In the Shadow of the Steeple
Who is Brother Ronald Giannone, and what drives him to do the things he does?
(page 5 of 10)
Connie Giannone worked as a seamstress in a factory in the Bronx. Her husband served in the armed forces during the Korean War, and bought the family home on Murdock Avenue with money from the G.I. Bill. Connie was the head of the household and Ronald was the second youngest of her seven children. He worked with his mother in the factory, handing out fabrics to the women.
“She was a beautiful lady,” says Ronald Giannone, his normally loud voice softening. He pauses for a moment, clasps his hands, and looks down at the floor. Connie died on June 12, 1987, and Giannone still seems wounded by her loss. Talking about her comforts him. Her portrait hangs in Sacred Heart’s lobby, near Dr. King’s. Every year, the staff and residents celebrate Connie Giannone Day—Sacred Heart Village, in fact, was designed with Connie in mind. It provides for the elderly the kind of housing Giannone wishes he could have provided for her. His immense respect for women was likely born of his relationship with his mother.
Connie had her hands full with seven kids and a full-time job—Ronald was probably the most rambunctious. For example, he was the only sibling who talked his way into Catholic elementary school—not because the family could afford it, but because he schmoozed the principal and got in tuition-free.
He went to Evander Childs, a public high school, and did his junior and senior years as a co-op student. He had school every other week, and on the off weeks earned $60 a week as a messenger for Mutual of New York. Giannone didn’t learn much about the stock market, but he did learn diligence.
A career in finance wasn’t in the cards. As it happened, there was a Capuchin center next door to Evander Childs High, and Giannone was drawn to it. In August of 1969, he entered the order in Beacon, N.Y. He did his novitiate at a monastery in Indiana, then worked with the rural poor in Lafayette, N.J. He came to Delaware in 1976, and was assigned to the St. Francis Renewal Center, a retreat house on Silverside Road in North Wilmington.
“Father Camilla (who ran the center) said I can see you’re not doing flips being here,” says Giannone. “I was embarrassed that he picked that up, but I told him I would give it my heart. I’m not even an ordained priest at the time, but I told him I wanted to work with the poor. He said, ‘What’s stopping you?’”
The following January, Giannone learned at a meeting with Social Services that homeless women had the greatest need, so he built a shelter. At the time, Giannone says, “you never visualized a woman being homeless. That was when the media used the term, ‘shopping bag ladies.’ You only thought of homeless men.”