Diocesan News

Centenarian Happy to Be Back in the Church

American Martyrs pastor Father Frank Schwarz inducts Mary Ellen Mason, center, and centenarian Margaret Grasso, right, into the parish Rosary Society. (Photo: Michael Rizzo)
American Martyrs pastor Father Frank Schwarz inducts Mary Ellen Mason, center, and centenarian Margaret Grasso, right, into the parish Rosary Society. (Photo: Michael Rizzo)

By Michael Rizzo

Margaret Grasso is a patient woman as any 100-year old person has the right to be. And in 2016 her patience paid off as she ended her 99- year wait to return to her Catholic faith as well as her May 2 induction as a member of the American Martyrs’ Rosary Society in Bayside.

The induction ceremony, with a Mass celebrated by American Martyrs’ pastor Father Frank Schwarz, came just a week before her 100th birthday on May 9 and only few months after Grasso received the Sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation.

“My father was Catholic,” said Grasso, who lives in St. Clare’s parish, Rosedale, but attends American Martyrs because her daughter, who was also named Margaret, lived there.

Grasso grew up in St. Rita’s parish in East New York. She was baptized Catholic but raised Presbyterian by her mother and never fulfilled the Sacraments of Initiation. Grasso later married a Catholic and her daughters Carol and Margaret, who was called Midge, were both raised Catholic.

“My mother-in-law took my children to church and I helped as a parish Girl Scout leader,” she said.

But Grasso’s life changed dramatically in recent years. The 99-year old widow suffered some health issues and her daughter Midge died of cancer in 2015.

Wanted to Be Fully Catholic

Midge’s son Edward Pearce, 47, who is also an American Martyrs parishioner, said that after his mother died, “Grandma told me she wanted to be fully Catholic.”

“My daughter Midge had a lot to do with this,” Grasso said of returning to the Catholic Church. “I did it in memory of her, in honor of her. I know up in heaven she’s happy I did it.”

Midge was also a member of American Martyrs’ Rosary Society and Grasso attended meetings with her.

“Margaret came all the time with her daughter,” Rosary Society President Carol Fortune said.

“Margaret gets a lot of joy out of coming. I remember her First Communion Mass – to see the joy on her face. I hope I can be that active at her age. Even today, she baked brownies for our induction luncheon.”

Fortune returned the generosity at the event by bringing Grasso a small birthday cake topped with one candle for every 25 years of Grasso’s life.

The induction event and luncheon is one of four meetings that the Society typically holds for its 90 members each year. The meetings include discussions on issues of faith or raising funds to care for the church’s altar including the altar linens.

At the end of the induction ceremony, Father Schwarz told the approximately 30 women who attended about Grasso’s return to the Church and her upcoming milestone birthday. He asked her to describe what the parish means to her.

It took her a minute to finally hear him but then she simply said, “Every church should be like this one.”

Her grandson said those feelings stem from the support the parish provided his mother when she was ill with cancer.

Happy to Be Fellow Inductee

Mary Ellen Mason was inducted into the Society along with Grasso. Mason said she didn’t know the 99- year old before the ceremony but is happy to be a fellow inductee.

“These women are so loving and caring,” Mason said of the Society. “It feels great to be a member and be more a part of the parish.”

Grasso plans to continue attending Society meetings and American Martyrs. Her grandson often acts as her driver or family friend Pat Wilson drives from Holy Family parish in Canarsie to take Grasso to church.

Grasso’s family celebrated her 100th birthday with a party but it wasn’t a surprise.

“You don’t surprise a 100-year old woman,” her grandson said, and added that she wanted an iPhone for her birthday. And what does Grasso want when it comes to getting more involved in her faith?

“I’d love a book that explains all the parts of the Mass and the rosary,” she said.

And how does she feel now that she’s a Rosary Society inductee and has been given the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation?

She answered without hesitation, “I’m beginning to feel that I belong.”