by Deacon Jim Stahlnecker
Chapter - 1
Do you think that our Blessed Mother just might have had something to do with my birth?
My grandfather abandoned my grandmother and my father when he was very young. My grandmother was a waitress who worked at the various vacation resorts depending on the season of the year. Since she could not bring my father with her, she put him in foster homes.
In one of the homes he was terribly abused whereby, In today’s environment, the foster parents would be put in jail Eventually, my father, Lawrence was placed in a Catholic Home for boy’s in downtown Brooklyn ( St John’s Home ) Eventually, he went on his own and worked at various menial jobs since he did not finish High school.
He met my mother Rita Fisher, at a dance and they eventually married. My father was so grateful to Our Blessed Mother Mary for meeting my mother and joining a loving family that he made a vow to say the rosary every day of his life.
He made this vow back in the 1930’s and fulfilled his commitment to Our Blessed Mother by saying the rosary every day of his life until his death at 93 in December of 2005.
I did not know this until a week before he died when I asked him why he was always saying the rosary My mother and Father moved in with my mother’s father Harry Fisher and my Aunts and uncles because they did not have enough money to have their own place. Incidentally, my two uncles were star Athletes.
My uncle Red, Harry Fisher Junior, went on to be a star quarterback for Williams College in Massachusetts, before becoming a bomber pilot in the Pacific Theater of WW Two. He then became an FBI Agent, working for J Edger Hoover My uncle Bob Fisher, was a star Basketball player for Seton Hall.
He shared the backcourt with All American Bob Davies on Seton Hall teams that won 43 straight games before Losing to LIU in the second round of Seton Hall’s first trip to The National Invitation Tournament In 1941 at Madison Square Garden. He later was voted into the Seton Hall Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.
After college he served as a naval officer in the South Pacific and had a very successful career as a salesman. Fast forward to June 1939, My mother was seven month’s pregnant with me when she had a hemorrhage. She was rushed to St Mary’s hospital in Brooklyn.
I almost died but they did a C Section which was very rare in those day’s Lo and behold it worked and though severely underweight, I survived I leave it up to you but DO YOU THINK THAT OUR BLESSED MOTHER JUST MIGHT HAVE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH MY BIRTH?
Chapter - 2
My father taking me on a tour of the Battleship Missouri during World War-II
It is now during World War-II Not with-standing that, though extremely thin and sickly, I felt very secure with my family in my house on East 28th Street in Brooklyn.
What were some of the sights and sounds of my early childhood starting with the fact that our country was at war, Black out curtains, Ration Stamps, Search Lights in the Sky, Hearing the Big Guns at Fort Tildon that could shoot far out to sea.
A very busy Floyd Bennett Field
My two uncles coming home on leave at the same time
Going with them to Grand Central Station and how crowded it was
Watching my mother pack cookies in boxes to send to my uncles who were stationed in the Pacific Theater
My uncle Red coming home at the end of the war with his Bomber Jacket on (He was a Bomber pilot in the China Burma Theater)
Watching the Brooklyn Eagle Interview him and taking pictures in the living room with my brother John on his lap.
Getting a tent for my birthday and playing War games with George Eder and other friends. We put the tent in a vacant lot next to my house
Planting a Victory Garden in the lot including a Peach tree
Taking the IRT Subway to Times Square for VJ Day
My father taking me on a tour of the Battleship Missouri
Going to Coney Island once a year via the BMT Elevator line
Smelling the sea air and the smells of food when we reached Stilwell Ave
Going on the rides
I thought that this place was fantastic
Getting my Hot Dog and Fries at Nathan!’s
Taking the Green Bus Line to Riis Park
The smell of sand and suntan lotion when I got on the bus
Eating sandwiches on our blanket
Watching the soft ball games
Getting terrible sun burns
Starting up our 1929 Studer-baker which was on blocks during the war
Chapter - 3
The Center of our Lives – Brooklyn was the World
Below you will see what it was like to grow up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s.
However, it was not all “Camelot “
Father Henry Churchill, our pastor was very authentarian.
Remember because of my birth at seven month’s I was extremely thin and was very self-conscious of the fact to the extent that I did not want to appear in prayer public especially at a beach.
