By Paul McMullen
The Catholic Review visits with Joseph I. Cassilly, State’s Attorney for Harford County and parishioner of St. Ignatius, Hickory.
CR: What, and where, are your Catholic roots?
Cassilly: The Cassilly family is buried at St. Francis de Sales in Abingdon, and on my mother’s side, the Websters are buried at St. Ignatius, Hickory. My mom was an organist at several Catholic churches, and my earliest memories are looking through the choir loft railing at Mass.
We lived a block from St. Margaret’s church and school in Bel Air, where we were taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. I sang in the boys’ choir, and because I was an altar boy who lived near the church, did years of daily Masses, funerals, weddings, all the Easter services, Stations of the Cross. On Saturday evening, I set up for Mass in the parish school gymnasium. I went to John Carroll for high school, and later began lectoring and playing the guitar at folk Masses.
CR: DID Anything in that background influence your decision to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1968?
Cassilly: I look at our lives as being blessed. We have an obligation to help those who are being persecuted, so I enlisted. I could never understand those who smugly enjoy their freedoms in silence and watch tyrants make the lives of those in other countries a living hell, but they protest loudly when the U.S. military gets involved to fight a tyrant or guarantee freedom in other countries.
When I went in the Army I found great comfort as a server, lector, guitarist, singer and chaplain’s assistant. I was always Catholic, but did not think about it until I was hurt in Vietnam.
CR: How did your faith help you overcome the injuries you sustained in Vietnam, which left you a quadriplegic?
Cassilly: Think about it. Christ did not use his divine abilities to escape crucifixion. He set an example for the disabled. In the garden, he said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine” (Lk 22:42). We should understand that God, because of his plans, may not relieve the pain and frustration of being disabled.
CR: What can the church do to promote a greater sense of service among youths?
Cassilly: I appreciate the effort of once a year taking a youth group to a distant location to work in a mission, but that emphasizes the need somewhere else. There are plenty of young and old people inside our own parishes who are forgotten. Because they might be unseen, we don’t know they need our charity.
CR: After nine terms in office, you are stepping down from public service in January. Besides volunteering at your parish and spending time with your grandchildren, what’s on tap for retirement?
Cassilly: I hope to travel, read, teach, boat and stay involved with youth programs in the criminal justice system.
CR: Favorite saint?
Cassilly: St. Joseph. It’s interesting, there was a Joseph at the beginning of Christ’s life and the end. His foster father wrapped him in swaddling clothes and Joseph of Arimathea wrapped him in burial cloths. St. Joseph is the patron of fathers and workers and a model of patience – reasons I especially pray to him. My middle name is Ignatius, so I read his writings. My confirmation name is Michael, so I also pray to him.