By Deacon Alexander Breviario
In January of 1975, my wife Bernice and I were married by a newly ordained priest at Our Lady of Grace Church in Howard Beach. I wouldn’t say I was strong in my faith back then, but the priest that was preparing us for our marriage and performing the ceremony was very understanding. His name was Fr. John Tosi. I didn’t really know him too well, because I wasn’t what you would call a “weekend Mass regular.” However, my wife’s Catholic faith was very important to her, and back in those days if you were Catholic and you were getting married, the Church was the only acceptable option. Needless to say, Fr. John made our marriage preparation very special and much to my wife’s surprise, he didn’t scare me away.
Fast forward to the year 1990. My wife and I have two children, ages 13 and 10, with a third one on the way. The expectations of building a career, owning a home, and living the American dream had no doubt placed some challenges on our marriage. Quite honestly, we loved each other very much, and we were doing what we had to do as husband and wife for our family, but we were like two ships passing in the night. Yes, we were happily married for 15 years and we both carried out our family responsibilities, but we had somehow lost focus in our married life. At that time, it could have been the end because we were drifting apart, but God in his infinite wisdom had other plans.
As fate would have it, in 1993, I lost my job. I was out of work for 18 months. It was a tough time, to say the least, but there were lots of angels God had sent into our lives to help us. One particular set of angels, who will remain nameless, gave us the gift of a Marriage Encounter weekend for their 25th Wedding Anniversary. My wife’s first thought when they offered it to her was, “He will never say yes!” Now I can tell you for a fact, a Marriage Encounter weekend, if I had still been working, would never have happened! However, at the time, I was doing what would be called “survival work” just to bring some money into our household. My wife had taken on a few extra part-time jobs to do what she could to keep our family finances afloat. When she approached me with the idea of attending a Marriage Encounter weekend, how could I say no, especially since I was unemployed, and she was doing all she could to provide for our family? So, I somewhat reluctantly said yes.
God knew exactly what He was doing. His plan was unfolding, even without me knowing it! On that weekend, there were three presenting married couples and a priest. Who would have expected that the priest on the weekend was none other than Fr. John Tosi! We didn’t really keep in close touch over the years, and here he was on the weekend. I can’t say I fully understood what happened to me, but during the second presentation on that Friday evening, the title of which was “Focus on Feelings,” I was struck in a major way by the Holy Spirit. The rest of the weekend was a reawakening of my faith. And, again as fate would have it, during Saturday lunch as I was getting some refreshments for my wife and I, Fr. John approached and out of the blue said, “God has big plans for you!” I didn’t know what to say, and we left it at that. At the end of the weekend, my wife and I were asked to consider the possibility of becoming a presenting team for future weekends. My first thought was, what just happened, and was Fr. John’s prophesy somehow related?
From that time on, my life became much more interesting. I started attending Sunday Mass with my family that very next weekend. I became a much more active parishioner in the parish. A year later, I became an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Shortly thereafter, I joined the Men’s Ministry in a neighboring Catholic parish. My wife and I became very active in the Marriage Encounter community and we steadily rose through the ranks of being a presenting team couple. Then in 2002, I was accepted into the Diaconate program in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Five challenging years of study and, with the support and consent of my loving wife, I was ordained a deacon on May 19, 2007, by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. Wow, what a journey it has been so far, but it doesn’t end there!
Last year, out of the blue, at the start of the Season of Lent, I received a call from Msgr. Tosi. He asked me if I would consider giving a short reflection on the Wednesday night of Holy Week at his parish, St. Luke. I graciously accepted and considered it a great honor. I will admit, I was a bit nervous. However, true to form, Fr. John invited me to come early for dinner. When I arrived, he introduced me to his brother priests, we all had a wonderful dinner and I got to spend some quality time with him. After dinner, we went to the church and we prepared for the Prayer Service. Everything went as planned. The parishioners seemed receptive to my reflection and Fr. John was all smiles. Afterward, as we were un-vesting in the sacristy, he approached me with a somewhat somber look. He asked me if I would consider being the deacon at his funeral Mass since he did not have a parish deacon. I have to say I was taken by surprise by his request and without hesitation said yes, but I also said let’s not think about that future possibility too soon. Little did I know that he was being prophetic again.
On the morning of May 29th at 9:00 a.m. during this pandemic, as I watched Msgr. John Tosi’s funeral liturgy from the St. Luke Facebook site, I was struck with great sadness. My first thought was: this holy compassionate priest, a loving pastor, a wonderful lifelong friend, someone who changed my life in ways I never could have imagined, was not receiving the Funeral Mass he so diligently prepared for and so rightly deserved. Even though it wasn’t the pandemic that claimed his life, he was still a casualty of all it has taken from us. But, as I watched in my sorrow and I heard the words that were so lovingly spoken about him by all his brother priests at the liturgy, my heart was touched by the Holy Spirit. I gazed at the modest wooden casket he had selected for his final resting place amid the beauty of St. Luke’s church that he had so painstakingly remodeled. I considered the simplicity and sincerity of the funeral liturgy being celebrated in memory of his life as a priest of 47 years, and my sadness was changed to joy. I knew in my heart at that very moment Fr. John was now home in the place he knew so well, a place he preached about so eloquently, and that he was now at peace. God had welcomed him home to his eternal reward and I’m sure His words to him were, “Well done, my good and faithful one.”
Later that day as I read his obituary in The Tablet with the title, “Brooklyn Pastor Remembered For Bringing ‘People to Christ,” I thought about how he brought me to Christ and, how in many ways like Christ, he had saved me. Yes, Fr. John has brought countless people to Christ in his many years as a good, holy parish priest, but he brought me to Christ in a very special way so I can bring others to Christ because of his simple words, “God has big plans for you!”
Deacon Breviario is a permanet deacon at Our Lady of Grace Church, Howard Beach.