Because of a Catholic friendship born in a Bronx public school, a young Jewish man in White Plains and a Marist brother staying at Mount St. Michael Academy, a chalice honoring my father is on its way to the Philippines. Like the handing down of our tradition itself, this precious vessel has passed through many hands to spread the faith. Its tale is a testament to the way my father lived his life for others—and it is a story of Catholic New York.
The chalice’s story begins with the death in October of my father, Anthony Bellitto, a lifelong parishioner at Holy Rosary in the Bronx. By coincidence, his boyhood friend was in town. My dad had met Bob McGovern at P.S. 97 on Mace Avenue. Now a Marist Brother, Bob McGovern is rarely in the United States, having spent most of his career in education in the Philippines since the 1960s. They were joined all those years ago at P.S. 97 by my uncle, now retired Auxiliary Bishop Robert Brucato, who was a year behind them. Eventually, the bishop’s sister Joan met Anthony and they married in 1957 in a ceremony Bishop Brucato witnessed.
Whenever Brother McGovern came home from the Philippines, he always visited with my father. This time, those visits were during Dad’s last days at that sacred space called Calvary Hospital. He was able to attend the Funeral Mass, celebrated by Bishop Brucato, and was staying at Mount St. Michael Academy when he learned that my cousins had bought a chalice to honor my father as their uncle.
It was my mother’s idea to send the chalice back to a needy Philippines parish with Brother McGovern, given their long friendship. Our eldest cousin Christine considered her Uncle Anthony to be her father. She organized the group gift, but had left the chalice in her Westchester home and was in Florida. My mother lamented: how could we get it to Brother McGovern?
Enter a fine young Jewish man named Aaron, Christine’s stepson. Aaron had come to our home every Christmas Eve for my parents’ signature gathering. Christine’s mother (my father’s sister Terry Ann) had gathered everyone on Christmas Eve, but after Aunt Terry Ann’s early death just two days after Christmas in 1970, my parents picked up her tradition.
Dad made pizzas and the evening was one long open house crowned by midnight Mass. When Aaron came into Christine’s life, my father taught him how to make those pizzas. Aaron’s been doing it ever since: first helping my father and then, when the party became a bit too much for my parents, at Christine’s house. She continues a tradition going back through my father to her mother.
Aaron has a key to Christine’s house. He picked up the chalice and brought it to my mother in the Bronx. Aaron told her how important my father had been in his life and how welcome he’d felt in that Catholic Bronx home. Making pizzas with him on Christmas Eve had been a highlight of every year, Aaron said, and he was proud to continue that tradition.
This Christmas Eve, somewhere in the Philippines, a parish will celebrate Jesus’ birth with my father’s chalice. In Westchester, my mother will enjoy my father’s pizza made by Aaron’s hands. And our many traditions will once again be passed on.