Guided by the light of God’s generosity, Gabriel Ferrucci has crafted a vision of service that supports priests, inspires Catholics and has helped shape the Church.
Rising from a modest life as a working-class Italian immigrant to the U.S., Ferrucci today is considered among the leading benefactors to the Catholic Church in Orange County and beyond.
“I learned from a very young age not to deviate from the strong ethical values I was given by my parents and grandparents, and to never forget what I believed in,” Ferrucci said.
Today, his contributions – financial, personal and spiritual – to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and greater Catholic Church are vast, and include taking a lead role in the development of the new St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado Canyon, supporting the spiritual formation of seminarians studying in Rome and the personal growth of priests, and, more recently, spearheading efforts to refurbish Christ Cathedral’s famed Hazel Wright Organ.
“He has vision and an ability to carry things out in an ethical way,
with a deep love for the Catholic Church and her priests,” said Diocese of Orange Vicar General Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk, who was supported by Ferrucci during his theological studies as a seminarian. “He has touched so many people’s lives.”
“He has a genuine kindness,” Msgr. Doktorczyk added. “He is someone always thinking of others.”
The Early Years
Born on Feb. 1, 1936, Ferrucci’s childhood was spent under the rule of Mussolini and the National Fascist Party. The oldest of three sons, Ferrucci was raised in Amorosi, a one-church farming village north of Naples. He learned the value of hard work among the wine vineyards and olive tree groves, laboring alongside his parents each day to grow crops and raise livestock to provide not just for their family, but for their neighbors and the surrounding community. He’d carry that work ethic and commitment to helping others throughout his life.
“His generosity started very young,” Msgr. Doktorczyk said. “His belief was always that God has provided us with everything we need. So, we need to be as generous as we can.”
Joining his parents — father, Giuseppe, and mother, Esterina Immacolata Concetta — to labor on the farm were villagers from across the Italian countryside. In addition to receiving their regular wages, the Ferrucci family would give the workers bags of food to take home to their own families at the end of the long workday.
“People loved working with my parents,” Ferrucci said. “They treated workers like they were members of our family.”
For the Ferrucci family, money was tight and life was simple – defined by love, hard work and a devout belief in God’s generosity. They were close – working alongside each other during the day, sharing a meal in the evening and walking from their home to church to attend Mass on Sunday.
“They were very hardworking, honest and happy parents,” he said. “Whatever we did, we did it together.”
When Ferrucci was 8 years old, World War II came to Amorosi, sparking a series of changes and decisions that would lead him to board a cruise liner and sail to the U.S. 14 years later.
But first, education became a priority.
Although his parents didn’t see value in formal education, they knew there was something special about their inquisitive and ambitious son. Ever persistent, Ferrucci convinced them to send him to school.
“My parents didn’t believe in going to school — they believed in working,” Ferrucci said. “I wanted to go to school because I felt it was important to have someone in our family to have an education.”
His family devoutly Catholic, Ferrucci set a goal of becoming a priest like those he admired as he prayed each Sunday morning from a pew at St. Michael the Archangel in Amorosi. Ferrucci intended to enroll in the local seminary and, when he was 13, told his father his plan to serve God.
“My father told me that he did not want me to enter the seminary, as he did not have the money to send me to the seminary. He said if I wanted an education, I’d have to figure out how to pay for it myself,” Ferrucci said. Not having the money to pay for the education, Gabriel continued to work.
Under the tutelage of a local monsignor who was the rector of the local seminary, Ferrucci dove into his education.
A love of learning was ignited, and Ferrucci began excelling in math. But instead of the seminary, he enrolled in a local teachers college, continuing to work alongside his parents on the farm to finance his education. Long study sessions stretched through the night and into the early morning, an oil candle providing just enough light to read by, as there was no electricity in the farmhouse.
It was a time of great change in his home country. Ferrucci’s education inside Italian classrooms was good. Teachers were not permitted to teach ideologies, but only the subject at hand. One year his philosophy teacher was teaching a Marxist ideology to the students, which included an assignment where he told the students to write a paper on why the Marxist economy was proper. Young Ferrucci could not in good conscience write such a paper; instead, he wrote about the problematic nature of a Marxist economy. The teacher challenged Ferrucci. When word of the antics of the professor made its way to the principal of the school, the principal took up an investigation. The teacher ended up being banned from teaching anywhere in Italy.
“Marxism was a pill I could not swallow,” Ferrucci said. “I used the U.S. as a representative example of a successful governing system, where different states operated with autonomy under the umbrella of a strong federal government. I was drawn to capitalism.”
After the war, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began a program, teaching farmers in the Italian countryside modern agrarian techniques. An official of the Department of Agriculture got in touch with Gabriel, then 20 years old, and asked him to be the director of the program. Gabriel accepted the job, hired two Ph.D.s to teach classes while Gabriel taught a class on the United Europe, and concurrently served as director of the program.
