by Morgan A. Pino
My father died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage when I was eighteen years old, and I never had the chance to say goodbye to him while he was conscious. The son of Sicilian Catholic immigrants from a small and mostly unknown town called Racalmuto, he always wanted me to go to law school, as he had. But he never got to see me graduate from college or law school, and I couldn’t turn to him as an adult when I needed advice about what to do with my life. So for a while I did the best I could, praying for my dad’s intercession and guidance. I went to law school in New York and accepted a job as summer associate at a big law firm between my second and third years.
Somehow—I now see it was providential—on my first day of work I wound up in the office of Gerald J. Russello, a law partner at my new firm by day and the esteemed editor of the University Bookman by night. Though the window of Gerald’s Midtown office overlooked a tower of screens in Times Square in the distance, the place was full of books: filling the shelves, piled high on his desk, and climbing up the walls in stacks on the floor. My eyes were immediately drawn to the spine of an old book I recognized: a big volume on the history of our law firm, a book my now-husband had purchased for me.
But as I scanned the room, I saw something else: some sort of memento from the Festa di Maria SS. del Monte, an annual parade and festival honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary in Racalmuto, Sicily. I had never met anyone else—aside from my own relatives—who were from Racalmuto, but here I was, sitting in the office of a paesano, a Racalmutese lawyer-dad like mine. A sense of calm came over me, and I seemed to feel my own father’s presence in the room, as if he were standing next to me and had for some reason led me to Gerald.
In the years to come Gerald became a dear friend and mentor who taught me how to be a lawyer. I worked closely with him on countless matters as I learned the ins and outs of the job. But though he taught me so much, Gerald was more than just a model of his profession; he also showed me, by his humble example, how to be a person of faith in this world.
Generosity was second nature to Gerald: I have shelves lined with “leftover” books and magazines that he gifted to me, and I walked into my office one December 6 to a Saint Nicholas cookie on my desk (of course from Gerald). He took on extra work for me when I rushed to the hospital with a medical emergency during my pregnancy, and he reached out to check on me constantly, offering prayers for my daughter and for me. He was an earnest man whose jolly laughter often filled a room, who was devoted to his wife and children, and who had an endless store of kindness and charity that he offered to all he met.
Gerald died this octave of All Saints. Saint Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for Gerald.
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