A celebrity reality show star gets canonized at a Catholic Funeral Mass! O WOW!
At Funeral Mass for ‘Big Ang,’ the Sacred and the Irreverent Mingle
A woman from Staten Island was eulogized in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, on Monday, a cable television star who had a distinctive nickname and a distinctive voice and spoke in a distinctive New York patois; who bought a bigger house to have space for her 500 pairs of shoes and 300 pocketbooks; and who owned a bar that she said had “become, like, a tourist trap.”
And who was known to millions of fans.
The woman, Angela Raiola, was a linchpin on the VH1 series “Mob Wives” as well as the bubbly offshoot that took her nickname, Big Ang, for its title.
Her connection to organized crime was through an uncle, Salvatore Lombardi, who had a nickname of his own, Sally Dogs. The creator and executive producer of “Mob Wives,” Jennifer Graziano, said last week that Ms. Raiola, 55, had died on Thursday of complications of cancer after she came down with pneumonia.
In death, as in life, Ms. Raiola commanded a crowd. Hundreds attended her funeral Mass in the Renaissance Revival sanctuary of the Basilica of Regina Pacis, even two “Mob Wives” co-stars who, by some accounts, had been warned that they were not welcome. The Daily News said Karen Gravano and Brittany Fogarty had been told it was “not a good idea” to attend the wake, held on Sunday, or the funeral.
Ms. Gravano — the daughter of the mob turncoat Salvatore Gravano, who testified against the Gambino boss John J. Gotti — apparently disregarded the advice. She slipped into the church without apparent incident.
Ms. Fogarty, the daughter of John Fogarty, a reputed Mafia hit man, was not seen at the funeral. She said on VH1 that both of her parents were involved in illegal drug activity and organized crime and that her father had gone into the federal witness protection program. She also said that her father and Mr. Gravano, known as Sammy the Bull, knew each other from the time they spent as prison inmates together.
Ms. Raiola’s body arrived at the church in a gray Cadillac hearse shortly before the Mass began. Eight pallbearers lifted the gleaming silver coffin, which reflected the bright late-winter sun and the faces of mourners on the steps, who parted to make way.
Jon Caramanica, a critic for The New York Times, once described Ms. Raiola as “plastic-surgery-abetted, with a face Dali would have loved.” He said she “represented the Ghost of Mob Wives Future, standing on one’s own after the good years with wiseguys have dried up.”
She herself complained, as only she could, about her fame. She complained about the interruptions from people who wanted snapshots with her.
“Like, I definitely can’t go to the Staten Island Mall,” she said. “That’s out.”
In the sanctuary, the sacred mingled with the irreverent. Msgr. David L. Cassato, who celebrated the Mass, mostly referred to Ms. Raiola as Big Ang, not Angela. His place on the altar was not far from an enormous bouquet of red roses shaped like a pair of lips, a tribute to Ms. Raiola’s pillowy mouth.
Her estranged husband, Neil Murphy, with whom she had a fractious relationship, wore sunglasses, even inside the sanctuary. He took them off from time to time to wipe away tears.
“Big Ang was indeed fully human,” Monsignor Cassato said in his homily. “She loved, she laughed, she shared, she cared.”
He said she had gone to heaven. “She is with God,” he said at one point during the service. “She is with her family. She is with all those in heaven.”
Other mourners remembered Ms. Raiola as a loving sister, mother, grandmother and fellow parishioner who ran fund-raisers for sick children. They also remembered how she had helped her Staten Island neighborhood recover after Hurricane Sandy and raised money at other untelevised moments.
Anna DeNicola remembered that when her 7-year-old grandson Joseph DeNicola was dying, Ms. Raiola ran a fund-raiser to help with his medical bills. Ms. DeNicola said Ms. Raiola had also kept tabs on how the family was bearing up.
“She carried my family through like a shining star,” Ms. DeNicola said.
Monsignor Cassato held up a framed photograph of Ms. Raiola that he said he kept on his desk. “Every time I look at it,” he said, “it brings back a beautiful memory of my friendship with Big Ang.”
One of those memories concerned a parish bazaar she had attended. Big Ang was helping run the raffle, he said, and approached him with a question that only someone with her background and her temperament would ask a priest:
“What’s my percentage?” she asked.