Fr. Michael Carnevale, OFM
Born in Hoboken, N.J., Fr. Michael Carnevale, OFM, was raised in adjoining Jersey City. After graduating from St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, he worked in New York City for J. P. Stevens Textiles and then entered the Franciscan Order. Professed in 1961, he was ordained in 1966 and was first assigned to Clarksville, Va. He has been stationed at St. Francis Church, New York City, twice; Pompton Lakes, twice, where he currently serves as pastor; Boston, and Little Falls, N.J.
I have been very lucky in my friar assignments, for each one was great. I don’t think that there was one place that I didn’t enjoy ministering in. Each time I was transferred, I didn’t want to go. But when I got there, I just fell in love with the ministry. My working with people with AIDS has been the most satisfying of all my ministries. It began when my best friend from college and the Order died of AIDS. Up to that point, I had just been reading about the beginnings of this virus out in California and then the start of it here on the East Coast.
I was leaving for California, to go to the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, when I was told that my friend was dying. I had not seen him in about a year. When I went over to Cabrini Hospital in New York City, I walked into the room that I was told my friend was in, but I didn’t recognize anyone there. As I approached the nurse’s stand, I saw his mom and sister coming towards me. They took me to his room, and when I saw him, I couldn’t believe it. It was not my friend, not the person that I had come to love so very much.
When I got to California, I began working in the Shanti Program, the mother of such organizations as Gay Men’s Health group in New York City. I became a buddy and then worked out of San Francisco General Hospital on the AIDS Ward. This brought me in contact with many persons with AIDS. I was working on weekends in Fremont, Calif., at Mission SanJose with Fr. Bob Stewart, OFM, saying Masses, doing baptisms and marriages. There I met an artist named Michael who also did landscaping at the mission. Michael told me he was HIV positive and wanted me to work with him on getting his spiritual life together. Michael lived in San Francisco with his partner, a very famous house painter. Getting to know these two men was a gift, for they taught me much about compassion and forgiveness.
During the four years that I worked with Michael, there were so many incidents that spoke to me of the goodness of this man and his love for all people. I accompanied Michael for his treatments at the hospital. While there, I saw how he related to the other men who were not doing so well. He would take time to talk with them; he would make sure that there were people there for them when they needed assistance; he would give money to those who were not as fortunate as he. But most of all, he would give them a hug.
Michael was a Christian example in relating to anyone, no matter what color skin, no matter what language they spoke, for what Michael saw was a brother or sister in need. I want to thank Holy Name Province for allowing me and many other friar brothers to minister to people with AIDS. It has been a great privilege and one that has benefited me more than I ever thought.
—This essay was written in 2000 when Fr. Mike was serving at St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J. It appeared in the December 2000 issue of The Anthonian magazine.