N.J. retiree hopes new book deepens faith of students

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COLONIA, N.J. - The 360 students at St. John Vianney School got a lesson in charity from Anthony Giacobbe when he distributed copies of the book "Heaven Is for Real" at a recent assembly.

But Giacobbe, a member of St. John Vianney Parish, hopes the most important things the students learn from The New York Times bestseller is what they are taught in religious education is true, especially that God exists.

The book is about a 4-year-old boy, Colton Burpo, who told his parents he left his body during surgery for an emergency appendectomy. An explanation on the book jacket explains that the boy told of meeting long-departed family members, described Jesus, the angels and how "really, really big" God is and learned how much God loves people.

Colton's father, Todd, who wrote the book with popular author Lynn Vincent, is pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Neb.

Addressing the students, Giacobbe, a retired building contractor, said his faith has helped him in many ways, whether it was while raising a family, serving in the U.S. Army in Korea or in the business world.

In addition to the death of his parents, Giacobbe, 80, said he also lost a son, who died at the age of 42.

"Our faith is the most important thing in our life. It is with you all the time and will sustain you in difficult times," said Giacobbe, who at one time was a religious education teacher.

Giacobbe said he was so impressed when he read Colton's account in the book that he called Carol Woodburn, St. John Vianney School principal, to tell her he wanted to do something special and buy a copy for each student.

"This (book) verifies everything we learned in Catholic schools," Giacobbe said. "I have to admit, there were a few periods of my life when I was doubtful. Was he (God) real?"

To thank Giacobbe, Woodburn presented him with a plaque on behalf of the school, which was celebrating the gifts of liberty, especially religious freedom, the day of the assembly.

"Today is a treat," Woodburn said. "Every once in a while someone comes into my life. ... I am blessed in so many ways and this is one of them."

Giacobbe was joined at the assembly by his sister, Angela Fritts, also a St. John Vianney parishioner.

"He is a very good man and I wasn't surprised because that is the type of thing he would do," she said.

Donahue is associate editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970