Two months before ordination I was called to the Dean of Men’s office and informed that my mother was seriously ill. My Father had called to tell me that she had suffered a serious heart attack and the prognosis was not positive. Allowed to go home to be with her I smiled when my father told me on the phone that she insisted walking to the ambulance so none of the neighbors would be upset. So typical of her unending concern ,she even in this dire moment others came first. My mother was the kindest person on the planet. I learned many things at my mother’s knee but probably the most important was that everyone deserves to be loved and respected. In my entire life I had never met anyone who was totally absent of racial or ethnic bias. As a young child I repeated an ethnic slur at the dinner table and she immediately sent me to my room without supper. When an Italian mother sends you to your room without food you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that you are in serious trouble.
After a few moments she came to my room and lovingly explained why what I had said was offensive and never to be uttered again. Mind you this was a person who had a racist brother that regularly employed the N word. I once overheard her say to him” Rudy every night before I go to bed I pray that you will wake up tomorrow and be black.”
The ride to Jersey City seemed forever and once home I borrowed a car to race up to the Jersey City Medical Center. Entering the parking lot a cop was shouting at a woman that she could not park in that spot. She was annoyed and questioning his decision. Spotting my collar he waved me into the spot she had vacated and she began to give him grief. Hoping to cover his generosity I rolled down the window and said “Thank you officer I have an emergency.” That may have been the biggest mistake of my life. The cop bolted in front of me and was shouting “Get out of the way Father has an emergency. “When we reached the elevator which was filled with Doctors and Nurses he ordered everyone off so Father could quickly reach his emergency. I was terrified because though I had on a Roman Collar I was not yet a priest. When we reached the Intensive care floor I used my street smarts and said” Thank you officer but I can take it from here.If she sees you she will be frightened.” The cop saluted me and left. I breathe a sigh of relief but now the real concern would begin. Seeing all those tubes in my mother was quite a jolt and watching my father gently speaking to her was tough. She was semi-conscious and did not recognize me. To say I was devastated would be the understatement of the century. The attending physician came in to examine her and we waited outside. I asked my father to go back and hold my mother’s hand but in reality I wanted to speak with the Doctor alone. I asked him not to pull any punches and he told me that today and tonight are critical. If she makes it through this period she has a chance. What he didn’t know was that her heart had been wounded but her spirit was truly larger than life. She made it through that day and by the time I returned to the seminary in three weeks she was cooking up a storm for the family.
One other humorous note was that during that period I went on a series of errands for my father. Losing track of the time I came back to my car and there was a cop writing a ticket. He saw me and said” is this your car Father?” When I replied in the affirmative he said,” Thanks a lot now I have to look for another 67 Chevy.” It could only happen in Jersey City.