One Final Twist in the Rev. Louis Gigante’s Colorful Life: A Son

Father Louis R. Gigante is always greater than in real life. A Roman Catholic priest, son of Italian immigrants and brother of New York robbers, Father Gigante crossed the crime-ridden and ruined South Bronx with a baseball bat and a development company has built thousands of apartments for the poor.

But it turned out that even the myth could not live up to the true extent of Father Gigante’s full life. After he passed away in October, his will revealed two more amazing facts: He was a millionaire. And he left almost all of his estate to a single beneficiary – his 32-year-old son.

The revelation publicly revealed a crude challenge to one of the Catholic Church’s tenets, that priests must remain celibate. The discovery was made in recent weeks by journalist Salvatore Arena, a former New York Daily News reporter who was preparing to recommend a book about Father Gigante and look up his last will and testament. .

“I almost fell off my chair,” Arena said.

In his way, Father Gigante also seems to have made minimal effort to hide his son from the outside world the way other priests have done in the past. The pastor’s personal life has been the subject of decades of gossip in the Bronx and a public secret to those closest to him.

Father Gigante may have evaded church scrutiny of his personal life through sheer personal power, in the same way he used his outsized personality to rebuild desolate streets. around his parish, brokering behind-the-scenes deals as a Democrat king and loudly defending his criminal brethren. It seems hard to fathom that during the end of those busy years he was also raising a son in a quiet suburb north of the city.

Luigino Gigante was born in 1990 and grew up in Somers, NY, in Westchester County, a few blocks from Father Gigante’s parish, St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, an hour’s drive. He and his father lived with the boy’s mother and ostensibly an unremarkable suburban family – until Dad put on his daily Roman collar and became a dad again.

“We have a quiet life,” Gigante said in an interview in Manhattan, which he calls Gino. “He is proud of me. We did everything together.” As for his father being a priest, “it was like another oddity,” he said.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, said Sunday that some of the people he spoke to in church knew nothing about Father Gigante’s son “other than rumours.”

“While each case will be evaluated and resolved on its own merits, a priest who is the father of a child will have to support the child and the mother. However, in general, priests with children leave the priesthood, often voluntarily,” said Mr. Zwilling.

Mr. Gigante said he had been told over the years that the archdiocese’s clergy knew that Father Gigante had a child and chose to ignore it. He said he was told a version of this scenario most recently at his father’s funeral.

It is difficult to overstate the prominence of Father Gigante at the time Luigino was born. He founded the Southeast Bronx Community Organization, or SEBCO, in 1968, the first step in rebuilding Hunts Point, which was crumbling and decaying, and he expanded the activity throughout the 1970s and 1980.

The company is at the heart of a network of nonprofit and for-profit organizations that build, manage, and secure new assets. In recent years, Father Gigante has earned an annual salary of $100,000 as president of SEBCO and additional, often higher, bonuses through companies that have been profitable, including Tiffany Building Management and Maintenance Association.

Those earnings accumulated in Father Gigante’s will were estimated to be worth more than $7 million, practically all of which he left to his son, placing it in a trust until he is 40 years old.

Previously, when asked about his wealth, he shrugged. “I do not swear poor,” he said in a profile in 1981. “People thought I wasn’t getting paid and that I was a saint for doing it. That is their problem.”

At the same time, he plunged into politics, and undaunted by his defeat in the 1970 congressional primaries, he went on to gain leadership roles in the local Democratic district and also served on a briefly as a city councilor.

He told The New York Times in 1972: “At first, there were people who felt it was wrong for a priest to be a politician.

His surname is more widely associated with one of his brothers, Vincent (the Chin) Gigante, the boss of the powerful Genovese family of the New York Mafia. In the years that followed, Vincent Gigante became an eerie fixture outside his home in Greenwich Village, trudging up and down the street in slippers and a bathrobe in a years-long ruse to pretend to be mentally ill and avoid prosecution.

Father Gigante sided with his brother, saying he was really sick and claiming that the Mafia was an invention of the media. He was active in other famous moments; in 1989, he offered $25,000 to secure bail for one of the Central Park Five.

At one time, the priest lived in the rectory in St. Athanasius, but in 1990 he moved to his home in Westchester, friends said. It was there that his son was born.

