This past November, I attended the funeral of a man I’ve known all my life.
His name was John Del Vecchio. To my parents, he was a dear friend and neighbor. To me, he was “Poppy John” (as I dubbed him when I was a toddler)—my beloved godfather.
Being my godfather was a role he stepped into with unparalleled devotion. On the day Mr. Del Vecchio stood at the baptismal font in St. Raphael’s Church and professed the Faith on my behalf, his commitment to being present in my life was only just beginning.
Growing up, I could expect Mr. Del Vecchio to sit at our kitchen table eating cake and ice cream with us on my birthday, or to show up on our front step with a box of chocolates for me on Valentine’s Day.
Not only did he remember me on each birthday and every Christmas, but he made an effort to learn what I liked in each phase of my life so that he could select gifts that reflected my interests. For my third birthday, he gave me a beautiful doll he knew I had admired. (I still have her today.) For my fifteenth, it was a New Kids on the Block T-shirt. (Don’t judge.) For my twentieth, he took me out to a country apparel store so I could pick out my longed-for first pair of real cowboy boots. When my first child was born, Mr. Del Vecchio bought me a rocking chair to rock her in.
It wasn’t about the gifts themselves; they were, as all good gifts are, symbols of a deeper reality. And that reality was that everything he did for me was rooted in fatherly love. Even more than presents, what he gave me was the gift of time and effort—showing me that he cared, that I was special in his eyes.
When I went away to college, he would send me the schedule for our local NFL team each fall, with a few dates circled, and ask me to pick one. I would go home for the chosen weekend, and he would take me to the game. I don’t watch football anymore, but the crisp fall air still carries me back to cheering beside my godfather in that stadium.
After college, I accepted a teaching position across the country, in California. Before I left, my godfather showed up to my farewell party wearing a wide-brimmed straw sun hat, aloha shirt, and sunglasses to commemorate my move to the sunny Pacific coast.
Three months later, when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack, it was Mr. Del Vecchio who met me at the airport terminal and brought me home.
When I got married, and my dad couldn’t be there for the father-daughter dance, Mr. Del Vecchio spun me around the dance floor at my wedding reception.
When my first child was baptized, my godfather stood by my side at St. Raphael’s, the very same church where I was baptized, and witnessed my daughter’s first sacrament.
After that, he adopted my children as his grand-godchildren. He sent them cards and gifts for each birthday and every Christmas. He beamed with joy over their accomplishments, and prayed for them in their trials. When we visited, he wiped tears from his eyes, so moved he could hardly speak, as he talked with us and watched my children grow.
Looking back, I don’t know how he found the time to give to me so faithfully over so many years. He lived a very full life. He worked hard. He was deeply devoted to his wonderful wife, children, children-in-law, and grandchildren, whom he loved with all his heart and gushed about every time I spoke with him. He was busy, like all of us, with the million tasks that life holds. Still, somehow, he made time for me. He had so many people to love, and yet his love was not divided; it was multiplied.
When I received the news last November that Mr. Del Vecchio had passed away at the age of 94, my heart was at once both broken and filled: broken to think of never seeing him on this earth again, yet filled to the fullest with gratitude for the indescribable blessing and privilege of being his goddaughter.
A lifetime of memories enveloped me as I drove 300 miles to his funeral—at St. Raphael’s Church. When I arrived, I entered the very sanctuary that he had entered on the day of my baptism, when he helped me to receive the greatest gift possible: the grace of the Holy Trinity in my soul.
Now, as I attended his funeral Mass in the church where God first gave me the gift of my godfather, I commended my godfather back to Him. At the altar where Mr. Del Vecchio first prayed for me to receive the gift of heaven as I entered the Catholic Church, I prayed for him to receive the gift of heaven as he entered eternal life.
I can’t think of a more fitting description for him than the word “godfather.” For in everything he did, in everything he was, he showed me the love of God the Father.
He showed me the love of a heavenly Father who is present, who is constant, who is faithful, who is steadfast. A Father who lavishes good and perfect gifts upon His children, and who loves spending time with us. A Father who finds joy in our every accomplishment and cares about every detail of our lives. A Father who is deeply moved to talk with us and to watch us grow. A Father who picks us up in the hardest times of our lives and brings us home.
From the time I entered this world, my godfather gave me the gift of the Father’s love. Now, as he enters the world beyond this one, I pray that he receives the same gift that he gave to me: “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” of the infinite, tender, unconditional love of God. (Luke 6:38)
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.