On June 1, 1969, I was born Brent Eric LaSapio in an Army hospital on Fort Benning, Georgia. Soon after, I was baptized by the Catholic chaplain on base. My father was an Army captain who did two tours in Vietnam, and before I was born my mother worked as a telephone operator. My parents divorced in 1974, and I never really knew my father.
My mother and I went to live with my grandparents on their farm near a small town in northeastern North Dakota. In December, 1975, my mother remarried to the man who ran the Montgomery Ward store in town. We moved to Fargo, where we lived until I was ten. We later moved to Omaha and then New Jersey. When I was 17 my stepfather left the family.
When the time came for my Confirmation, I took the name Anthony, after Saint Anthony of Padua. When I graduated from high school I decided to go on to college at Cornell University in New York. My best subjects in high school were English and French, so I entered the College of Arts and Sciences. Once there, though, I changed my mind and switched to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to study soil science, because I loved the land and identified with my grandfather the farmer. I was a decent student but my heart wasn’t really in my studies.
When I was 18 I changed my last name to Schefter, the name of my Grandfather Schefter, my mother’s father. I had always admired his strength, and he was the head of my family. I felt honored that he allowed me to take his name.
After seven semesters I had had about enough of college, so I graduated one semester early to move to Alaska. Alaska had long thrilled me, and since I figured that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come again, I decided to move there with no job lined up. Fortune was kind to me, though, and I soon found work at a water testing laboratory in Fairbanks. Less than a year later I got a job in Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States, where I was privileged to spend three and a half years. I loved it there.
Somewhere along the way, I had stopped practicing my Catholic faith. In 1994 I began to take an interest in God again and started searching, though I wasn’t sure what for. Having gone through a period of uncertainty about God, I had come to believe that He existed. I also knew that something was missing in my life—despite a good job, money, friends, and life in a place I loved, I still was not satisfied. So I began to look for something to fill the gap.
God began to work very deeply in my heart that year. It was the beginning of a conversion for me, and soon I was going to Confession and attending Mass again. I legally changed my middle name to Anthony—my Confirmation name—and started calling myself that.
When I read in Matthew’s gospel, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21), I wanted to do exactly that. So I sold my house in Barrow, got rid of most of my stuff, gave to the poor, and moved to Seattle, where I expected to find a larger Catholic community. In Seattle I spent several years investigating the religious life, looking at the Jesuits, the Dominicans, and the Benedictines.
After Seattle I moved several times and eventually found my way back to North Dakota/Minnesota. During that time I held a number of jobs (I’ve never really found my “niche”). I have tried technology work, social work, the Catholic worker movement, making Starbucks coffee, selling trailer hitches, taking pictures of kids, helping fix furniture, and selling plants. It’s been pretty much you name it, I’ve done it.
I have seen a lot of life and had a great variety of experiences, as well as my share of trials and failures. One of the things that I have learned through all of it is that there is always reason for hope, because over every human experience reigns the Cross of Christ. Even the evil things that we suffer become a source of life for us and for others.
I also have come to believe that there is more to life than making ends meet.We have a great dignity as sons and daughters of God, and, as part of that dignity, we are entitled—indeed, commanded—to live according to our love. Happiness in this life and the next is what life is all about. God wills your happiness. If you’re not happy, then God wants to give you happiness. Take the time to secure your own happiness, and you will find you can easily spread it to others—it’s quite infectious. In the words of our beloved Pope Saint John Paul II, “Be not afraid!”