” Lesetz also volunteers with the food drive and helps to organize a summer camp for diabetic children.
Along with serving others in various ways, Lesetz shares his vocal talents with the church choir, something he has been doing since he was six years old. “I love music very much so,” Lesetz said, noting that he had met his wife in a church choir at the Blessed Sacrament in Bayside. “She was a soprano, and I was a tenor.”
Lesetz acknowledged the obstacles people face that may keep them from getting involved in church ministries, but nonetheless emphasized the importance of participating in the parish community. “St. Pius is about togetherness, family, getting involved, and knowing each other,” he said. “We’re all working for one goal…to be a nice, happy St. Pius family.”
Meet Marion Celenza!
Interview by Denise DeSousa
A founding mother of St. Pius X, Marion Celenza helped to lay the foundations of ministry in our church from its beginning moments 60 years ago.
Marion, along with her husband John, became involved in the church community shortly after moving to Old Bethpage. “We were in the youth council,” Marion, who at the time was a teacher at Bethpage High School, recalled as she noted the importance of educating the youth. “With the youth council, we had classes. I taught cooking, and my husband taught the religious education classes.”
Marion continued building St. Pius’ church life by helping begin and work on the church newspaper, The St. Pius X Digest, later to become the editor-in-chief for 35 years. Marion also became editor of the 25th jubilee handbook. “Besides writing,” Marion added, “I was on the first school board, which was probably 1962. And very important, right off the bat, I founded the Pius Players by 1956. We put on comedies and dramas. Our first drama was called, The Little Foxes. We put that on the year before I became pregnant.”
Marion went on to help renew the interior of the church in 2005 and has recently taken the position as our church’s historian, although, she says that she’s been doing the history for a long time.
“St. Pius is like a family,” Marion said as she gathered her belongings and stood to leave for mass, “this is my family. We take care of each other.”