Thrive in joy this Easter

Light One Candle
By Tony Rossi
Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, the event that makes it possible for us to rejoice in the fact that we will be able to see our family and friends again some day in heaven. That’s a powerful and comforting thought for anyone who’s lost a loved one — and who among us doesn’t fit into that category.
Jay Fagnano and his wife Mary sure do. And they’ve experienced the most devastating loss possible: the death of a child, their son Nick. At the same time, I can’t help but think of their story this Easter because it’s also a story of hope due to an essay they found on Nick’s computer after his death.
As reported by Brian Kravec on the website, it was the summer of 2014, and Nick was looking forward to attending the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, whose mission is “to improve the quality of life for people and their communities, here and abroad.”
Nick attended Mass at St. Brendan Church in Hancock Park, Los Angeles, with Jay and Mary, then joined some friends on Venice Beach to enjoy the sunny California day. Kravec writes, “Nick was in the ocean at approximately 2:20 p.m. when several rogue clouds drifted over the beach amid the clear, blue skies. And at least four direct lightning strikes touched the sand and water. There were 13 lightning strike victims. Nick was the only fatality.”
Jay and Mary, of course, were shattered at losing their son, who was known for his winning smile, friendly personality, and deep faith that caused him to radiate God’s love. The deepness of that faith became even more evident when the Fagnanos discovered an essay on Nick’s computer that he had written in 2013 as a freshman in college. It was called “The Reality of Heaven,” and this is the passage that stood out:
“Regardless of heaven being beyond my comprehension, the afterlife that I want to be a part of involves joy, excitement, and gratitude, as we will finally be reunited with the loved ones that we have lost on earth. Perhaps ‘rest in peace’ is actually not the best term in relation to death; rather, a phrase such as ‘thrive in joy’ best represents how I will want to spend eternity.”
Jay and Mary saw that essay as a charge to keep their son’s name and legacy alive. They created the Thrive in Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation, which encourages and rewards character through education and recreation. One of their initiatives is a scholarship for “an incoming transfer student (just as Nick would have been) entering USC’s Sol Price School.” Another supports poor urban communities in the Dominican Republic because Nick, when he was a 13-year-old Little League player, organized a fundraiser after hearing that many young people there couldn’t play baseball due to a lack of equipment.
Despite lighting a candle in the darkness of his grief, Jay still struggled with his faith until he heard a recent homily in which the priest said, “No matter what you have to face, whether it be adversity, sadness, or tragedy, if you utter these words, it will be OK . . . I believe.”
Jay concluded, “That’s been the biggest challenge in my life since Nick’s loss. I’m not sure I really did believe. But I do. I believe that Nick is ‘thriving in joy’ and someday we’ll be with him and we will thrive in joy together.”
(Tony Rossi is the Director of Communications for The Christophers, a Catholic media organization founded by Maryknoll Father James Keller to promote the idea that every person has a special vocation from God. For more information, visit