“I had a high respect and regard for the U.S. and its economic system, which I embraced,” Ferrucci said.
Meanwhile, a deep love began to bloom.
Marriage and Family Life
Ferrucci and his future wife, Maria, first met when they were young children. Maria’s family lived next door to the Ferruccis, and their parents often shared meals together. Soon Maria’s family moved to a nearby town, and the two did not meet again until they were 18 years old. Since Maria’s mother was born in the United States and was an American citizen, her family in 1954 decided to immigrate to the United States, settling in New Haven, Connecticut. Two years later, Maria returned to Amorosi and married Gabriel on Dec. 2, 1956. After saying their vows at St. Michael the Archangel church, the couple had a small reception with cake and coffee.
“I had never left home and I had no idea what (the U.S.) looked like,” Ferrucci said. “You take a chance.” Having earned his School Teaching degree in Italy, Ferrucci boarded the cruise liner Independence in Naples in December 1957, joining four other Italians, one of whom was a young priest, embarking on new lives. With no experience speaking English, Ferrucci only knew of one drink he could order, having heard about the exotic foreign beverage from Maria. The four Italians drank ginger ale for 14 days while at sea.
The ship arrived in New York Harbor on a frozen, wind-swept morning on Dec. 30, 1957. Ferrucci stepped off the ship at snow-covered Pier 86 where he was soon met by his wife, Maria, a second cousin and an uncle. They drove to New Haven, Connecticut to begin new lives.
Although he was overjoyed to be reunited with Maria, he immediately felt a sharp sting of homesickness.
“I missed my family – especially my grandparents,” Ferrucci said. “I had lived with my family all the time for my whole life. Now suddenly, being away from everyone, it was very difficult.”
Starting a new life brought challenges in expected, and unexpected ways. Ferrucci often recounts a story about his early days in his new home country: Standing at the employment office window on a windy afternoon to register as unemployed (so that it would be known that he was available for work, not to apply for unemployment benefits), a strong gust came as he was pulling documents out of his wallet. The only money he had – a $10 bill – flew in the air with the wind, Ferrucci desperately trying to chase it. The ten dollars having blown away, Ferrucci had to walk home in freezing cold weather, not having money to pay the bus fare.
“He was penniless,” said Msgr. Doktorczyk, who remains a close friend. “And he knew no English. But somehow, he made it.”
Money was tight. The language was strange. His new home, foreign.
His wife Maria worked very hard in a dress shop. A concept foreign to youngsters today, the couple purchased a bed on a layaway program. Maria made a weekly cash payment for the bed until it was paid in full. For a time, the couple lived with his parents-in law, paying them $20 per week.
Maria stopped working when Rina, their first daughter, was born, and returned to work when Anna, their second daughter, was two years old. That was when Maria’s mother retired and was able to babysit the girls. Maria saved her entire paycheck until it was enough to use such savings as a down payment to purchase their first new home in 1967. The Ferruccis never received one penny of financial support in the form of gifts or financial assistance from family, friends or any government agency.
A Lifetime of Service to the Church
Today, Ferrucci is considered among the leading benefactors of the Catholic Church in Orange County and beyond. Known as a “spiritual father for priests,” he rose from a modest life as an immigrant to become a business leader and philanthropist, supporting a vast range of Catholic causes and organizations.
Knowing not a word of English when he arrived in the U.S., he eventually enrolled in Quinnipiac College (now University), graduating in 1965.
To acquire professional experience, he worked — at first, for minimum wage — in a local machine shop to learn the basics of manufacturing and mechanical engineering. Over the following five years he was recognized as one of the top machinists in that machine shop that employed approximately 100 people.
Determination paid off. Armed with a college degree (this time from Quinnipiac University) and fluency in English, Ferrucci embarked on a career in the fast-growing auto and aerospace industries. He found success with his industry innovations, diligent work ethic, solid leadership and sharp business acumen.
His family grew: first a daughter, Rina, born in December 1959. Then another daughter, Anna, in October 1961 and a son, Joseph, born in January 1969.
At Raybestos Manhattan Inc., he held positions such as chief corporate accountant and cash/investment manager before being promoted to division controller and division director of finance and administration.
While living in Charleston, SC with his family and serving as president and general manager of the industrial division, he was active in various civil organizations. One of these was the Charleston Symphony. Ferrucci arranged to bring the Spoleto Festival to Charleston, which has since become the largest annual event contributing to the development of hotels, restaurants and related touristic business. Later, when he served as president and general manager of the international operations in Europe, Latin America and Asia, he enjoyed various seemingly impossible business successes, while making numerous important friends across the world. Gabriel held several other corporate responsibilities concurrently with above positions and reporting directly to the chairman of the board of directors for some of them.
