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At 82, Catholic author still going strong

First slide

During her eventful life, Toni Bosco has amassed plenty of reasons to have felt abandoned by God. A mentally ill mother, heavy responsibilities early in life, a disastrous arranged marriage, the death of three of her seven children - the list is a painful one. But, instead of turning her back on God, the 82-year-old author of more than 18 books and a syndicated Catholic News Service columnist for more than 35 years decided to embrace Him even more.

Relying on the life lessons imparted to her by her beloved father and the teachings of her Catholic faith, Bosco focused on being grateful to God for the blessings in her life. It hasn't always been easy, and she was often shaken to the core, but by remaining close to God, she has stayed true to her faith and to herself.

Early life

Antoinette "Toni" Bosco was born Sept. 18, 1928, in Rome, N.Y., to Joseph Oppedisano, an Italian butcher, and his wife, Mary Sgambellone. In a recent phone interview, Bosco described her father as "the light of my life" and said she is grateful for the man "who taught me we had to be good to people, we had to help people, never be cruel, never be angry," she said.

Many of Oppedisano's life lessons were learned during his three-year struggle to leave Italy (starting at age 13) during World War I. When he made it to the United States, he immediately adopted an American spirit, learning English and becoming an American citizen.

"He had seen so much stuff in Italy that he despised," Bosco said. "You had no rights. He was glad to get out and come to this country where there was freedom and opportunity for everybody."

Oppedisano and his wife began a family, and Bosco was the second of their eight children. With her mother ill, Bosco helped raise her younger siblings. The family attended the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, N.Y., going to Mass many mornings.

As Bosco got older, life got more intense. She attended the College of St. Rose in Albany, with the idea of being a doctor. Unsure of the possibility of a medical career in the late 1940s, she graduated with a degree in chemistry. In strict Italian tradition, a marriage was arranged for her by her grandfather and father - a marriage that, she said, turned out to be a "disaster."

"He made me work. He stole every penny I earned," she said. "It was terrible."

In 10 years, Bosco gave birth to six children. She added a seventh to the clan when she spotted a homeless kid hanging out in the post office to keep warm.

"I knew he was homeless - I could tell by the way he was ragged," she said. "I looked at the kid and I said, 'Are you cold? Are you hungry? I just baked a cake.'"

She received permission to adopt the boy - Sterling - and gave him an education. He later became a police officer and died at age 68 of the heart condition doctors had told him wouldn't let him live past 25.

"God is good," Bosco said. "God is good."

In order to help support her growing bunch, Bosco began to freelance from her home, writing mostly on Catholic and social issues. She wrote her first book, a biography on a bishop from Belgium, and slowly began to use her talent for the written word to support her family.

Striking out

After a decade of misery in her marriage, Bosco had had enough. She divorced her husband, struck out into the world and got a job working for the Long Island Catholic, the newspaper for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. For 10 years she worked as a Catholic reporter, feeling the support of a community of people who truly cared for her.

"That was a change in my life," she said. "People in the Church were so wonderful and helped me realize God was good and I could support my children."

In 1972, she took a job promoting the health sciences center of Stony Brook University on Long Island. A couple of years later, she began writing a regular, syndicated column for Catholic News Service in Washington, D.C. Thirty-six years later she is still at it, though she now writes monthly instead of weekly.

Bosco left Stony Brook in 1982, and accepted the job as editor of a daily newspaper in Litchfield County, Conn., mostly to be near to her ailing father in Albany.

"The last two years of my father's life I got to see a lot of him," she said.

During her 17 years with the Litchfield County Times, she continued her book writing, drawing from events in her life that, unfortunately, provided her with dramatic material.

Truth in writing

To go down the list of Bosco's bibliography is to follow the tragic sequence of her life's events - and to watch her rise from the ashes. Three of Bosco's seven children are gone: Sterling died of his heart condition; her youngest, Peter, who was mentally ill, committed suicide in 1991; and two years later her son John and his wife, Nancy, were murdered by an 18-year-old gunman in their Montana home.

"I was ready to die myself," Bosco said. Instead, she turned to God.

"Your faith gets shaken by a lot of things," she said. "Yet my faith never got shaken to the point where, at the end of the day, I could not be on my knees thankful for the gifts that the Lord had given me."

And she wrote.

In 1994, she published The Pummeled Heart: Finding Peace through Pain, which, as one reviewer wrote, "offers true insight into the question of how a person suffering with grief can move from staggering tragedy and loss to a richer personal wisdom and closer connection to God." In 2001, she released Shaken Faith: Hanging in there when God seems far away.

What is perhaps her best-known work stemmed from her life's most difficult decision. Five months after the killer of John and Nancy had been caught, Bosco said, he was placed on death row. Her family came together and decided they wanted to spare him.

"We miss (John and Nancy) so much, but at the same time we did not want to say that because our loved ones were killed, now it was all right for us to be killers," Bosco said. "I am so grateful to be a part of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ that has told us, in no uncertain terms, that we should be for life."

Her book, Choosing Mercy: A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty, focuses on this theme, one that was a real struggle for her.

"Life isn't easy," she said. "I say to myself what would Jesus do? I think Jesus would say love one another, no matter what. That is not something I have always been able to achieve, but I have tried."

"Keep learning … don't ever stop"

At 82, Bosco is still writing a monthly column for Catholic News Service and for her home diocesan newspaper, the Fairfield County Catholic.

"I think God is telling me I'm still supposed to work," she said. "I read all the time, my mind is active. What am I supposed to do, sit down and knit blankets?"

While thought or prayer is fleeting, Bosco said, writing "solidifies what my prayer has been teaching me, what my prayer gets me to think (and) what my prayer gets me to believe."

"There's an awful lot that I would forget if I hadn't put it down in writing," she said. "I'm very grateful to the good Lord for the ability to write."

She spends her prayer time reading the Old Testament and the psalms, but mostly, she said, she lingers over the Gospels or prays on her knees in front of a plaque of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

"I would not have gotten through my life without my faith," she said. "I do believe that the Lord Jesus is with me all the time. I really believe that He's with my boys."

Bosco has learned that you never know what's going to come next in life, but no matter what, it is essential to keep the faith.

"I know every day my prayer is 'Be with me and let me know that You are with me,'" she said. "So far that has sustained me. Hopefully it will always."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011