Light One Candle

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Jerry Costello

From The People’s Grocery to Christ the Healer
September 6, 2015

For young Frank Incaprera, growing up in New Orleans, there was always the store. The People’s Grocery, it was called; a tiny old-fashioned place in the heart of the French Quarter. It would have been your typical mom-and-pop store—but in this case “pop” was absent from the scene. Young Frank’s father, who had founded the store, passed away when Frank was seven. It was the height of the Great Depression, and it left his widow with a key decision: return to Sicily, as her family wanted, or stay to keep the store and raise her children here.

                “It was a crisis,” now-Dr. Incaprera recalled for Peter Finney Jr., of the New Orleans Clarion Herald. “She tossed and turned about going back to Italy, but she made the decision to stick it out here to give us a chance at a better life.”

                For the next few years, the store—and the Teresian Sisters who staffed St. Louis Cathedral School—formed young Frank. He learned how to deliver bagged groceries, to wait on customers, to restock the shelves. “Everything had to be straight and face the right way,” he told Finney. “That stayed with me my whole life.”

                Nor was he neglecting his courses at the Cathedral School; far from it. He won top honors at graduation; finished Jesuit High at 15; completed Loyola University in two and a half years, and entered LSU Medical School at 17. He received his medical degree when he was just 20—all the while waiting on customers at the store.

                “People talk about multi-tasking,” he said. “That was routine. You had to do those things in order to survive.”

                Over the years, a number of important changes took place in his life. He met and married a nursing student named Ruth, and eventually they became the parents of six children (she died in 2013 after 61 years of marriage). He went into private practice and launched an internal medicine group, which started with four doctors and in time grew to 44.

                And a new element entered his medical practice in 1980, when a friend introduced him to Christ the Healer, a medical mission group that makes regular trips to Nicaragua. Dr. Incaprera made his first visit (of 12) and was hooked, so much so that he became known for recruiting other physicians to join the team. One thing bothered him, though: the inability to see more patients when the need to treat the poor was so great.

                “It was depressing,” he recalled. “I just felt like I was wasting my time.” Then a friend, a nun, remembered the old Christopher motto and said, “It’s better to light one candle.”

                “It really hit home for me,” Dr. Incaprera said, “that we were doing good for at least one person. That gave me the boost I needed.” 

                Now 86, he’s reached the award-receiving stage of life—including a prestigious one from the American College of Physicians, which honored his lifetime of exemplary service to medicine. He was also honored by Christ the Healer for his devotion to medical mission work. 

                And he thinks back often to the store that gave him his start (it lasted until the mid-1980s, when the property was sold) and to his mother, who died in 2006 at 98. The lessons that he learned he learned well—and they motivate him still, in one way or another, to this day.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org