“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.”
— Mt. 18:20
Back in 1994, in Syracuse’s Sedgwick area, when Nancy Ascenzo’s son’s best friend, Jimmy Albanese, was visiting, he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital’s emergency room complaining of a bad stomachache. What followed next laid the groundwork for a foundation that would affect and strengthen the faith of many people over the next 20 years.
Immediately, 12 women of the neighborhood gathered together to recite the rosary and pray for Jimmy at Karen Cusano’s home.
What began as an impromptu gathering years ago developed into an enduring, powerful rosary prayer group that is still going strong. The group boasts 18 members and meets the fourth Tuesday of each month. Ascenzo said the group donates close to $500 every December to several food banks or to a needy family.
The original 12 women and their children were close friends and have continued their strong alliance throughout the years. “There isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for one another,” stated Ascenzo.
When 13-year-old Jimmy arrived at the hospital, he underwent a surgery that lasted 10 hours. He had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I was devastated,” remembered Albanese. “I felt blessed to have such a great group of friends that cared so much.”
Even though Jimmy’s cancer reappeared three times after that, he still managed to graduate from Christian Brothers Academy with his class.
Albanese mentioned that when she and her husband visited their son in the hospital, she kept her rosary beads in her pocket and recited it [rosary] every day.
Today, Jimmy is free of cancer, living in the Liverpool area and is married with two children. “I thank God every morning that he is okay and that he’s married and has a family of his own,” Albanese said. She feels her faith has been tremendously strengthened through her involvement in the group.
The prayer group is grateful to have such a resource to get them through good and bad times. “There’s strength in numbers,” remarked Albanese. “Our coming together like this helps us to express what our needs are and for others to express theirs.” The prayer group also takes intentions from people outside the group, praying for them when they meet.
“Prayer is a form of communication — praising Him and thanking Him,” agreed Cusano. “Praying to God gives us strength for the day and hope for tomorrow.”
Cusano believes that the group’s faith has been fortified through their participation. “We’ve been a tremendous inspiration to one another,” she said.
Katie Stanczyk, who teaches second grade at Blessed Sacrament School in Syracuse, said her involvement in the group has helped her in her profession. “The opportunity for me to pray about some of the families and situations I see has been beneficial,” Stanczyk said.
Jimmy visits the hospital for a checkup every two years, and this year marked the 20th year since his illness was diagnosed. “I said, ‘This calls for food,’” recalled Albanese when she heard the news. She planned a celebratory dinner at her home for the prayer group to be held on July 29. “I wanted to show my appreciation for them starting the prayer group and for staying together to pray for their intentions and needs,” explained a very emotional Albanese. “To have their support was phenomenal. I just can’t thank the girls enough for their friendship and fellowship.”
Laurie Ascenzo is also thankful for the support offered by the group. Five years ago, when her daughter was scheduled to undergo a C-section, the group rescheduled their regular meeting date to accommodate her daughter’s procedure. They changed it to the night before so that they could “send her off with a nice blessing.” “It was truly touching,” said Ascenzo. “Sometimes it gets emotional when we are facing tragedies. When you pray with others it changes your relationship. We are blessed and we’re a great group.”
Nancy Ascenzo recalled the way the group supported one of its members years ago when the member’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer. “It was the day before Thanksgiving,” she remembered. “We all dropped what we were doing, many of us were baking pies, and we went to her house, aprons still on with flour on them, and recited the rosary together. After many months and years, the outcome was good and her daughter survived cancer.”
“It was truly a celebration,” said Albanese, of the dinner she hosted at her house. “It was wonderful. Everyone enjoyed it.” Albanese served chicken Cordon Bleu, asparagus, salad, pasta and for dessert, a cannoli cake.
The evening was enhanced by the arrival of Jimmy and his wife. Jimmy brought a bouquet of white roses to his mother, which she placed on a table beside the statue of Mary, Our Lady of Fatima, which is brought to each prayer meeting.
“Jimmy spoke to us of his great love and thanksgiving,” said Stanczk. “There wasn’t a dry eye there. The prayer group has really touched everyone in their personal lives.”
“We’ve been through a lot,” stated Nancy Ascenzo, “And we’re thankful for the happy endings.”