ST. JAMES, NEW YORK — In 100 years, Lorraine Vaccari mastered computers, cheered her beloved Yankees to a 27th World Series title, and, with her husband Anthony, made a devout Catholic home in Queens for five children, two of whom became priests.
Msgr. Peter Vaccari, the eldest child, is president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), a papal humanitarian relief organization based in Manhattan. In recent weeks, he has been intensely focused on bringing emergency supplies to COVID-ravaged India.
Lorraine’s third son, Msgr. Andrew Vaccari, is pastor of St. Mary Mother of Jesus Parish in Bensonhurst.
Lorraine expressed immense joy at having two accomplished sons in the priesthood, but she is quick to say her other children bring her equal measures of happiness.
Second son Michael is a Manhattan lawyer. The youngest two are identical twin daughters Rosemary, who works at a Florida law firm, and Maria, a family practice physician on Long Island. Michael and the twins have given Lorraine 11 grandchildren.
“First of all,” Lorraine said of her sons and daughters, “they’re very good to me — all of them. They always take care of me with anything I need or want.
“I really lucked out with my five children.”
In early June, her children and 10 of her grandchildren set their busy schedules aside to finally celebrate her 100th birthday, which was in February. They gathered at her home in St. James, Long Island for a Mass and luncheon.
Each Vaccari, be it the mother or her children, exudes modesty, despite their accomplishments. According to them, their successes come from hard work, discipline, and a profound devotion to God.
Lorraine’s part of the story began in Brooklyn. She was born there on Feb. 13, 1921, and received baptism at St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Prospect Heights. Her father was an accountant of German heritage; her mother, a homemaker, had Irish parents.
At age 2, Lorraine moved with her parents and older sister, Mary, to Richmond Hill, Queens where she later attended public schools, including P.S. 108, across the street from her home.
“We always went to church as a family,” Lorraine said simply, “my mother, and father, my sister, and I.”
But Msgr. Peter notes that his mother’s schooling was “completely unlike” that of her children, who went to Catholic schools.
“So,” he said, “her growth in the faith didn’t come from Catholic education in school. She learned it from her parents.”
Lorraine graduated from St. Joseph’s College in 1941 and worked in banking. On Sunday afternoons, she and Mary enjoyed visiting a Manhattan dance venue called the Carroll Club, where she met Anthony Vaccari, an artist who worked in advertising.
He was a U.S.-born son of Italian immigrants, also devout Catholics, Msgr. Peter said. Anthony and Lorraine married in April 1950 and settled in Corona, Queens. Our Lady of Sorrows Parish became their church home.
“The faith our parents practiced was so central to them,” Msgr. Peter said. “They received it from their parents, our grandparents, and then they made it central to our family life.
“We as children were really beneficiaries of a very loving home environment, where both my mother and my father focused on the Catholic faith, our family, family life, friends, and hard work.”
Lorraine said her husband, who died in 1999, set high standards for their children.
“Maybe they think he was a lot strict,” she said. “But I think he was a little strict. They had certain rules they had to follow, and they did.”
Msgr. Peter said his father wasn’t strict in the sense of being an overbearing father. Rather, he was disciplined in his walk with God, which he resolved to share with his children.
“He was a hard worker, a very dedicated father, and very spiritual,” the monsignor said. “I mean, he went to Mass every day. He organized the family around Sunday Mass. If we had a baseball or softball game, he was very involved in that, but the day started with Mass.”
Msgr. Peter fondly recalled how his mother regularly led the family in saying the rosary.
Lorraine said she marvels at how the siblings loved and cared for each other.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. “For me, it was a very happy family. I had three boys that were pretty close in age. And then I had these two little girls, the twins, who had three brothers to watch over them. And they took very good care of their sisters.”
The boys had to be on their toes, she said, because the girls, even at age 5, “were trying to be a little adventurous.”
“Those little girls would always go hand-in-hand,” their mother said. “They played in the yard, but if they decided to go out, somebody would notice and then go after them.
