The Boy in a Uniform

The Boy in a Uniform

My new parish in Georgia advertised a Life Chain event for the first Sunday in October. Their assembly corner was just 200 yards from my home. I interpreted this proximity as God’s Divine Providence knocking on my door. This was my first active protest in about seven years. There were about 30-35 people there, mostly women. I took up my placard, which read Prolife was Pro-women and took a place on Johnson Ferry Rd. 

One of the women next to me during our hour vigil mentioned something about believing in God’s Providence. My life has been just one Hand of God’s action after another. Some of this has already been recounted in an essay for this publication six years ago. This essay serves as an update as the sounds of Providence have never stopped beating in my life.

My first introduction to Catholic education took place in early September of 1949. I would not leave a Catholic classroom for 22 years. My first memory was being left alone in the school’s corridor and this long, disembodied black arm appeared out of nowhere and snatched me into my first-grade classroom at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, Queens.

During my eight years at Queen of Martyrs, with no teacher other than a habited nun, I became friends with two fellows from my neighborhood. Doug was a year older and Gerry a year younger. For four years my father drove us to school every weekday. When Doug graduated, he chose to go to Xavier H.S., a Jesuit school, which then had Junior ROTC for all of its 1000 male students. 

I would eat breakfast every morning in my parents’ bedroom, overlooking the street below. This provided me with an excellent vantage point to watch Doug, march below me on his way to the subway. It is hard to explain but something clicked in my soul over the course of those many mornings. I decided I wanted to literally follow in Doug’s marching footsteps. Many years later, I realized that this had to be the Hand of God at work in my life. Doug was the my first of many messengers of grace in my life. Each messenger would play an instrumental role in shaping my destiny.

(Granted that my forebears all had experiences that would affect me, but this was my first conscious recognition.)

My future has also been laced with several obstacles, a veritable minefield of disappointment. The entrance test for Xavier was part of a cooperative exam where we had to list our first three choices in order of preference. Xavier was my first choice but for some unknown reason they rejected my application. I was devastated. During a Lenten Mission at our Church, a number of school alumni paraded around in their maroon and blue school Xavier jackets. I was so jealous it was palpable. It was arguably the worst few days of my yet young life. 

What had upset me most was that of the boys accepted from our school, at least half had lower grades than I did. Things changed drastically that Friday. One of the fellows already accepted, told me that while he was home eating lunch, my father had called him about Xavier. It seems that for some reason, the school had changed its mind and I was accepted into the Class of 1961. I found out later that my saintly Aunt “Mal” had asked her good friend Father Joseph Connors at St. Francis Church, the parish where my high school was to intercede for me. 

Thanks to these two major Messengers of Grace, my future life was set that afternoon. Everything else would flow from that dramatic change. Doug graduated in 1960. I followed him to the Cross the next year where I met Father John Sullivan of the Catholic Lay Extension in freshman year. By senior year I had decided to join. 

Of course, they didn’t take everybody. I had to take one of the standardized tests, called the MMPI. This stands for the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, developed in 1940. I remember it had, what to me were several nonsensical questions, such as Would you rather read a book or pick daisies?

Apparently, I did not do very well, because I got called to the College’s Psychologist’s office. In a very stern way, he questioned my rightness for Extension. Nothing came of his lack of a recommendation because I was later told I should report to Barat College of the Sacred Heart in Chicago near the end of August for three days of training. 

What a wonderful experience those three days provided. We were 330 young, enthusiast college graduates, mostly women and from Catholic schools, who prayed, laughed and sang hymns together. It was exhilarating. I think there were only 30 men among the volunteers. 

One of my fellow volunteers was a shy, reticent redhead who only lived a few miles from my home in Forest Hills. We had inadvertently met on a boat ride as part of a weekend at the College of New Rochelle a few months before. By some stroke of destiny, her roommate had been my blind date. As she looked over the boat’s rail, Barbara had exuded a mysterious aura that easily seared my imagination. 

Again, there still was screening. My favorite test, the MMPI, was on our schedule. This time, I tried to fudge my answers to this annoying test. This resulted in another visit to the Psychologist’s office. I was summarily told that I and some others were being washed out.  

One other man, named Tony, had really impressed with his charism and leadership ability. He had been slated to work in an inner city. He was also on this list. I would have followed him anywhere and they were washing him out? 

