A few years ago, a mutual friend organized a group lunch in midtown Manhattan for a young man new to the city, fresh out of a selective university, and starting his first job in finance. Our host hoped each of us might share a few words of advice for how to stay sane in New York City. The assembled elders recommended a few lively parishes, the best museums, young professionals groups to join, places where the marriageable young women might be met, and more. Some recommended subscribing to First Things, The New Criterion, and City Journal.
Then the baton passed to Gerald Russello, a graduate of Regis, Georgetown, and NYU Law who had clerkships and a tour of duty at the SEC on his CV. He was a partner at a white-shoe law firm in securities practice. Gerald admitted that all the earlier advice was right and just (especially on where to meet a potential spouse). But he cautioned, “Don’t forget the quiet Italian grandmothers praying in the back of empty churches. They are the beating heart of the city.” Gerald knew that their quiet, simple, ceaseless prayers kept New York City from dropping into a bottomless pit.
Gerald’s Sicilian faith is all anyone needs. Go to confession. Say the rosary. Hear Mass as often as you can. The saints are God’s friends, so ask them for help.
Gerald could have kept his editing and writing in the moonlight. Despite the extra scrutiny he risked as a practicing lawyer in Manhattan, he brought his extracurricular work into the light of day. He was a lighthouse for young professionals. Gerald knew firsthand that financial and legal work can be both intensely stressful and numbingly boring. The temptation is to escape to the republic of letters. While he fought that temptation, Gerald’s writing was enriched by his experience of serious, sustained professional excellence.
Gerald helped to keep alive the legacy of Russell Kirk, Orestes Brownson, and Christopher Dawson. Gerry Russello from Brooklyn coulda, shoulda, woulda lived as an intellectual in their mold. But he had a touch more Walter Bagehot in him than he liked to admit. He worked at the center of things and lived in the service of the permanent things.
Gerald Russello is irreplaceable but he joins the saints. Requiescat in pace.
Stephen Schmalhofer is the author of Delightful People.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.
Photo by Ron Cogswell via Creative Commons. Image cropped.