I would like to share a very personal experience of a good person making a hugh difference in the lives of others.
This personal story describes the human and spiritual journey of my cousin, Dan. Specifically, this story relates his life as a husband; father, brother, family member and teacher.
Dan was born in 1947 and died in 1996. He was forty-nine years old, married and the father of five children. Although he lived a relatively short number of years, he developed a reputation as an active and involved person. This is confirmed by the circumstances of his life, which include lofty personal ideals, and a desire to be a source of help and inspiration to others.
Dan was the eldest of four siblings and rose in a community where his family settled a generation earlier. The Rapolla values and loyalties were influenced by a large, closely knit family typical of the era. The family was known for reliance on its religious traditions and its European heritage.
Dan’s father was active in the local church organizations. Church organizations were usual ways to attract individuals and keep their involvement in church affairs active. Dan was raised in this type of environment.
It was not unusual, then, that at an earlier time in his life Dan had given some thought, although brief, to entering the seminary to train for the Catholic priesthood. Priestly service was viewed by many as a more genuine way to serve others religiously. However, for a variety of reasons, life’s circumstances directed Dan toward other useful purposes.
On the day Dan died, his lifelong friend, Father Jim Farrell, came to Dan’s home to console his wife Judy and their five children. Both Dan and Fr. Jim cultivated a strong friendship many years earlier during their schooling in elementary and high school. This friendship endured and matured into adulthood.
Fr. Jim, who was on a first name basis with the family, was the main con-celebrate at Dan’s funeral Mass. My wife, Camille, and I attended Dan’s wake. When I first heard that it would be a two-day wake, I was surprised. Most wakes today are for a single afternoon and evening.
Dan was viewed in the typical two-to-four and seven-to-nine custom. We attended both days of the wake and the funeral Mass on the third day. The entire weekend was an experience I will never forget.
My best estimation is that approximately 1200-1500 people attended all or part of the wake and Mass. The pastor of Dan’s parish, in order to accommodate a capacity crowd, moved the Mass from the parish church to the local high school auditorium. In recognition of Dan and his family, the parish’s elementary and high schools, as well as, the parish office were closed for the day. Some local business owners delayed opening to attend the Mass.
Why was Dan so important? Dan was an intense man filled with love and genuine concern for people and the community where he lived. This concern, literally, touched the lives of many people, most of them current and former students and their families.
Dan knew the importance of family life. When his parents died in his early twenties, he took guardianship of his younger brother and sister. This was a difficult choice for him, especially since he anticipated the care of his own family someday. However, desiring the best for his siblings, he trusted in the providence of God for their futures.
In his professional roles as math teach, soccer and bowling coach, class adviser and private tutor, he was commonly referred to by many of his students as the most liked faculty member at Mater Dei High School, Middletown, New Jersey. Although this label did not always fare well with his colleagues, Dan’s determination to encourage and guide his students usually achieved a beneficial outcome.
At one point during the wake, my wife, Camille, shared a profound insight. She suspected that Dan might have influenced more people in his roles as caring husband, brother, father, neighbor and teacher than if he had become an ordained priest. She realized that Dan’s life, as a spiritually-minded person, was his special call. She felt he actually became an instrument of God’s love in the world and, thereby, achieved his previously contemplated “priestly” calling.
Those persons close to Dan would agree with her views. They would concur that he fully embraced his life’s journey, despite many sacrifices and hardships, and transcended the circumstances of his life and sanctified it.
The story of Dan Rapolla’s life communicates a profound message. It is this. Good people, consciously engaged in their daily responsibilities are capable of significantly influencing others by the example of their lives. People like Dan are individuals who can make a profound difference in the lives of those they meet along the journey of life.
What do you think? Do you have stories of good people influencing the lives of others in a profound way? Love to hear your stories. Encourage me. Dr Nick