St. Joseph’s Academy students learn about their ties with all humanity

The Catholic Commentator

 Maurice Mazyck was a hungry, 11-year-old-pan handler when he approached Laura Schroff on Labor Day weekend in 1986 at 56th Street in Manhattan. He said he was hungry and asked her if she could give him some spare change.

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Author Laura Schroff and Maurice Mazyck express their thanks to students at St. Joseph’s Academy after they received their gifts of a SJA T-Shirt for Schroff and a tie for Mazyck. Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

  “She told me, ‘no,’ ” Mazyck said in sharing the story of his encounter with Schroff with St. Joseph’s Academy students Sept. 5. Schroff walked on. But as the boy’s words, “I’m hungry” registered in her mind, Schroff turned around in the middle of the intersection. When the light turned green and a car honked its horn at Schroff, Mazyck was shocked when the then 35-year-old advertising executive who had worked with major media walked over to him and offered to buy him lunch at McDonalds.

“She just kept talking, talking and talking,” Mazyck said with a smile as he described their first meal together.

The two spent the afternoon together bonding as they played video games, ate Häagen-Dazs ice cream, walked around Central Park, and developed a ritual of meeting every Monday for four years. The two remain very close friends.

Schroff and Mazyck talked to the SJA students about the impact that their encounter had on their lives, which Schroff wrote about in her New York Times best-selling novel, “An Invisible Thread.”

The process of Schroff speaking at SJA began when 2013 graduate Tess Mayer gave a report on the book for extra credit in senior English class. The book came to the attention of SJA administration officials, who also enjoyed it and made it a school-wide reading assignment. Senior Meagan Melancon was so inspired by the book that she sent an email to Schroff asking if she would speak at the school. The author accepted her invitation.

Mazyck and Schroff have appeared many times on national media to share their story.

The author explained to the students the book’s title is based on the Chinese proverb: “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle. But it will never break.”

Schroff said she and Mazyck received something they needed from their relationship. Mazyck, whose deceased father was a gang member and drug dealer, and whose mother was addicted to drugs, needed stability in his life and meals. Schroff said she found the son she never had in Mazyck.

Schroff introduced Mazyck to culture, etiquette and table manners.

“She taught me so many things in life. I became a man who takes care of his family,” Mazyck said. “She is the mother I never had.”

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St. Joseph’s Academy students cheer as they wait for the start of the program in which author Laura Schroff spoke about her book “An Invisible Thread.” 

 

He told the students that one of the most important things she taught him is what a “normal” life is.

“My life was not normal – I was around a lot of bad situations,” Mazyck said. He lived in a 12 x 12-foot room with 11 other people. He did not own a toothbrush or bar of soap.

Mazyck described from the perspective of a wide-eyed child what it was like when he and Schroff went to visit her sister at her nice home. While he was impressed with the home and its big grassy back yard, what he liked best was the big dining room table, where Schroff sister’s family shared meals and talked.

Now an owner of a small construction company, Mazyck said he teaches his seven children the lessons Schroff taught him. He also has a big dining room table for his family.

Schroff learned about the environment of deprivation that Mazyck and the less fortunate lived in.

“I can’t believe he (Mazyck) lived only two blocks from my apartment,” said Schroff.

She described the eye-opening experience of arriving unannounced at his home to ask his mother’s permission to take him to a New York Mets ball game. Mazyck was embarrassed by his living conditions and asked Schroff to never visit there again.

Mazyck also helped Schroff come to terms with her own childhood memories of living with an abusive, alcoholic father.

During a question and answer session with the students, Mazyck and Schroff were asked where they think they would be today if they had never met. Mazyck replied dead or in jail. Schroff said she would still be working long hours and her life would not be full.

The author encouraged the program attendees to “absolutely follow your dreams” and to “make an impact right where you are.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, St. Vincent de Paul Volunteer Coordinator Gail Gaiennie, a 1966 SJA graduate, announced that SJA will join in the fight against hunger by supporting the Bags of Hope program. Faculty and staff provided the first 250 brown bag lunches and will rotate with student groups to provide 250 meals per week to the homeless.