“They have stories that they didn’t tell me when they were in grammar school. They did little switches in a few classrooms, but I guess they never got caught because they look so much alike!”
Two Paths to Priesthood
Lorraine said it was no surprise that son Peter would pursue the priesthood. While other kids played cowboys and Indians, he pretended to be a priest.
“When he was little he used to dress up, like in the altar boys’ outfits, and drive around in the yard on a bicycle,” she said.
Apparently, his classmates also recognized the potential. When they needed someone to portray a priest in a school play, they elected Peter, he recalled with a chuckle.
“I think that my mother and my father, really right from the beginning, could see the track that was developing,” he said. “They encouraged it.
“I’m one of the few of what we refer to now as, quote, ‘lifers’ — meaning, after I finished the grammar school at Our Lady of Sorrows in Corona, I went right into the seminary system.”
The first stop was Cathedral Prep in Elmhurst, Queens — “the seminary high school.” Next, he attended the Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Douglaston, Queens, which at that time was a fully accredited college. He went on to North American College in Rome for his major seminary experience and subsequent ordination.
Msgr. Andrew followed a different path. He earned a biology degree from Fordham University, which made sense because he had a “green thumb” inspired by her father-in-law, Lorraine said.
“His grandfather would plant a whole lot of new vegetables and flowers,” she said, “and Andrew would always follow him around. To this day he still plants.”
With typical Vaccari humility, Msgr. Andrew said, “It’s a pale green thumb.”
He explained how his parents and grandparents shared a two-family home with a big backyard suited for gardening.
“We lived upstairs and they lived downstairs,” he said. “We had a big backyard. He took care of it and he let me think I was helping him. After he died, I tried to keep up some of the gardening. It was very enjoyable for me and I always liked things that grow, to care for nature.”
Msgr. Andrew became a high school biology teacher and considered careers in medicine or bio-sciences. But like his older brother, he also had an interest in the priesthood.
“Over time, this interest, this desire, cut stronger,” Msgr. Andrew said. “There were other things that I was interested in, but they didn’t endure. Eventually, I felt I was ready.”
His seminary days were spent at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington on Long Island.
“When they tell you they want to follow a certain route, and if you think it’s something that would make them happy, then you encourage them to do that,” Lorraine said. “That’s what I did with Peter and Andrew, and to this day, I’m happy they’re both priests. I’m happy with all my children.”
Msgr. Peter said his brother’s path to the priesthood was very much his own.
“He never tried to pressure me in any way about going into the seminary,” Msgr. Andrew said of his older brother. “But, he was a great example to me. He was very dedicated to his parish work.”
Both Vaccari priests held numerous positions in their careers. Before taking the helm of CNEWA in 2019, Msgr. Peter was rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y.
Msgr. Andrew noted, however, that all of his siblings encouraged his journey.
“The sense of them being happy for me was very clear and very strong,” he said. “We’re blessed with each other, really. It’s a gift from the Lord that we’ve tried to treasure, and do treasure, by working at it.”
Five Loving Children
Lorraine said she loves “getting on the computer” to catch up on the news, play games, or do research. She said her devotion to the Yankees was shared by her husband and continues to this day with Msgr. Peter.
Her other two sons, she quipped, “went astray and followed the Mets.”
“The Yankees are my second favorite team,” argued Msgr. Andrew. “If the Mets aren’t in the playoffs for the World Series, as is usually the case, I root for the Yankees. Some Mets fans would say that’s heretical, but I don’t think so.”
Divided loyalties to the local baseball teams seem to be the only point of contention in the Vaccari family. Lorraine said her greatest joy is that her children are as committed to each other now as they were when her boys watched over their baby sisters.
Many families don’t enjoy such closeness, she noted.
“I think that’s very sad,” she said. “But my children are still so good with each other. They’re still friends.
“That has made me very happy — that my five children would be friends with each other.”