Tony Agnesi loves to share stories to build up the faith of his readers. And he does it with such enthusiasm and joy! His life experiences with cancer and Hepatitis C, ministry with Pro-Life, youth and prisoners, podcasting and speaking, form his compassionate spirituality so evident in all kinds of uplifting stories. Through social media networking and the Catholic Writers Guild, Tony and I discovered we often find inspiration at Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, FL, although at different times. In 2015, he interviewed me for his podcast, Finding God’s Grace, about my first video presentation on Sharing Your Faith Story for the online Catholic Conference for Moms. With his new book, A Storytellers Guide to a Grace-Filled Life: 70 Plus Stories & Reflections of God’s Grace, I reversed our roles and interviewed him.
Nancy Ward: Congratulations on your book, A Storytellers Guide to a Grace-Filled Life.
When I opened the book and saw the dedication ”To Nico and Luca, my wonderful grandsons,” I wondered if you wrote the book as a legacy to them.
Tony Agnesi: Yes, over the past five years, I found many family stories that I wanted to pass along to Nico and Luca. Some stories are about my wife Diane and I, and we want them to know that Grandma and Grandpa were followers of Jesus Christ and how our Catholic faith has blessed us over the years.
Nancy: I would guess that your grandsons enjoy the many stories from your childhood, which of these is your favorite? Why?
Tony: So many have had a major impact on my life. One that stands out is My Christmas Train. It was my parent’s way of seeing if I would be willing to give up my favorite Christmas present to a friend whose father had been laid off at work and didn’t have the money to buy an electric train. I passed their test, as I think most six-year-olds would.
Nancy: Was your first encounter with Christ during your childhood?
Tony: I spent most of my youth at a small parish where I was an altar boy until I was in my 20s. My mother was a devout Catholic, and I learned my faith from her example. My first real encounter with Christ came as an adult through the Cursillo movement in the early 1970s. I made a Cursillo weekend, and it was powerful and life-changing. I certainly have had many encounters with Christ that were painful such as being cured of colon cancer and Hepatitis C, but even those brought joy in the end. But my first encounter was the most powerful.
Nancy: You share the heartbreak of dealing with a diagnosis of colon cancer in the story, “The Me I’m Meant to Be.” How did you experience God’s grace during this ordeal?
Tony: From the minute I was diagnosed my faith grew stronger. I had always looked at life through a “soft filter,” but immediately my vision became crystal clear. I realized which things are really important and which ones aren’t. The day I returned home from hearing the diagnosis, I received an email with a great prayer, “Lord, thank you for….” As I read those words, I began thanking God for the blessings I have received. Over an hour later, in tears, I was still finding things to be grateful for. I never worried about my cancer diagnosis again. That was over 12 years ago, and by God’s grace, I am still cancer free.
Nancy: How has your relationship with God been nurtured through your cancer and other struggles of your life?
Tony: Every struggle I have faced in my life came not only with a way out but a lesson learned. That is why one of my favorite Bible quotes is 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” I could not have received these life lessons without the struggles I have faced.
Nancy: You conveyed great insight in the stories from your prison ministry. Didn’t God call you to this ministry through other heart-breaking experiences?
Tony: Yes, I had coached a youngster who was an orphan adopted from Brazil. He was a great kid, and we had a wonderful coach/player relationship. Following graduation, he got mixed up with the wrong crowd and was arrested on a marijuana charge. Since his adoptive parents had not acquired US citizenship for their son, he was eventually deported to a country with a language he didn’t know. He had no family, no one to help him. Less than a month after he was deported, he was killed on the streets of Sao Paulo. During his incarceration in the US, I visited him often, and we talked about Jesus and our faith that God would get him through this nightmare. Following his death, I vowed that I would spend time in the jails and prisons sharing Jesus with other kids like him. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am researching his life and death for a book I hope to write soon.
Nancy: I like how you apply the wisdom gained from both your prison ministry and your bout with cancer. How did these experiences shape your spirituality?
Tony: People often ask me how these miraculous experiences happen to me so frequently. I can only respond that I am totally open to God’s grace. Every morning at daily Mass when I receive the Eucharist I pray, “Lord, make me an instrument. Put someone in my life today that you can help through me.” It’s a powerful prayer, and it works every time. Not only do I have opportunities to share Christ with others, but also the wisdom I gain has strengthened and shaped my spirituality.
Nancy: God’s grace has become a theme in your website, podcast and this book. What has become your definition of God’s grace in your life?
Tony: It is tough for me to define it, but I can feel God personally touching me, instructing me, showering me with the warmth of his presence.
Nancy: What story best illustrates this?
Tony: A story that illustrates this happened the day I was declared cured of Hepatitis C. As I drove the hour from my doctor’s appointment to my office, I saw a homeless man sitting on the ground in front of the drug store. I felt a prompting from the Lord to stop and talk with him. He needed a prescription filled that was keeping him alive. He didn’t have the money, resources or family to get it. I took him inside and paid for his prescription. It was 28 dollars. The drugs for my cure were over $90,000. I had great insurance because I had a great job with outstanding benefits. His life was in jeopardy for want of 28 dollars. At that moment, I knew that God was calling me to speak out for the homeless, the incarcerated and the unborn.
Nancy: You have shared deeply from your spirituality and given the readers much to think about in these stories. What do you want them to take away from this book?
Tony: We all have stories that have shaped our lives. Many involve family, the holidays, and the everyday occurrences that remind us that God is with us. I want the reader to be inspired by my stories, to reflect on the lessons they teach, but more importantly, to recall and share their own stories, experiences and encounters with God. If the book can do that, then it will be the blessing to the reader that I humbly pray it will be.
Nancy: You have become known as a master storyteller. Do you have more stories to tell your readers in a future book?
Tony: I have always been a storyteller but never a good writer. People in my life have always commented about stories that have touched them and have encouraged me to write them down. In 2012, I started writing short stories with a moral. Each was tied to Scripture, with a few questions for reflection. Since then I have written over 250 stories, many of which I have shared on my blog and podcast at TonyAgnesi.com. When I rewrote the stories for the book, grouping them by subject, 73 stories fit the chapters of the book. A second book is complete, awaiting editing and a third will follow in 2019. My writing has improved, thanks to experience and great advice from my editor and friends at the Catholic Writers Guild.
As a Catholic storyteller, author and blogger Tony Agnesi is on fire with his Catholic faith. His Sunday blog, Finding God’s Grace and Wednesday podcast have an International audience in several languages. In 2015, Tony was a finalist in the Religion/Spirituality category for the 15th Annual Weblog Awards, the Bloggy’s. Tony Agnesi is Senior Vice President of the Rubber City Radio Group in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. Tony has consulted over 200 radio stations throughout North America as President of his consulting firm, Nick Anthony & Associates, Inc. He is a member of radio and Television Hall of Fame. He is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and is a frequent contributor to Shalom Tidings magazine and is a frequent guest on Catholic Radio. Tony and Diane, his wife of 44 years, live in Wadsworth, Ohio. They have two adult sons, beautiful daughter-in-law, and two grandsons, Nico and Luca, the love of their lives.