Attempts to reach Mr. Gigante’s mother were unsuccessful; he said she didn’t want to talk to reporters.

Priests have had children since the earliest days of the church – indeed, clergy used to have wives and children. But around the 12th century, celibacy became a condition for entering the priesthood, in writing if not always fulfilled.

There are enough priests these days to break their vows of celibacy and have children that the Vatican has created a set of general guidelines to deal with them specifically. was revealed in 2019. There is also a global support group for children of priests, international dealingwith about 50,000 members in 2019.

Some children are the product of rape; others were never acknowledged, including one man who discovered that the priest he grew up believing to be his godfather was actually his father.

Years ago, a priest who was found to have a child would be fired immediately. But in guidelines issued in 2019, the church expressed more flexibility in cases where a priest proposes celibacy and openly acknowledges his child (assuming neither parent wants to be celibate). marry).

Gigante said his father’s priestly life was a simple fact in the house, one that was not well hidden.

He said his father would introduce him to his friends with a lyrical joke borrowed from the Bible: “This is my son, I am pleased with him.”

“I’m not hiding,” Mr. Gigante said.

Several people interviewed for this article who lived or worked in the South Bronx during Father Gigante’s tenure there reported frequent whispers.

“There are always rumors,” said Wanda Salaman, who, as executive director of the community-based group Mothers on the Move, met Father Gigante. “Like they say, urban legends or something.”

But there is more work to be done and no one seems to want to investigate further, she said.

For those who have worked closely with Father Gigante through SEBCO, there is no need to whisper. “It’s common knowledge – no one really blinks about it,” said Peter Cantillo, a former district manager for the community council who has gone on to work at SEBCO. “Father is greater than life.”

Sister Eileen McGrory, of the Charity Center, knew Father Gigante, but did not know that he had a son. She considered how it had been kept silent. “There may have been people who said, ‘Well, look at all the good things he’s done — take a breather,’” she said.

Indeed, his friends believe that the goodwill of the priest is worth more than any possible outrage. “People feel he is a great person, he has done so much for the community,” Mr. Cantillo said. “He was a man, he had a child. Frank Sinatra’s song – ‘I did it my way’ – embodies him. He did things the way he wanted to.”

Father Gigante remains an associate pastor at St. Athanasius for 12 years after Gino was born. In 2002, he retired from the Archdiocese of New York at the age of 70. Gigante said his father wanted to spend more time with him as he entered his teens. The church then erected a statue of Father Gigante outside the front door.

In 2021, two lawsuits allege Father Gigante sexually abused a girl in the early 1960s when she was about 10 years old and a boy in the 1970s when he was 9 or 10 – two of hundreds. cases involving priests. under the state’s Child Victims Act, which allows victims to sue over past allegations of sexual abuse. The cases were still pending at the time of his death. Mr Gigante said his father vehemently denied the allegations.

Mr. Gigante attended City College of New York. He said that before he started there, his father warned, “You might have people asking about me.”

“I said, ‘Well, if they ask about you, I’ll just say you’re my father,'” he said. “To be honest with you, I don’t really care.”

During college, the professor asked only once about Gigante’s family – and that was about his famous uncle “Chin,” he said.

His father would say, “Your name does not define who you are, but your actions,” Mr. Gigante said. He always wanted me to be who I wanted to be.

As time went on, after Father Gigante retired, any caution seemed to disappear. Mr. Gigante worked for a while at SEBCO, where he was known as the boss’s son.

Gigante went on to open a popular e-sports and internet cafe on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Waypoint Cafe, in 2017. His father attended the opening, he said.

After Father Gigante died on October 19, Gigante held a funeral Mass at St. James in Chatham, NY. He said a friend of his father’s from SEBCO told him a story that sounded like a mixture of truth and myth surrounding it. Father Gigante during his lifetime.

“After you were born, your father was called down” to the archdiocesan headquarters in Manhattan, Gigante recalled the friend saying. Gigante was later told his father turned around and said, “’They asked me if I had a son, and I said, ‘Yes,’ and left,” the friend recalled. “‘And that’s it.'”

Alain Delaquérière Contributing research.


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