In the fourth grade, I was appointed as an altar boy. Incidentally one of the senior altar boys was Vincent Breen, who many years later, would have a major effect on my life.
One Sunday, when I was serving the 11 AM Mass with Father Churchill, out of nowhere, he told me to get off of the altar. I went into a state of shock.
I was later told that the reason for his action was that I did not handle the cruet in the proper way (I did not hold it by the handle and therefore obstructed his view as to how much water and wine was left in the cruet.)
Having the huge inferiority complex that I had because of my weight, this shattered my self-confidence and it took many years to regain it.
This Segment of “The Rest of the Story Spans the period of time Sept 1945 to June 1953 with the Center of my family’s life OLHC.
I will try to convey what it was like growing up in a Catholic Family, in a Catholic Parish, in a magical place called BROOKLYN also known as CAMELOT.
I will relate my tale, using the seasons of the year and the days of the week as my guideposts.
It all began on a Monday morning in September of 1945, a few days before or after the surrender of the Japanese Empire on the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Lo, it was a dreaded day for me, The first day of School at OLHC. Being terrified, I got on a line outside of the church for an opening mass and God only knows what would happen after that.
Thanks be to God, I had this wonderful nun, Sister Rita Margaret, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, as my first-grade teacher.
She was very gentle and kind and I got through my first day.
After that things began to fall into a routine based on the day of the week.
My Aunt Virginia Fisher (Two years older than I) and I would walk the block to School.
We would come home for lunch where my mother would have a hot lunch for us. On Monday it was usually the leftovers from our Sunday meal.
Kate Smith was on the Radio.
Thursday’s was my favorite day for lunch as we would get Hot Dogs.
After school was playtime where I started to bond with my classmates, some of whom would become lifetime friends.
Our main games depended on the season. In September we would be playing slap ball, two hand touch football, stickball etc.
We would climb over the fence of PS 193 for the stickball games. I remember Charlie Ingulli being a great home run hitter.
Incidentally, his home was the first place that I ever smelled Italian food.
In the early 50’s, I would have my first pizza at Luigi’s on Flatbush Ave.
The movie Theaters that we went to were mainly the Nostrand, The Marine, the Brook and the College as we got older our radius would move out to the Avalon, Kingsway, Elm etc.
We had a Movie Guide in the Kitchen with ratings we had to check it before going to the movies.
Monday night’s we attended The miraculous medal novena.
I loved the smell of the candles and incense in the Church.
On Wednesday afternoons we would go to Benediction in the church.
Friday nights would be fish night at our house.
Almost always we would have baked Macaroni and fish cakes.
Saturday afternoons was confession time.
Most of us tried to avoid the pastor, Father Churchill, who could be tough at times.
Sunday, I would go to the 9am mass, the children’s mass. Almost everyone walked to church.
We would have our main meal about 1pm on Sunday and sandwiches at night.
The whole family ate in the kitchen with Virginia and I having a little table in a corner of the kitchen.
The adults would do the dishes.
Almost everyone slept with someone else due to Space considerations.
This being September my parents would buy grapes and we would can them.
September was also Notre Dane football time and I would always listen to them on the radio.
The last radio program that I would listen to on Sunday night was The Lux Radio Theater.
During the week it was the Lone Ranger, Tom MiX, captain Midnight etc.
In October we would listen to the World Series on radio, then on small TV’s.
The nuns would put the games on the loudspeaker at school and we would run home to listen to the rest of the game.
October was also time to take down the screens, and put up the storm windows, roll up the draw carpets and put down the regular carpets for the winter.
Halloween was a time for trick or treat.
One year a neighbor gave me X Lax and I thought it was candy I found out the hard way.
Thanksgiving was always a great time with all of the aunts and uncles coming over for dinner.
After dinner, we would listen to the 78 RPM records.
One year my father took my aunt Virginia and I to the parade in Manhattan and We visited the H and H Automatic for the first time.
This time of the year we would play street hockey and basketball in my back yard and my next door neighbors back yard (George Eder) who was in my class.
I liked playing in his yard because the rim was lower and I could dunk the basketball.
