Robert (left) and Richard (right) Calvanico
Legacy Society Members Helene and Alphonse Calvanico are creating an endowment at Thomas Aquinas College in memory of their late sons, Robert (left) and Richard (right).

After more than a half-century of marriage that has produced four children, a successful family business, and seven grandchildren, Helene and Alphonse Calvanico of Staten Island, N.Y., are hardly in need of another legacy. Yet motivated by an abiding love, they are generously creating one — not for themselves, but for their late sons, Robert and Richard.

Since the beginning of this “mixed marriage” in 1953 (Helene’s family was Norwegian and Protestant, Alphonse’s was Italian and Catholic), the Calvanicos have had their share of trials and struggles. Their ethnic and religious differences aroused tremendous objections from their extended family, especially when Mrs. Calvanico entered the Church in 1961. Moreover, Mr. Calvanico, a retired engineer, has survived three separate bouts with cancer. But none of these hardships can compare with the tribulation of losing the two sons who, growing up, shared a room in the family home that Mr. Calvanico had built.

The third of the Calvanicos’ four boys, four-year-old Robert was shy, quiet, and loved his daddy fiercely. He would sit next to Mr. Calvanico at the dinner table, a position he cherished so dearly that “the boys could never bribe it away from him.” Two months before his fifth birthday, little Robert was struck with a malignant brain tumor. He died only two weeks later, on Christmas Eve of 1963.

For years, the Calvanicos struggled to overcome the grief of losing Robert. Their faith was their consolation, found especially in sharing the gift of the Mass together. “The pain gets easier,” Mrs. Calvanico says. “It has to, or you would go crazy. But it never goes away.”

More than 40 years after Robert’s death, Mr. and Mrs. Calvanico would experience that excruciating pain again in 2006 when their second son, Richard, died suddenly from a blood clot at the age of 49. A devoted father and husband who personally saw to it that his wife earned a college degree, Richard placed a high value on education. He was also deeply committed to his Catholic faith. “The guys at work used to call him ‘Fr. Rich,’” his mother jokes.

When the Calvanicos were looking for ways to memorialize Richard, Thomas Aquinas College seemed a natural choice. They had only recently come to know of the College through its newsletter, but they liked what they saw. “I was very impressed with the type of curriculum, but the biggest thing that got me was that the College was teaching the classics to its students,” Mrs. Calvanico says.

When the Calvanicos were restructuring their will after Richard’s death, they made a realization: “Robert wasn’t even in our will, and we wanted to correct that,” says Mrs. Calvanico. So they decided to make a legacy gift to Thomas Aquinas College.

“Robert never got to go to school,” the couple explains, so it seemed fitting to honor him through an educational institution. They have opted to use their gift to create an endowment in Robert and Richard’s names that will support the financial aid needs of future students. “The Calvanicos have chosen a beautiful, a truly extraordinary way to honor their sons Robert and Richard,” says Thomas Susanka, the College’s emeritus director of gift planning. “They and their children will always be part of the College family, in our prayers and in our hearts. We will not forget.”