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Strong faith both unites and divides friends

Longtime friends Joe Gutierrez (left) Louis Miceli. | Phoprovided

Longtime friends Joe Gutierrez (left) and Louis Miceli. | Photo provided

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Updated: June 30, 2013 6:09AM



“...Ora pro nobis, Deo Alleluia

Gaude et Laetare, Virgo Maria, Alleluia

Quia surrexit Dominus vere, Alleluia”

— Hermann von Reichenau

I followed my buddy Lil’ Joe Gutierrez to his friend Dr. Louis Miceli’s house in Munster. Gutierrez and Miceli originally intended to be priests, but became fathers instead.

Gutierrez and Miceli are devout Catholics, but at opposite ends of the spectrum. The good doctor is as conservative as Lil’ Joe is liberal. Over a cup of Lavassa coffee, I eagerly awaited for the sparks to fly between the two of them.

***

“I was born in Mother Cabrini Hospital on the South Side of Chicago,” Miceli began. “My maternal grandmother helped build that hospital. She knew Francis Xavier Cabrini. Mother Cabrini was the first American saint. She came to this country from Italy and then became a naturalized American citizen.

“The Italian immigrants lived close to one another when they came to America. That’s all they had; the church and each other.”

What was your grandmother’s surname?

“DeGrazia.”

My Grandma Manes’ maiden name was DeBartolo.

“There are some DeBartolos in Schererville — good people. They came from Italy; I used to take care of them a long time ago.”

What did your father do for a living?

“He was an electrician. My father was born in this country, but lived in Sicily from the ages of 5 to 18. He started out as a watchmaker. I still have his tools.

“My dad also played the violin and sang opera. He lived in New Jersey before moving to Chicago. My grandfather and Frank Sinatra’s father were buddies.”

At what high school did you attend?

“Actually, I went to a seminary — St. Joseph’s in Westmont, Ill. It’s now Oak Brook. After my fourth year at the seminary, I really didn’t have the feeling as much as I had in the past about becoming a priest. This is when becoming a doctor really started to catch hold of me. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be something, to be able to heal people when they come to you?’”

College?

“I went to Lewis University in Lockport first, then I transferred to Elmhurst College which was closer to home because I had to work nights while going to school during the day. I finished up my schooling at the Chicago Osteopathic Medical Center; today it’s called Midwestern University. It’s a huge campus.”

You became a pediatrician.

“Yes, I actually started the first intensive care nursery in South Bend. Then, I practiced in the Hammond area for 20 years. It was a pediatrics and family practice.”

Joe tells me that you’ve had an issue with soy products for years.

“We’re eating a lot of things in America that are killing us. Soy has something in it called phytoestrogen. When you eat this, it changes your biochemistry.”

Example, please.

“It could predispose women to over-estrogenation which can lead them into breast, uterine or ovarian cancer. Men can become obese because of phytoestrogen. When farmers want to fatten up their cattle or hogs, they feed them soy, which binds the animals’ thyroid.

“When you go to the grocery store, you’ll find that many products have soy in them. If you give a baby soy formula, by the end of the day you’ve given that child the amount of estrogen that can be found in five birth control pills.”

Other health-related changes that have occurred in America since we were kids?

“There is an epidemic of autism-related problems in kids today. We don’t understand it. One of the excuses that medical science gives for this outbreak of autism now is: ‘We didn’t recognize it way back when.’ That’s wrong. Some types of autism were recognized in the 1940s; we just didn’t see the frequency of it that we see now. When I was in medical school, the frequency of autism was like one child in 5,000.”

Today?

“One child in 70 or 80.”

Let’s switch gears. You went to Haiti soon after the earthquake in 2010.

“That changed my life. The things that I saw were unbelievable. Out of 8 million people on that island, close to 400,000 died. That’s not injured — died.

“There were a lot of people underground who never lived to see another day above ground because they had no heavy equipment in Haiti. When I passed these little towns, the houses looked like stacks of pancakes. These structures were two or three stories high, but were built without re-bar. When the earthquake occurred, they collapsed.”

I can only imagine.

“The man in this photo came up to me while I was trying to sleep in the courtyard at about 3 a.m. Keep in mind, hardly anyone in Haiti speaks English. He says to me: ‘Give me your rosary.’ I gave him my rosary. He looks at me and says: ‘My wife, my five children — all dead.’ Then he walked away.

“I said to the priest, ‘Father, this guy came up to me and he wanted my rosary and I gave it to him. He didn’t even thank me.’ The priest said, ‘You stupid American. He gave you such a compliment. Haitians are a very proud people. We are the only ones who won against the white man. We kicked the white man out. From that day, we said no one has to say please or thank you, because you say please or thank you to your master. But when we are equal, we speak without those words.’”

***

There have been months at a time when Gutierrez and Miceli have not spoken to each other because of differences of opinion regarding their faith.

As I was about to make my exit, Lil’ Joe and Doc Miceli chanted the Salve Regina in unison.

It was a beautiful thing.



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