Regarding the street hockey I remember someone accidentally knocking Ed Morresy’s front tooth out.
Getting ready for Christmas was an adventure.
My mother would take us to A & S in downtown.
Brooklyn. Just like in the movie “A Christmas Story, “they had a Toyland where we would see Santa and receive a present.
Also, I liked to go downtown because my mother would buy me a hot dog and orange drink at Nedick’s.
My grandfather would take us to buy a Christmas tree at Rendars on Ave L and Nostrand Ave. They would always argue over the price.
Incidentally, Louie’s candy store was also there.
I think that he and his wife had concentration camp Tattoo ‘s on their arm.
I still remember getting cold soda’s out of the ice bin.
He also had a legion of Decency Sign in his door and he would never put out objectionable magazines.
He would close about 2pm on Sunday.
There was also a deli at that location.
I still remember asking for 25 cents worth of ham etc.
Getting back to Christmas, my parents and grandfather would not decorate the tree or put out the presents until we went to bed, which made Christmas morning even more exciting.
I believed in Santa Claus and did not see them decorate until I attended my first midnight mass in the Choir at OLHC.
During the winter month’s we always prayed for snow and would listen to John Gambling on the radio for the school closings.
Early spring brought Lent.
I remember the statues being covered, receiving mite boxes etc.
Holy Week was always special.
Mass Thurs evening
Good Friday Three Hour Devotion
End of Lent at noon Saturday
One-year Virginia and I received live chickens.
My father built a chicken coop in the back yard.
Eventually neighbors complained and George Elders Father had to slaughter them.
Virginia and I saw him doing it through the cellar window.
We almost died when we had to eat them.
Now, it is May. I always loved the May processions.
When June started, we could not wait for the last day of school.
I remember cleaning the Blackboards etc. at school.
Summer also brought the chance to go to Ebbitt’s Field. We would bring sandwiches for lunch.
Those were the days when BROOKLYN WAS THE WORLD.
Chapter - 4
Traumatic period of my Life, but it was just part of God’s plan for me
This was a very traumatic period of my life, but it was just part of God’s plan for me. This part of my reflections actually begins the eighth grade of OLHC.
We had to take tests for Catholic High School’s.
Usually two of the boy’s would be chosen to attend the diocesan high school, St Augustine.
One of the boys was me. This was one of the crossroads in my life where, although I did not know it at the time, this event would have a huge impact on my later life.
Continuing the story, I never failed a subject in OLHC, but I would be hopeless in the advanced forms of math such as Algebra, Geometry, Calculus etc.
This fact. would have a huge effect in two future crossroads of my later life that I am so happy that that this defect actually was critical as to where I stand today.
I knew that I was very out of my league from the beginning of my stay at St A’s.
Before I go into the details, I did enjoy playing on the freshman and JV Basketball teams.
Although very thin, because of my birth, at that time I was the same height I am today but weighed only 130 pounds I was, however, good in basketball I loved playing for St A’s, especially the road trips.
In my freshman year we had a great varsity which included stars like Pete Brennan.
It was great, just watching them play.
I remember, one time in practice making thirty five foul shots in a row.
By the way, I played against Charlie Ingulli when we played Brooklyn Prep.
Getting back to the academics, at the end of my second year, I was left back, which was to date the most humiliating event so far in my life. I remember how disappointed my parents were.
In the long run, however my being left back would be a great blessing as I met two guys that would become tremendous friends and it paved the way for me getting into Fordham which you will see later.
Eventually things got far worse. At the end of my Junior year, I had to withdraw because of the math, and I went to Midwood. H S where I was able to work on Wall Street after school. I graduated in January 1958 which was a great blessing in disguise.
I had applied to Fordham in the off year and requested a delayed start to September 1958.
This was a blessing because I did not have to take the SAT’s which, if I had, I would never have been accepted in Fordham (Math).
I went to the downtown branch of Fordham during the day and worked after classes on Wall Street for DeCoppet and Doremus , later at Guaranty Trust.
In my senior year at Fordham, I applied to be an officer in the Air Force. I was all set to go up to Stewart Air Force Base up state.
