Focus on Faith: Former policeman to continue serving others as deacon
In May of 2013, if all goes as expected, Richard DiCaprio will become a deacon somewhere in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
It’s been a long time since he started down this path — he began the deaconate program back in 2002 — but in reality he has been on this journey even longer. A standout high-school football player at Mont Pleasant and the University of Maryland and a member of the Schenectady police force for 23 years before retiring in 2003, he has never strayed too far from his faith.
“Even when I was playing football, I would go to our parish and pray before a game,” said DiCaprio, a member of St. John The Evangelist on Union Street, in Schenectady. “Maybe I wasn’t as close to God or my faith as I am now, but I don’t feel like I was ever too far away.”
Growing up in Schenectady, DiCaprio, called Rit by his friends, attended St. Columba’s on Craig Street. When that parish closed, his family moved to St. Thomas on Pleasant Street, in the Mont Pleasant section of the city.
Part of community
He married his high-school sweetheart, Linda, at Immaculate Conception in Schenectady and for most of the past three decades the couple have been attending St. John The Evangelist, where they are a integral part of the church community. Father Richard Carlino first got to know DiCaprio through his work for DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) when the latter was still a policeman.
“He’s got that excellent combination of having this great rapport with the kids, but also being very blunt when he needs to be,” said Carlino, pastor at both St. John The Evangelist and St. Anthony’s. “He got their attention and was able to get his message across, but he also won their esteem and affection. He was very committed to that work.”
Carlino thinks those same qualities will make DiCaprio a fine deacon.
“My evaluation of him would be A-plus-plus,” said Carlino. “He’s a very warm, congenial person, and I was delighted when I heard he wanted to become a deacon. He and his wife, Linda, care deeply about people and are very sensitive to their needs. They’ve been so involved in so many ways at St. John’s, and it has been a delight to work with them and to get to know them.”
In some ways, DiCaprio sees his role as a policeman as being very similar to that of a deacon.
“It all ties in together,” he said. “I considered my police work as a ministry for the people. That’s what I will be doing, maybe in a different way, as a deacon, and in the last 10 years of my career as a policeman, I really thought about that a lot.”
It was back in 1992 when he began thinking about life after being a policeman.
“I became a DARE officer, and right after that a lot of things happened in my life,” he remembered. “We lost my wife’s sister to cancer; she was only 36, and then shortly after that my father died. It was a tough time, and if I was ever going to question my faith it would have been then. All of that really affected us, but in the end it wound up making us stronger.”
His decision to become a deacon didn’t come as a surprise to retired police Lt. Frank Ranucci, DiCaprio’s training officer when he started on the force.
“When he first made the decision to become a deacon, he asked me for a recommendation and I didn’t have a problem with it,” said Ranucci.
“I thought he’d be a very inspirational person to have working in that type of capacity. Rit has a good ability to relate to people. That was helpful in his police work, and I think it will be very helpful as he begins this new journey.”
Offering to help
As a policeman, DiCaprio was always offering assistance to people, particularly the youngest of those he served, according to Ranucci, who retired from the Schenectady force in 1990.
“He was very willing to help other people, and he was always looking out for children especially,” Ranucci said. “He’s got great love for children and for his family. He was a good guy to have on your side, very compassionate, and those are the same things that will make him be a great deacon.”
DiCaprio began the diaconate process in 2002, then took a break after two years.
“I didn’t start part two because, well, a lot of things get in the way,” he said. “You have health issues, you have grandchildren. Life kind of gets in the way.”
After a failed run for a seat on the City Council in 2007, he resumed his quest to become a deacon in 2009. He spent the summer of 2011 working with senior citizens at Schenectady Day Haven, and just recently finished a stint as a chaplain at Albany Medical Center.
“I worked in every phase of senior care last summer with Catholic Charities, and it was a wonderful experience,” he said. “There are wonderful people doing wonderful things over there. You work with Alzheimer’s patients, and what’s amazing is how they don’t know their names, some of them, or why they’re there, but they never forget their prayers. God’s presence is still in their lives.”
As meaningful as those encounters were, DiCaprio thinks his work this summer at Albany Medical Center may have been even more rewarding.
“Being a chaplain in training was an awesome experience, and it was something I felt very comfortable doing,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to commit right now, but I could see myself heading in that direction down the road. It’s definitely a possibility. I never felt closer to God than I did working at those two places the last two summers.”
As a deacon of the Roman Catholic church, DiCaprio’s duties will include assisting the parish priest in both his pastoral and administrative responsibilities. Before the Second Vatican Council in 1967, the role of deacon was restricted to men who were candidates for priestly ordination. Since then, the position has been open to those completing a year of prayerful preparation and a four- or five-year series of studies to be followed by a lifelong devotion to continuing education.
Along with his time at Day Haven and Albany Med, DiCaprio has taken classes at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry — based in Rochester but with a satellite school in Albany — and the Albany Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
“Going to the Sisters of Carondelet was a great experience,” said DiCaprio. “It was just once a month, but it was the whole weekend, and it was for both the husbands and the wives. We would do exercises in spirituality, we would practice our homilies, and our mentors would come in and instruct us in how to do the liturgy.”
Throughout the whole process, DiCaprio has had the support of his entire family, particularly his wife.
“I won’t be able to consecrate the Eucharist, but deacons can marry, bury and baptize,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it, and I’ve realized that later in life, after you’ve been married and have kids, you need to have more of God in your life. I felt this pull toward becoming a deacon back in the ’90s, and the whole experience has been very rewarding.”