Volunteer discovers it’s never too late to be Eucharist to others

Jun 6, 2024
Patrick Mastronardo is 94 years old and serves the St. Peter Claver and Kairos prison ministries as a Vincentian. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

ORLANDO | Patrick Mastronardo is 94 years old and admitted he’s learning some of the most important lessons of his life in local prisons.

Alone after his wife passed, like many people isolated during the COVID pandemic, Mastronardo took a hard look at his existence and decided to make a change. Born Catholic, Mastronardo was active in the Church when he was young, but upon reflection he questioned his motives.

“To be perfectly honest, I always volunteered in the past because I thought it was in my best interest,” he said. For a time, he taught Sunday school and in later years he served as guardian ad litem for children removed from their homes. He said he volunteered hoping to increase his network for his own career. “But all my activities were for myself, for my concept of who I am. … I thought I was doing a great job, but I wasn’t doing anything really worthwhile. It was all self-serving.”

For the past 50 years, he attended church mostly at Easter and Christmas. “I realized I had to turn my life around and do things for other people, more than I had in the past,” Mastronardo shared.

So, he returned to the celebration of Mass at Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs. Soon he met the Vincentians, lay followers of St. Vincent de Paul. When they helped him in a moment of need, he witnessed love of neighbor in a new way. He became a professed Vincentian himself and is now an officer for the lay apostolate in the region.

During a quarterly meeting in 2023, he met Carlos Benitez, a Vincentian who oversees the St. Peter Claver Prison Ministry. Mastronardo shared his desire to grow closer to Christ and Benitez told him he knew just what to do.

“You can get involved with Kairos (prison ministry) and St. Peter Claver, but first I want you to do Cursillo because it’s a mountaintop experience that will rock your world,” Benitez told his new friend. Mastronardo seized the opportunity and enrolled in formation weekends to serve on the May 2024 Kairos retreat for inmates.
Benitez recalled Mastronardo had a conflict on the final day of Cursillo with one of the spiritual formation trainings for Kairos. Undeterred, he finished Cursillo early in Mount Dora and drove 35 miles to Winter Park to make it to the formation training.

“A 94-year-old doesn’t do this,” said Benitez laughing. “He was willing to do whatever it took. … He’s a new man and he is all in now. People were moved by him being at Kairos because they saw action where rubber meets the road. They saw and realized, if (Mastronardo) can do it, they can. I wanted him to be the salt and the light in that dark place. If they could see that a 94-year-old took the time out to be with them, that they did not have to be ashamed and could allow themselves to be vulnerable because God is going to bless them in their vulnerability, it would give them hope and help them.”

Benitez said people often are closed off and proud, but when they see someone like Mastronardo, humble and vulnerable, they see what manhood is all about.

“Whether in Cursillo or Kairos, I’ve experienced both and wanted to share that joy with him,” Benitez said.
For Mastronardo, the experience of Cursillo, which is the model for Kairos, and participating in the Kairos retreat itself have been life changing. The excitement of inmates impressed him. He was surprised to discover how many of them studied Scripture and were ready to change the course of their lives.

Mastronardo also learned many of those running Kairos had difficulties and made commitments to changing their lives and attitudes, like he did. He was stunned by the intensity of the program and the depths to which the ministers presented their faith.

“Their ability to impact and influence the people in jail to respect them, to see Christ in each one of them and to make that known, that they’re not alone, that they can be loved,” Mastronardo said. “They made their mistakes like the rest of us and are welcomed back into the faith because of Christ, even though they may not have earned it. They can forgive themselves, go on with new lives, a new faith, and influence others.”

Mastronardo is happy to step in and do his part. “I’ve had my own regrets, my own mistakes like everyone else. It was eye opening and transformative for me. It changes your whole outlook on life and how you regard your fellow man, because we love each other. And they love each other, in a real sense. We all have lapses. The whole attitude is so different in the business world and political world. This is a whole new way of looking at our lives and our purpose,” he said.

As he took in the surroundings in his new senior living residence, he noted most of his friends have died and his own health is waning. Two years ago, he could walk six miles. Now he needs a walker.

“My physical capacities have diminished quite a bit in the past three years, but that’s life,” he said. “I try to push myself to the limit, beyond what I think I can do. … I can’t explain my longevity, but I believe there is a reason for still being on this earth.”

Acknowledging one is never too old to be Eucharist for others, he said of the Sacrament, “That’s the whole ball game. Christ gave up His life. That’s what His Father asked, for mankind. Without the Eucharist, we wouldn’t have the opportunities for grace or have the Holy Spirit. I think the Holy Spirit guides me. It keeps me going.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, June 06, 2024