I had my railroad tickets and all the forms in a sealed envelope. Here is where my deficiency in math had a major positive effect on my later life.
I had one last step in the process which was to take an IQ test at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and after the results were reviewed, I was told that I was not accepted (again Math).
I then chose to push up my draft and found myself at Fort Dix, a month after graduation.
Dan Garde graduated the same day and was Sworn in as an officer in the Army at our graduation ceremony on June 13th, 1962 at Rose Hill.
Dan would eventually distinguish himself by becoming a Green Baret and Company Commander in Vietnam.
I eventually was assigned to Fort Bliss Texas. This was critical in that in 1964, I had the fateful meeting with the old woman in Juarez Mexico with my cigar box filled with extra money that I accumulated over the past two years.
Stay tuned for Part Five of “The Rest of the Story”.
Chapter - 5
It was the end of the era when “Brooklyn was the World”.
In this segment, you are going to see the defining moment in my life when I met the Old Lady in Juarez.
This period of time starts in 1958 when I entered Fordham University.
I went to the downtown branch at 302 Broadway.
The classes were 8am to 1pm. I then went to work in the financial district, DeCoppet and Doremus. Bill Lyon’s dad had gotten me the part time job there when I was attending Midwood Higol. I worked until 9pm.
The time went by very quickly.
During this time, a huge event was in process that would significantly change all of our lives forever. It was the end of the era when “Brooklyn was the World.”
As we know the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1957. Maybe that was an Omen because Robert Moses was significantly extending the highway system and we were able to purchase cars (Mostly Used) and now our geographic area was limitless.
Now we could go upstate, to Bear Mountain, Lake George etc. and to Long Island for trips to Hempstead State Park, Belmont State Park, my Uncle George’s house in Babylon etc.
Also, we would go to Drive In Movies and nightclubs on Sunrise Highway etc.
It was a glorious time.
I met a girl Julie Mooney, who was finishing Bishop McDonald High School and I fell madly in love. That lasted a few years during my time at Fordham.
The significance of attending Fordham was that the Theology and Philosophy Courses solidified and strengthened my belief in our Catholic Faith. The Jesuits were fantastic.
After receiving my degree on June 13th, 1962 at Rose Hill, I went directly into the Army and as I previously mentioned in Part Four, I was stationed for two years at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.
I loved the southwest. It was an entirely new world for me. I had an easy job in the Classification and Assignment area as Fort Bliss was the home of a Hawk Missile Training School.
My Friend from DeCoppet and Doremus, Gene Guarinii was assigned there shortly after me for missile training school. I was able to change his ultimate assignment to stay with me there as an instructor rather than going to Korea.
We had a great time for the next two years.
The natural beauty of the area is fantastic with the southern part of the Rocky Mountains right there Because another friend of mine brought his car down there from Rochester, New York, we had “Wheels“ and were able to make a lot of trips to New Mexico ex Carlsbad Cavern’s, Mexico, veven a two-week trip to California.
All of these experiences, were totally insignificant compared with my life changing experience the day before I came home in Jne 1964.
As I mentioned in a previous reflection, it was our routine to go down to Juarez Mexico, on Saturday night’s for dinner and drinks. During those visits, I was horrified at the poverty of some of the people living in shacks, dressed in rag’s etc.
Early on, I made a plan to save all of my spare change and put it in a cigarette box in my locker. On the day before my release from active service I took my cigar box with over five hundred dollars in it to Juarez to give it to a very poor person.
I eventually found myself in the square in front of the Cathedral. Sitting there was an old woman, literally dressed in rag’s.
I approached her, without directly looking at her, bowed to her and gently placed the cigar box in front of her. I immediate left, still without directly looking at her.
I truly believe that primarily due to the holiness of my father, especially his total dedication to Our Blessed Mother (Daily Rosary from the mid 1930’s until December 23rd, 2005, the day of his passing into heaven, that I was led to that encounter with the old lady (CHRIST).
I think that all of the twists and turns of my life from my miraculous birth were predecessor to bring me to that place, at that point of time.
All because of my father, who I have no doubt is now Saint Lawrence.
