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For Town Surveyor faith has no bounds

Tony Muscatelli, a Catholic deacon since 2002

By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

At first, you might think that a land surveyor would have trouble reconciling his profession with serving God and the church. After all, measuring boundaries is a precise business that depends on accurate, verifiable data, while religion depends on faith in things which cannot be seen or proven scientifically.

For Smithfield Town Surveyor Anthony “Tony” Muscatelli, 69, it isn’t a problem at all. A deacon in the Roman Catholic Church since 2002, Muscatelli sees no conflict in his two missions in life.

“Both things are based on truth,” he declares. “They (surveying and serving God) fit together because of the truth.”

He says that accepting Christ as his savior means he accepts His truth and measures his life against it, and in his work he measures land with his instruments. In fact he measures them to within a permissible error ratio of 1 foot in 20,000 feet of computation. For him these are not incompatible undertakings.

“It’s about precision and accuracy. I want to get to the bottom line, the truth,” he reiterates.

Muscatelli, who does site development work and land surveying under the corporate name International Mapping and Surveying, has been the Town of Smithfield’s land surveyor since 1982.

He had worked with the late Glenn Rawlins, who was retiring from the post, and who, along with the late Elinor Wright, the tax assessor, recommended him for the job.

A practicing Catholic all his life, Muscatelli’s path to becoming a deacon proceeded on a longer arc than his route to surveying. Growing up in St. Ann’s parish in the Charles Street area of Providence, Tony was an altar boy for nine years. He came from a devout family.

“I considered the priesthood,” he confides. “I had faith in God, but I also hung out on the corner, if you know what I mean,” he adds with a gentle laugh. “Thank God for my mother.”

Despite his forays into the worldly diversions of a youth going about the business of attaining manhood, his faith never left him.

He went to Roger Williams College (now Roger Williams University) where he studied construction technology, an engineering program from which he earned a Bachelor of Science degree. He began doing land surveying while still a student and has done so professionally since 1976.

In 1973 he married Sonya Stephens, who was from Esmond. They lived briefly in Johnston and Providence. They had a son in 1975 and in 1985 adopted two daughters, ages two and a half and three and a half, for whom they had been foster parents. In 1986 they moved to Smithfield, became parishioners at St. Michael Church in Georgiaville, and have been in town ever since.

In 1991 life took a troubling turn for Tony and his family. He had formed a surveying company, Anthony Muscatelli and Associates, Inc., but the credit union crisis hit Rhode Island. Governor Bruce Sundlun closed the banks, and Tony was forced to declare bankruptcy. “It was a difficult time,” he says, a time that challenged him to explore the depth of his faith.

There was a series of four courses being offered at St. Joseph’s Church in West Warwick that examined such things as spirituality, the old and new testaments, catechism, canon law, and morality. He enrolled.

“I wasn’t sure what I would do with it, but I was drawn to it,” he mentions.

When he finished, he was asked if he were interested in becoming a deacon. A huge commitment in the Catholic religion, it requires a three-year course of study, deep self-examination, and the full support of the candidate’s spouse, among other things.

“I passed on the idea at that time,” Muscatelli confesses. That was in 1994. He wasn’t yet ready, but church authorities told him he would get a letter when they were preparing to enroll another class of deacons three years hence.

His soul-searching continued, and at age 49 he made a pilgrimage with Town Councilman Al LaGreca to Medjugorje in Bosnia. The reputed site of numerous apparitions of the Virgin Mary, Medjugorje attracts visitors from all over the world, some one million a year according to various reports. The trip deepened his focus on his personal devoutness.

“I had never been on a jet. It was my first flight,” he says of the journey to the shrine.

The introspection continued and grew deeper after the experience.

“I was growing more spiritual. You go down and hit bottom, and you start working your way back up, and that’s where you meet God,” he reflects.

When the letter came asking him again if he would like to apply for the diaconate, this time he was receptive. He had been active in the Smithfield Lions, and it made him aware how much he liked to serve other people and address the needs of the community.

So, he said “yes” to being a deacon. There followed an arduous process that began with a “year of discernment” in which he reflected with a mentor on his faith and his suitability for the role. His mentor happened to be the Rev. Francis Santilli, now the pastor of St. Philip Church in Greenville.

Next came 10 courses taken over three years at Providence College, as well as weekend retreats, and such things as a psychological profile, which required responses to 400 questions by two examiners, a man and a woman, in a process that also included his wife.

“Becoming a deacon requires the full consent and agreement of our wives,” Tony observes. “The church will not jeopardize the sacrament of marriage for the sacrament of ordination,” he explains.

His preparation included an internship at St. Joseph Church in Pascoag. Deacons must be requested to serve by a pastor, and after he completed his internship and was ordained in 2002 Tony was invited to stay at St. Joseph, which he did for 11 years. It was very rewarding.

“We can assist the pastor with most anything,” he explains. “We serve at their pleasure.”

While deacons cannot consecrate the Eucharist, they can teach catechism, perform baptisms, serve at mass, read the Gospel, give the homily, and perform charity such as visiting shut-ins and nursing home residents and others in need. In his time at St. Joseph, Tony had the opportunity to preach “quite a bit,” he notes.

Today, he is assigned to St. Philip Church in Greenville, where, he says with gratitude, “Father Santilli was very gracious in accepting me.” Among his duties is serving as the chaplain of the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

Tony points out that he loves being a deacon. The concept of service is fundamental to him. “Jesus said, ‘I came to serve, not to be served.’ You can get as busy as you want in the church. All you have to do is say, ‘I’ll do it,’” he comments.

He shows no signs of slowing down at his secular calling either. Anthony Muscatelli, it seems, sees his purpose through both the surveyor’s lens and his work as a deacon with the clarity of a true believer.