There isn’t much that will stop Madeline Giaquinto, a 77-year-old Housing Authority resident, from getting to St. Francis Church at 310 Jefferson St. each day. Not snow, not sleet, certainly not rain, not even the arthritis that leaves her left leg so achy and weak that she has to use a walker to get around will prevent this senior citizen from heading out to church at 7 a.m.
On Saturday, Dec. 30, the day that the region got slammed with more than a foot of snow, Giaquinto amazed fellow parishioners by making it into church.
Orlando Addeo, another St. Francis regular, said that he assumed she probably wouldn’t make it that day, but when Addeo arrived, “Believe it or not, there she was in her place in the front row.”
Added an astounded Addeo, “I was so amazed to see her there under such extreme weather conditions. I just had to walk down the center aisle to where she was sitting and express my wonderment.”
Every weekday morning at about 7 a.m., Giaquinto begins the two-and-a-half block walk over to the church to hear 7:30 a.m. Mass. Under normal conditions it takes her 18 minutes, she says.
But one does not make Mass as regularly as Giaquinto does without making preparations for the weather. “If it looks bad, I try and leave 15 or 20 minutes earlier,” she said recently while sitting in her one-bedroom apartment. “My brother is worried that I’ll fall and break my hip or something. But what’s going to happen? Besides, when it’s icy, I just walk like I’m walking on egg shells.”
Apparently there is more to it than that.
“No matter what, she walks in the middle of the street,” said Father Michael Guglielmelli, the pastor of St Francis, with a laugh Thursday. “So when it snows, there she is right in the middle of the street. Many times I go out there [to say Mass] and I don’t expect anyone to be there because of the weather, and there she is.”
The system seems to be working, because nobody including Giaquinto can remember the last time she went a full day without going to Mass.
“Well, there was the time I went to visit my sister in Las Vegas,” she says with a smile. “I didn’t go to St. Francis then of course.”
Its not an unfamiliar routine since Giaquinto has been going to St Francis almost every day since she was about 12 years old. In fact, she has been baptized there, she got married there, and her husband, Anthony, had his funeral service there. Mass is a part of her life in the everyday way that television or the newspaper is for others. “If I don’t go, I would feel very lost,” she said. “I’d have to be very sick. I just don’t believe in missing Mass. My mother taught us that. God comes first.”
Before her arthritis forced her to use a walker and made climbing steps difficult, Giaquinto used to regularly call Bingo games at the church too. She says that she used to love calling out the number B-1.
“I’d say ‘B-b-b, o-n-n-n-e’ or ‘B-1,’ you know, different ways,” she explained. “Now when people see me, they call me B-1 a lot of times.”
Although her inability to climb the steps to the place where the caller sits has forced her to look for other activities, Giaquinto’s dedication to calling Bingo games is legendary. So legendary in fact that Father Mike says, “I like to tease her that when she passes away we will lay her out in the Bingo hall.”
Since her Bingo calling days seem to be over, Giaquinto has found other ways to pitch in at the church. She currently serves as a lecturer, which means that she is often by the priest’s side reciting passages from the Bible during Mass. She also acts as a back-up server, handing the priest wine and wafers when the congregrants line up for communion.
All this activity has made her something of a celebrity among other parishioners. On particularly blustery days, some churchgoers wonder if the day has finally come when Giaquinto will decide that it is not worth risking the trip to St Francis.
Addeo said that during the Dec. 30 snowstorm, “I congratulated her and asked, ‘How did you make it here?’ She replied, ‘Addeo, it could not have been any better! God always comes first. He helped me here.”