As I proceed with my recollections, you will see that there are far too many uncanny events that unfolded in my life to credit it to chance.
As the Catholic Chaplin told my dear friend, Vincent Immitt, after his thirty fifth mission on a B17, flying over France and Germany in World War Two, “Vincent, Nothing in this world is due to chance. God has a Plan for Everyone.”
Chapter - 6
I applied for the Diaconate and was accepted to the program for the Archdiocese of New York
After finishing my military service, I entered the financial services industry where I spent most of my time with Merrill Lynch.
I previously mentioned the defining moment of my life where I gave money to the very poor.
woman in Juarez Mexico while in the Army. It was about 500 dollars.
During my time at Merrill Lynch, I married my wife Jean and moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island.
We were married on December 16th, 1972 and eventually had three children, Jim Jr., Joseph and Eileen.
What I did not know when we were married was that My wife had a bipolar disorder and that it would cause both of us much stress over the years.
In fact, it almost caused me not to become a Deacon.
Part of the diaconate formation involved both yourself and your wife being interviewed. separately by a psychiatrist. This was in the third year of my formation.
Because of the disorder, and my own problem with avoiding confrontation sometimes, we would go for a week not speaking with one another.
Unfortunately, this was the week of the interview. We drove all the way up to St Joseph’s Seminary, not speaking with one another. I thought that she would say something about this in the interview and I would be asked to leave the program Thank God, she was very supportive of me in both the interview together and her individual interview.
I spent the last 16 years of my career at ML as a Vice President reporting to the Director of World Wide Operations. Part of my job was to handle any operational problems that Merrill Lynch had anywhere in the world which involved a lot of traveling.
I also handled interfacing with local charitable and Social Service organizations as part of a Community Outreach for Merrill Lynch.
We moved to Jersey City from Manhattan in 1992 (Just across the Hudson River).
Our building was right next to the River.
My boss asked me to get involved with the York Street Project which was adjacent to our building.
The organization run by the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace ran a residence for abused women and their children. They also had a baby-sitting program for the children so that the mothers could finish school and get jobs. I was appointed to their Board of Directors.
Merrill Lynch was a big supporter of the United Way where all of their employees were encouraged to make donations to them.
I devised my own plan where I would bring five or six of our executives over to the YSP for a tour and then ask them to allocate their United Way Donations to The York Street Project.
This along with using Merrill Lynch’s facilities to run Fund Raising Events for them resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the YSP.
I also went to daily Mass at St Peters Church which was a few blocks from our building.
I usually acted as a lector at the noon mass.
I also raised funds for their grammar school.
Once I had the executives from Goldman Sacks paint their school as part of a day of service for their firm.
Going back to 1988, my pastor at St Mary of the Assumption, on Staten Island was encouraging me to become a deacon as I was very involved with the church.
Here is where miraculous things started to happen.
I told you that I had to do a lot of traveling as part of my job but at the urging of my wife, and an inner yearning I applied for the Diaconate and was accepted to the program for the Archdiocese of New York. My thought was I would start in the program and leave the rest up to Jesus and Mary.
I had to go up to St Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers two nights a week from 7pm to 10 pm.
I would arrive home around 11:30 Pm on those nights and had to be in work at 7:00 am the following morning. My wife would come with me when she could (She taught CCD at St Mary’s).
We would bring our daughter Eileen with us (She was 11 years old when I started the program) the seminarians would help her with her homework while my wife and I were in class.
In 1988, my first year of formation, I was the President of a financial industry organization and had Cardinal John O’Connor come down and talk at a dinner sponsored by the Organization and we donated the proceeds to his Inner-City Scholarship Fund.
When we were sitting on the dais, I was telling the Cardinal how much I enjoyed the class on Spirituality which was given by Father John Paddok (Not sure of spelling) who later became the principal at Msg Farrell High School on Staten Island.
I think what impressed me so much with that class, was the need to find quite time sometime during the day to converse with the Lord.
I would eventually find that time very early in the morning and has been my practice from that time on.
Getting back to Cardinal O’ Connor, I told him that the book assigned to us to read was “ Behind Closed Doors “ He mentioned that he had to read the same book when he was a seminarian in Philadelphia and that it was very important to find that quiet time every day.