Gabriel wrote the first curriculum for International Business classes at Quinnipiac University and has various rooms dedicated to himself and Maria. He was on the board of trustees of that university and he was a member of the finance and of the building and grounds committees. The university made over a billion dollars of capital investments during Gabriel’s 27 years as a member of the board of trustees, and the endowment increased from $10 million when he started, to approaching $600 million when he resigned in 2020. He was named Trustee Emeritus, an honor not given to every member. His alma mater recognized him a “distinguished alumnus” in 1990 and inducted him into the Business Leader Hall of Fame in 2005. He, too, was a distinguished alumnus, receiving many business awards and recognitions from various companies such as Hughes Aircraft, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and others.
In 1983, he acquired Keystone Engineering in Los Angeles, becoming sole proprietor, serving as president and chief executive officer of the company. This brought the family out west, and they settled in South Orange County. As his life expanded, Ferrucci kept a strong connection to his Catholic faith, devoutly attending Mass, forming strong bonds with priests and giving generously to Catholic causes.
A guiding principle for his business: “How can we maintain the right quality and be cost competitive?” He was seen as a top supplier by his many clients, for whom his company saved tens of millions of dollars over the years. It was not uncommon for a project undertaken by his company on behalf of a client to run substantially under budget. This efficiency, honesty and integrity was not unnoticed in the industry, and Ferrucci was invited on numerous occasions to speak to heads of companies. For example, he did so in San Diego to about 400 suppliers of General Dynamics and also on Pedro Island in Texas, with his son-in-law Mike Merrill. Business and nonprofit organizations—too many to mention – would seek him out. So grateful was Hughes Aircraft to Ferrucci and his employees that on two occasions Hughes treated all of the company’s 100 employees to an elegant catered lunch.
Ferrucci sold his business in 1998, valued at ten times the purchase price, and stayed on as a consultant until his 65th birthday in 2001. A number of colleagues encouraged him to purchase another business at that time, but Ferrucci decided against it. Instead, he has stayed busy these past 20 years with many charitable causes.
“Generosity was just a natural trait of his,” said Bishop Emeritus Tod Brown, who first met Ferrucci after he was installed in 1998 as the third bishop of the Diocese of Orange. “He was grateful to God for all the good things He had provided him.”
Through the years, Ferrucci and Bishop Brown formed a relationship, as Ferrucci has done with Bishop Vann. Ferrucci was the chairman of the board of directors of what was then slated to be the new cathedral, Christ Our Savior. He supported Bishop Vann in various organizational and financial initiatives, including that of the organ project for Christ Cathedral that the bishop asked him to be involved with.
A SPIRITUAL AND FINANCIAL SUPPORTER OF PRIESTS
Remembering his childhood ambitions of priesthood, Ferrucci focused on the spiritual formation and personal growth of various priests and seminarians. In addition to his generosity to St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, he sponsored seminarians from the Diocese of Orange to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
“He thought it would be a benefit to the Diocese to have priests educated in Rome,” said Msgr. Doktorczyk, who was among the seminarians Ferrucci sponsored.
Studying at the center of the Catholic faith gives seminarians a stronger connection to and understanding of the Universal Church, widening their perspective as they study with men and women from every continent, Msgr. Doktorczyk said. In his kindness, Ferrucci would hold generous receptions at his Laguna Hills home to celebrate ordinations of the new priests he had supported in Italy, and continued to offer advice and guidance as they began and continued their work at parishes. Deep friendships formed.
He was on the original board of directors of the Foundation for Prayer for Priests, a global nonprofit based in Orange County that works to strengthen spiritual formation for priests and seminarians.
“He is a spiritual father for priests,” said Kathleen Beckman, president of the foundation, who has known Ferrucci for 15 years. “There’s a great respect for him among priests and bishops. He has humility and selflessness, and is very fatherly in reminding priests about prayer life. He’s a man for others, very much like St. Joseph.”
Ferrucci remains active in a broad range of influential Catholic organizations, including the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher and the Order of Malta, where he participated in trips to Lourdes, France, to assist the sick and infirmed in making pilgrimages to the holy site and touching its healing waters. He also is a Knight of Columbus.
“He’s like a rock,” Beckman added. “He’s a man of profound faith and love for the Church.”
Another top priority for Ferrucci is a project that will last generations: the construction of a new abbey to serve as the home for California’s Norbertine community. Ferrucci, along with a small team of priests and lay volunteers and professionals, spent 18 years on the project to construct St. Michael’s Abbey.
“I reached out to Gabriel many years ago,” said Right Rev. Eugene Joseph Hayes, O.Praem., Abbot of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado. “He was on his tractor at his vineyard in San Marcos. Then and there he readily agreed to help us. Since that day he has never turned back, even though he never knew what was in store for him.”
