My name is Dr. Larry Gaetano. I am a retired physician. I practiced Internal Medicine in Toms River for 25 years then worked as a Hospitalist in York and Gettysburg, PA for 9 years. I enjoy fishing and landscaping. I continue to practice medicine volunteering in a free medical clinic in Hillsdale, MI. I also organize medical mission trips to provide health care and spread the gospel around the globe.
My first visit to Faith Baptist Church was in 1985. I remember that day vividly, since it was the first time that I walked through the doors of a protestant church. Well, let’s say that it was the first time I walked through the doors of a protestant church in the United States. I assume that by now you are totally confused and that you expect this blog to be the usual rabbit trail of thoughts and ideas that one might often find on a “religious site”. Perhaps I should back up and fill in some holes which are accumulating by the minute. Let me start at the beginning.
I was born in 1952 in Newark, N.J. in an exclusively Catholic home, a child of Tom and Grace. Soon after my arrival I was baptized, so as not to incur the possibility of ending up in Limbo, should I suffer an untimely death. Up to that point I had no choice in the matter since I was barely two months old. I was informed later that I was forgiven of my Original Sin at the time of Baptism and was made a member of the Catholic Church. I assume that my parents knew what they were doing and, later learned, that they had the same experience as I and that their parents had the same experience as they did. Well, who was I to refuse the tradition laid out before me. For twelve years I attended a Catholic school and was taught from the Catholic catechism from age 5 until age 17. Confession, Holy Communion, and Confirmation were mandatory sacraments that I received as a child. I never read the Bible since it was forbidden unless read under the supervision of a priest. Actually, I trusted those who claimed that they knew better to tell me the truth about how to come to God.
I attended Rutgers University in the 70’s when the philosophies of life were in flux. God was dead. Jesus Christ was a Superstar but He loved Mrs. Robinson even though she had an illicit affair with her neighbor’s teenage son. My life took a turn for the worse. For the first time in my academic career, I failed a subject. I decided to give up on my quest to become a doctor. So, what! I’ll figure something out. Actually, I was having a lot of fun for once in my life. There were no limits to what I was capable of. As for God, I realized that I could not do all the things that He commanded me to do, so I resolved that Hell was my final destiny. Hell was considered by most at that time as a place where you spend eternity without God. No fire, no torment! Maybe they had fun there. At my Uncle’s funeral, the older and more knowledgeable adults claimed that Uncle Joe was playing cards with some other cool uncles who died earlier.That doesn’t seem so bad, does it?
Somehow by an awakening of sorts, I realized by my senior year in college that I did want to become a doctor. I did not qualify for medical school in the States, so I went to Perugia, Italy in 1974, where I attended the University of Perugia Medical School. I did not speak a word of Italian, except for some curse words. My classes were in Italian and all my exams were given orally in the Italian language. Fear and panic were common emotions then. What if I failed again? Who could I trust there in a foreign land. While in Perugia I was informed about an Americanmissionary who lived in the neighborhood. Why in God’s name would a missionary come to Italy? The Pope was a few hundred miles away. Aren’t missionaries supposed to go to Africa or India? I was determined to avoid this fellow whatever it took. One day he met me as I was returning from class and invited me to have pancakes with Aunt Jemima syrup. Wow! What an opportunity! I hadn’t
tasted pancakes for months. So, I would eat his pancakes and never see him again. The day arrived. I must be clever when he asks me about myreligious background. Interestingly he never did bring it up. Just pancakes and Aunt Jemima syrup! After a few more encounters (usually including food), I realized that this guy, Fred Whitman, had something that I didn’t. He had a peace about him. He seemed content even though he was an ocean away from his family. I was homesick and miserable, fearing that I might fail again. Go home empty. But he was content to be there to make disciples of Christ.
I attended his church because I felt sorry for him. Only he, his wife, their one-year-old baby and two elderly women attended. He spoke in the Italian language and did fine for a beginner. He opened the Bible each week to read and preach what he called the Word of God. No priest was there to interpret as I thought should be. All the same, he was protestant and I was told by the Sisters of Charity that whatever he said was a lie. One Sunday at his church, I heard the story about Nicodemus in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John. Nicodemus was like a priest and Jesus rebuked him for not knowing about the Word of God. Jesus said to Nicodemus that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” After explaining what “born again” meant, Nicodemus replies “How can these things be?”. Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”. All this time from age 5 until age 22, I trusted my teachers-priests, nuns, and family to tell me the truth. Perhaps, like Nicodemus, they did not understand truth. So, I began to read the Bible for myself. I found out that the Bible can be read and understood. It contains truth that is easily understood and other truth that may be more difficult to understand, but truth all the same. In 1974 I accepted Jesus as my Savior. I repented of my sins, that is, I thought differently about my sins and believed that Jesus died in my place on the cross of Calvary.
Leaving the Catholic Church wasn’t as easy as I thought. I met my wife and she also was Catholic, but later repented and believed as well. After several years of internal struggle and resisting God’s will, we decided not to go to Mass but instead attend Faith Baptist Church in Toms River in 1985. As you may remember, that’s how the story began. At that time, it was a small, white building on Church Road. We have been attending Faith for years except for a time when I worked in York, P.A. as a Hospitalist. Perhaps the next time I write, I’ll tell you all about the joys of being in the service of Christ and all the brothers and sisters in Christ I have met and come to love over the past 37 years. I hope you enjoyed my story as much as I have enjoyed telling it.