Chapter - 7
I rushed upstairs to show it to Jean and was greeted with the shock of my life.
It is now August 15th of 1991, the Feast of The Assumption of Mary into Heaven.
Miraculously, I was only three months from my ordination, which was scheduled for November 23rd at St Patrick’s Cathedral with Cardinal O’Connor as the officiant.
My wife and I were planning for an ordination party and we were preparing invitations.
It was a hot summer day and Jean was reading up in our bedroom which was the only room in our house that had air condition.
I changed my clothes and went downstairs to check my mail. Which included the monthly edition of Catholic New York, the newspaper of our archdiocese. Lo and behold, it contained a letter to the editor that I wrote, my first ever. I rushed upstairs to show it to Jean and was greeted with the shock of my life.
Jean was dead, from a massive heart attack.
Needless to say, I was in the state of shock.
I called my sister Mary Anne who lived in Manhattan and she immediately drove to Staten Island with her husband who was a doctor.
He filled out the death certificate etc.
Now, I had to tell my children. I was especially Worried about my daughter Eileen, now 15 years old. Jean had drove her to her part time job at the Staten Island Mall, just a half hour before.
I tried to tell her of her mother’s death as gently as possible, but she was totally devastated because Jean was not only her mother but also her best friend.
I was in a daze for the next week, but I had to make all of the arrangements.
Cardinal O’Connor called me to offer his condolences.
November 23rd arrived, and my family was placed in the first row at St Pat’s.
The Cardinal spoke beautifully about Jean and my children brought up the gifts.
I began my life as a deacon and sole provider of the family.
For the next few years my diaconate life flourished.
Part of what I did was to lead a First Friday All Night Prayer Service for Life at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church.
I would occasionally take off from work that Friday to get some rest prior to the All Night Vigil.
On one occasion, my son Joseph’s girlfriend who was Jewish, asked me to have a cup of coffee with her as she had to discuss something with me.
We went to Perkins on Forest Ave.
All of a sudden, she started to cry and said that Joe took her to have an abortion. It was the same clinic in Brooklyn that I did Sidewalk Counseling at.
My mind could not come to grasp how Satan did this to me.
Eventually, with the help of an Augustinian Priest, Father Gus Sandmann and Jane Thompson.
I forgave my son. He and his Jewish girlfriend broke off.
On another First Friday, I picked up the phone and heard a message for Eileen. It was a doctor’s office asking her to contact them about her pregnancy. Satan strikes Again.
Eileen was five month’s pregnant but was afraid to tell me. The father was an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala.
Chapter - 8
I consider myself the luckiest man in the world and I would not change a minute of my life
Eileen gave birth to Christopher and she and the father Marco eventually married and Marco became a citizen of the United States. He is a good family man and they now have four children
- Christopher 21
- Alexandra. 16
- Brian and Joseph. Twins 13
They live with me in a duplex House.
Joseph married a girl from New Jersey, Krysta.
They have two boys and a girl.
The marriage did not work out and they got a divorce. Both of them remarried and Joe now lives in North Carolina with his 2nd wife Leslie and a son Joseph Jr and a daughter Kayla who his first wife had by a previous marriage.
My son Jim Jr married and lives with his wife and two boys in North Carolina.
Both boys live in Charlotte and work for Bank of America.
As you can see from my resignation letter to Cardinal Dolan, for health reasons, my 25 years as a Deacon has been blessed beyond my wildest dreams including coordinating a nonpolitical national prayer campaign for the 2016 elections and the present national prayer mission for the Spread of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration.
In 2005. I had stage seven prostate cancer but survived after removal of my prostate gland.
Today, as Lou Gehrig said back in 1939, I consider myself the luckiest man in the world and I would not change a minute of my life and I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I owe ALL MY BLESSINGS TO MY FATHER’S FULFILLING HIS VOW TO OUR BLESSED MOTHER MARY by saying ten decades of the rosary every day of his life from the mid 1930’s to his entry into the eternal wedding feast on December 23rd, 2005.
Mother Mary rewarded him through ME.