Ron McClosky made the two guys right away.
They had opened the big wooden doors of St. Anthony’s Church in Schenectady and were loitering in the vestibule.
McClosky, in the robes of his order — the Penitent Brothers of Our Lady of Sorrows — was assisting with communion at the 8 a.m. Saturday service. Rev. Jeffrey L’Arche was right next to him.
“I’m always watching,” McClosky said. “And I knew it was going to happen.”
The two shady characters approached L’Arche, and McClosky handed the priest his ciborium, the container for the communion wafers.
“I said, ‘Gentlemen, what can I do for you?’ ” McClosky said. “It was, ‘We need money.’ ”
The penitent brother told the aggressive visitors they would not receive any money in the church. He told them to turn around and leave the building.
The would-be shakedown artists repeated their threat. McClosky had not changed his mind: “I said, ‘I’m going to say this only one more time before we have a big scene in front of everybody in the church and you are really going to upset God, so let’s not do this. Let’s walk out together.”
There the drama ended. The angels with dirty faces were escorted out of the church — empty-handed — and the service continued.
Prospective or practicing criminals would have to be out of their minds to make trouble at St. Anthony’s. McClosky worked as a Schenectady police officer and detective for close to 20 years before retiring in 1989 and has followed a religious path for many years. Penitent brothers are not priests; they are active in various ministries, serve the poor and help parishioners.
Frank Ranucci, another retired Schenectady policeman, is the church office manager. And you never know when former SPD member Richard “Rit” DiCaprio, now a deacon, will show up for a visit.
I remember all three from the 1980s, during my days on the police beat for the Schenectady Gazette. McClosky spent a bunch of years in the department’s accident car — accident investigation and reconstruction — and often worked nights. He had great ability for pulling over drivers who had perhaps sipped one beer too many.
This fact was not lost on the newspaper crew that often visited the Press Box lounge for a few bracers after deadline. The bar, once located right next to the old Gazette stronghold on lower State Street (near the railroad bridge) was an easy stop at 11 o’clock. If we knew the formidable McClosky was on the job that night, we might have had one or two beers and maybe five or six Cokes.
Good thing we were on the side of law and order — Ron never met any of us at 2 or 3 in the morning. I met McClosky some years later, ducking into St. Anthony’s for an Ash Wednesday service. I thought the guy on the altar looked like the former police officer. “Nah,” I thought. “Couldn’t be.”
But it was. McClosky is now director of liturgical ministries for St. Anthony’s and St. John the Evangelist parishes. He assists the poor with his Saint Anthony’s Bread program, oversees funerals and prepares parents for their infants’ baptisms, among other duties. He knows the parishioners, some from Italian families who have long belonged to the church, others from Hispanic families who now call St. Anthony’s their spiritual home.
McClosky has served as interfaith chaplain at Sunnyview Hospital and this past summer was appointed police chaplain for the Schenectady Police Department. One of his projects for 2017 is a communion brunch for police agencies in Schenectady County. McClosky hopes past and present members of county departments and state troopers based in Duanesburg will gather at St. Anthony’s at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7. Rev. George Brucker, a former Schenectady police chaplain, will be the celebrant.
Some people can’t believe how McClosky’s past life as a police officer has led him to his present life as a man of the church. Sometimes he’ll be on the altar during a funeral service, scan the pews and notice people he once met when he was in uniform and driving a car with red lights and a siren.
“You can read their lips,” said the jovial McClosky, 70, still built like a football running back. “It’s ‘What is he doing up there?’ So as we proceed out with the body and those people with whom I’ve had encounters are walking by, I’ve always extended myself to them, gave them a hug and said, ‘You have to realize God has a sense of humor. Look what the hell he did to me!’ I say that all the time.”
McClosky is not at the church all the time. He still works every day, contracted by Schenectady County as a process server for support and collection cases, child protective services and family court.
McClosky started his law enforcement career in 1970 with the Albany Police Department and joined the Schenectady force in 1972. He had always been religious, receiving his early education at the former St. Joseph’s School on Lafayette Street, and as life went on, got deeper and deeper into church life. While a more permanent career in the church was considered, McClosky made other choices.
McClosky believes in the power of prayer. His wife, Ferol “Cissie” McClosky, was gravely ill about four years ago. Doctors said she had only a 20 percent chance of survival.
“That’s when I really learned how to pray with a huge intensity,” McClosky said.
Ferol survived. “It took three years and over a period of three years, she slowly came back to what she used to be,” McClosky said. “She was back into baking again, back into her gardening, doing housework again. She was doing just fine.”
Ferol passed away in 2015. The couple had been married for 49 years.
Police officers are taught to serve and protect. McClosky said peace and tranquility are the key words to his new vocation, things police officers like to see and hear on each shift. But the core of both jobs is the same — helping people.
“Love one another,” McClosky said of the his philosophy. “Simple and plain, love one another.”
During a recent Sunday service, a woman who was a stranger to St. Anthony’s took a seat. She began crying, and it was a mournful cry.
“I said, ‘Oh boy, it’s time for me to step in,’ ” McClosky said. “I walked over to her and gave her a hug and whispered, ‘You’re not from here, sweetheart, are you?’ She’s a young girl and she starts yelling, ‘No, I’m not from here, I have no business being here, I don’t like church. I don’t go to church I want nothing to do with church. It’s totally hypocritical.’ ”
McClosky asked the woman how she arrived at St. Anthony’s and she answered that God had brought her to Seward Place.
“I always try to interject some humor in order to lessen the intensity,” McClosky said, “so again, she’s crying and Father Carlino, who’s celebrating the Mass, is wondering what’s going on. She insisted God brought her, so I looked her right in the eye and said, ‘Who drove?’ She said, ‘I drove!’ Then she realized what the question was and what her answer was and her crying started to subside.”
McClosky stayed with the troubled woman through the service and talked to her about her problems afterward.
As police chaplain, McClosky has also driven to crime scenes to see if police officers working tough cases need someone to talk to you. He was on Bridge Street this past August, when a man was set on fire and suffered serious burns. He wants cops on the street to know they can always talk to him.
That’s one of the objectives of the January brunch.
“God willing, they’ll come to learn there is always somebody there for them,” McClosky said. “What I’ve learned over the years, specifically as a chaplain for eight years at Sunnyview, is the fact you don’t always have the words to say, you have to have ears to listen — allow them the opportunity to vent, to express, to cry.”
McClosky is often visible at St. Anthony’s. He will give a good-natured response when asked what might have happened had the two cash-seeking church troublemakers decided they didn’t want an escort out of church. What would have happened if two tough guys had tried to tangle with a penitent brother?
“I probably would have reverted back to my caveman days,” McClosky said, smiling. “There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve said, ‘God loves you … but don’t make me angry.’ ”
Do you have an idea for a future “Type A to Z” profile? Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.
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