“With his business background, he knows how to get things done,” said
Rev. Vincent Gilmore, who worked alongside Ferrucci in the early days of the project. “He has a great love for the Church and for what the Church does.”
Ferrucci’s hand was in nearly every aspect of the historic project, from identifying the 40-acre plot of land in Silverado Canyon and raising money to negotiating the land purchase. He helped navigate relationships between real estate agents, land planners, architects, clergy, elected leaders and county officials. The project includes a new church, monastery, administrative offices, a chapel and grounds, guest facilities and a convent for the religious sisters.
According to Fr. Abbot, Ferrucci’s passion, instilled in him by God from his youth to assist His priests in building up the Kingdom of His Son, was what brought the project to fruition.
“In Gabriel’s latter years, this has taken the form of a kind of guardianship which only a man of his maturity and faith could attain and sustain,” said Fr. Abbot. “And it needs to be said as well, his good and faithful wife Maria has always been as committed as he to our purpose. They are as one.”
“Building the abbey was a dream of his,” Rev. Gilmore said. “It wouldn’t be there without him.”
Being astute in both the Italian and American languages and cultures, Ferrucci played a key role in the effort to refurbish the famed Hazel Wright Organ inside Christ Cathedral, a multi-year effort that included removing each of the organ’s 17,106 pipes, shipping them to the studios of Fratelli Ruffatti in Italy for refurbishment by hand, and then shipping the finished pieces back to Garden Grove, where they were carefully placed back in the cathedral. After nearly three decades of heavy use and little maintenance, the organ, which was often exposed to sun and water damage, was in desperate need of major repair.
Ferrucci contributed in a meaningful way toward the $2 million project. He also ensured that restoration work remained on track, serving as a liaison between the Diocese of Orange and the Padua, Italy-based Fratelli Ruffatti, providing generous hospitality to the Italian workers when they were working on the organ locally and helping raise money for the second console. Bishop Kevin Vann on various occasions has stated that he is most grateful to Ferrucci for his integral involvement in the project.
For his efforts, he has earned recognition locally and abroad. He was awarded in 2009 the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal from Pope Benedict XVI, the highest honor a layperson can receive from the Pope. He also contributed financially to support the Church at every level, including a new parish in Connecticut (where he convinced 100% of the families to contribute), a new parish in South Carolina, to his childhood parish of St. Michael the Archangel in Amorosi and at the Vatican level, to various prelates and even to the Holy Father himself. Supporting the Church has always been a top priority for him.
“He’s somebody with a vision and an ability to carry things out in an ethical way, with a deep love for the Church and its ministers,” Msgr. Doktorczyk said. And Bishop Kevin Vann recognizes Ferrucci’s genuine kindness and desire to best use the gifts God has given him in a healthy and holy way.
Both Gabriel and Maria Ferrucci remember with great joy the celebration of their 40th and 50th wedding anniversaries. In 1996, they spent an entire week within the walls of Vatican City State, attending daily Mass at the chapel inside Casa Santa Marta or inside of St. Peter’s Basilica, dining every day at Casa Santa Marta and shopping internally. They were able to freely walk inside of the Vatican Gardens.
Then in December 2006, the entire family travelled to Italy to share in the joy of the couple’s 50th anniversary. The family was able to attend a Wednesday audience, and remember fondly being personally greeted by Pope Benedict XVI, who congratulated the couple and family, thanking Mr. and Mrs. Ferrucci for their generosity to the Church. They also attended Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. After having spent just over a week in Rome, the family made its way to Amorosi, a two-and-a-half-hour drive south. They renewed their wedding vows on Dec. 30, 2006, at the same church in which both had been baptized over 70 years before and married 50 years prior, St. Michael the Archangel. Various prelates and several priests were in attendance. It is believed that no cardinal had ever celebrated Mass in that church since it was constructed in the 1700s. His Eminence, William Joseph Cardinal Levada, then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a friend of the Ferrucci family, was the principal celebrant of the Mass, which was televised and run continuously in the region for the entire weekend. At the end of the Mass, to a packed crowd inside the church, Ferrucci gave a heartfelt exhortation in Italian, telling of his gratitude to God for his wife, family and many blessings, including the vocation of married life.
Gratitude for family
Ferrucci to this day is grateful to God and to his wife, Maria, remaining a man of deep faith and devotion to his family, who until the pandemic, would meet every Sunday at the family home for lunch and conversation. For years each member of the family – children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren – would make a special effort to be present, learning at the feet of Gabriel and Maria, whose wisdom and advice they always appreciated receiving.
The love and support of his wife and children is something Ferrucci says he will not forget and for which he is most thankful.