Thus began one of the lowliest nights in my yet young life. This was much worse than that mission four years prior. I remember reclining on a park bench in a misty rain, trying to figure out my future. With the Vietnam War heating up, I knew I would be classified 1-A. My back-up plan for that was to enlist in the Navy. As I hopelessly lay there, Father Wally Ellinger quietly approached me. He was our Missouri director, responsible for all the Missouri volunteers. My departure would leave a big hole in his Volunteer structure. 

He told me that he had talked with the psychologist. I was not crazy or mentally ill. The test characterized me as an individualist, sort of a lone wolf. Extension wanted team players and people who would not questions things, I am assuming. I tend to question almost everything. He said he showed the psychologist a letter I had written him earlier in the summer that said I would wash dishes, do anything they wanted me to do in Charleston, Missouri.

This must have persuaded them because when our car left the next day, I was in it with Ernie Marquart, an experienced teacher from New Jersey and seven years my senior. Without Ernie, I doubt if I would ever have survived the culture shock of going from a city of eight million to a small town of just 5911. 

Another person, who helped me through this, was the girl from the boat ride. We had exchanged addresses for our Extension respective posts in Chicago. Barbara was in Wiggins, Mississippi. When things got very difficult, our phone calls and letters really helped us get through the nights. During our mutual furlough at Christmas in New York, we saw each other every night. I remember our seeing Barbra Streisand’s last performance of Funny Girl, followed by Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. New Year’s Eve brought us closer as we really seemed to bond that night. Something was going on between us. I had strong thoughts that she just might be the ONE.

Then I met Judy O’Rourke, one of the few nurses in Charleston. We started dating in February. She had a ring two months later and were married on August 27th, the anniversary of the day Ernie drove his station wagon on to the St. Henry’s Church parking lot. I, not only married Judy and her extensive family but also the town of Charleston as well.

We were married for just over 50 years. We had three children, who gave us four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, who was born five years after Judy died in October of 2016. At three or four family gatherings each year, when there were 11-12 of us at most, I usually would remind everyone during our Grace, that if Judy and I had never met, seven of them (now eight) would never have existed. 

When the dark loneliness set in, I had to try dating again. I tried virtually every route, including a Catholic dating service. I went out with new and old friends, whose ages ranged from 54-73. I knew I would not marry a divorcee without a proper annulment. Again, it was God’s Divine Providence that led me to an Italian widow of 19 years.

My tailor’s sister set me up with a blind date. I think I knew the first moment she walked into the restaurant that she could be the ONE. I truly believe I heard the sonorous tones of opera singer, Enzio Pinza sing Some enchanted evening you will see a stranger… from across the crowded room. Anna Maria Bommarito was just seven months my junior. She had a ring in 13 weeks, one more than Judy had to wait. We were married on the Epiphany almost five years ago.

Judy had always told me I should have married an Italian because I love their cuisine so much. Anna and her family used to own a restaurant on the Hill, one of the best restaurant enclaves in the country. But there has been so much more to Anna than food. I not only married her family but the island of Sicily as well.

I never forgot Barbara. Several years ago, just before Extension celebrated our 50th anniversary, I got her email address from their directory and we exchanged emails for years. These correspondence helped to bolster each other’s spirits as we had during our service. At the age of 54, she had married a deacon in the Catholic Church who had lost his wife. After Judy died my younger son and I had dinner with them in Manhattan. She still had that mysterious quality about her. I know we both had always remembered each other in our prayers. Anna and I saw them for lunch twice in Naples. When she died, earlier this year, I considered her as another lost messenger.

Since Anna and I are getting older, the ravages of age are constantly lurking at our front door. Anna’s youngest child, Mary Grace asked me if I would ever consider moving closer to their home in Roswell, Georgia in 2019. After COVID and a flooded basement in 2020, St. Louis had lost its appeal for me. I reasoned that a move to a warmer climate would be good for us. I just love the Georgia pine trees. We just moved into a new home that has taxed all our energies but like everything else, I see the Providence of God at work in all of this. 

Anna had wanted to build a home in Naples, Florida. Both of us had been going there separately for many years. We both love Naples, enough to own a condo now, as Anna has enclaves of Italian friends there. I do not want to live in Florida year-round because of the constant threat of hurricanes. Ian’s liquid fury there recently just reenforced that belief. The Condo, about 200 yards from the Gulf, was completely intact but that cannot be said of our 2018 SUV, which had been submerged in six feet of Gulf waters. So be it. 

To think all this has happened to me because I started watching a boy in a uniform walk past my window almost 66 years ago. As the late New York Mets pitcher, Tug McGraw (Tim’s dad) said in 1973, You gotta believe! I still do!

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Written by
William Borst