Community is key for 50-year member of Brooklyn, N.Y., parish

Connie Marchisotto, 75

Connie Marchisotto
Who she is: Parishioner, St. Mary Mother of Jesus parish
Lives in: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Sr. Camille: Connie, for many years, while Catholics have become discouraged with their parish churches, you have not only stayed in place but have also contributed to the vibrancy of St. Mary Mother of Jesus parish in Brooklyn, N.Y. Why is that so?

Marchisotto: I've been a member of St. Mary Mother of Jesus in Bensonhurst for 50 years. Within those 50 years, I have experienced the death of family members and personal sickness. Throughout all of this, the parish community has supported me to withstand the tragedies. Therefore, I feel that because of my baptism, I need to give back and try to help the parish be a center for the parishioners' lives.

Have you drawn inspiration or guidance from anyone? If so, please explain.

I feel that everyone who has touched my life even in a very small way has been an inspiration to me. The person who stands out to me is the late Mercy Sr. Patricia Conroy, who truly took me under her wing. Through her love and mentoring, I became who I am today.

What do you feel you have to offer?

I feel that I have the witness of my life to offer. It has not always been easy, but because of my faith and endurance, I can reach out with a helping hand to those I encounter.

What attracts people to your parish?

I think people are drawn to the parish because of its welcoming qualities. It also provides many opportunities for both educational and prayerful experiences.

You've seen quite a few priests minister in your parish and then move on. Was any one especially helpful? If so, why is that?

Fr. Robert Blauvelt. He truly embraced the word "evangelization" and passed that on to me. Father Bob shared with me how important reach-outs are to address the various needs of the parishioners. These include those who are divorced or separated, caregivers, and the family, especially married couples. All these outreaches were connected to a liturgical component. Although Father Bob is in a retirement facility, I'm very much in touch with him. I speak with him frequently and often meet him for dinner. Evangelization is still at the heart of what he does at the age of 84.

Can you share any story that points to the importance of the church in the life of a parishioner?

When my daughter died on Sept. 27, 1994, from a drug overdose, the church community surrounded me with love and support, which enabled me to move on.

How do your friends and neighbors view Pope Francis?

Most of my friends view Pope Francis as a breath of fresh air.

What is most attractive about him?

He is accessible, easy to listen to but firm in his commitment. His love of the preferential option for the poor is highly commendable.

Many parts of Brooklyn are undergoing cultural changes. Is this so of your neighborhood? Please explain.

We have been constantly changing over the past 10 years. It began with the influx of Russians, then the Spanish and, most recently, the Chinese. We have had the Spanish apostolate for the past 14 years, and most recently, we've been discussing how to reach out to the Chinese community.

How do you reach across such a cultural divide? Are many of the Chinese immigrants Catholic?

We welcome them and try to tap someone of their background to find who is eager to be part of the outreach. Most of the Chinese immigrants are not Catholic. What fertile ground for the RCIA process!

Where and with whom did you grow up?

I spent the first part of my childhood in Red Hook, N.Y., and when I was 13, my family moved to Bensonhurst, N.Y. I had both parents and one sister, who had an untimely death in a fire at the age of 28.

How did you and your parents respond to that tragedy?

My parents where numb, and since I was married with a family, they relied on my decisions.

Did your sister leave a family?

My sister was divorced and left a 9-year-old daughter.

How did that impact you?

My niece became the eighth member of our family, and many unforeseen situations presented themselves, especially in light of the fact that my husband had just lost his job.

How did you meet your husband?

I met my husband through a group of catechists who were training me to become a catechist.

Please tell us his name and what attracted you to him.

My husband's name is John, and I was attracted to him because he was different, and that presented a challenge to me at my young age.

Please say something about your family

I'm the mother of six children and grandmother of 10. My husband passed away two and a half years ago.

How did you cope with that loss?

My husband died after a long illness of seven years. When he died, I spent the initial loss going through the motions and tending to what had to be done. Most recently, I am finding myself struggling more. I realize that you cannot erase 55 years of married life. It's a process one has to go through with much support and prayer.

What do you hope for your grandchildren?

I hope that my grandchildren can experience the joy I feel when I am at liturgy and when I am helping others. I hope they realize what is really important in life.

Can you identify one experience that makes you grateful for your life choice?

Being married for 55 years made me realize how grateful I was for that life choice.

Do you have a favorite Scripture passage? How does it impact your life?

Philippians 2:5-11: "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus." This passage reminds me to empty myself and imitate Christ.

I also appreciate Isaiah 55:1-11: "Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare." This passage encourages me to seek what is important in life.

How do you pray?

My whole life is a prayer. Liturgy is the highest form of prayer, and I try to attend Mass every day.

Is there is anything in our church that you would like to see changed?

A more involved role for women in important positions.


Because they have a right to be there.

Why do you think that?

Because we are all made in the image of God, male and female, and women have many unique gifts to offer.

What in our church are you grateful never changes?

The richness of the dogma and the Eucharist.

How do you relax?

Reading, meditating and going to the ballet.

What makes you happy?

When I can help others financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

What do you consider your greatest gift for others?

I know I'm a good listener and am welcomed by those who need to talk to someone.

Thank you so much, Connie, for sharing your story with us.

[Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audiobook, renamed Forgiveness: Stories of Redemption, is available from Now You Know Media.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Sr. Camille's column, Conversations with Sr. Camille, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert signup.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here