Toronto Police Services
46th Annual Communion Breakfast
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Thank you Constable Joseph Kovasec and good morning.
It was an honour to receive this invitation from the Toronto Police Service and I am happy to be here with you today at the Toronto Police Service’s 46th annual communion breakfast. It is wonderful to see guests of all ages at what has become a special annual family tradition hosted by the Toronto Police Service. I am here with my wife Lina and my three children, Michael, Guy-Anthony and Krista.
I would like to send a special greeting to those I am honoured to join at the head table: Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David Onley and his wife Ruth Ann; Chief William Blair and his wife Susanne; His Grace Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto; Judge Hugh Lock, Reverend Fred Mazzarella and Ian Davidson, Commissioner of Community Safety . Along with all of you here, what an incredible group of citizens we have together for this special Mass and breakfast.
What I would like to talk about today is the notion of service: service to one’s family, one’s community and the betterment of humanity in general. Looking around the room, we are surrounded by the notion of service in the truest sense of the word. Members of the police service dedicate themselves to serving citizens and our communities, both on and off duty. Through enforcement, leadership and outreach, they are committed to making our schools, our streets and our neighbourhoods the best and safest they can be.
I learned about the importance of serving others from my parents, Gaetano and Giuseppina, who have been serving people they know and don’t know for most of their lives. My parents believe in the old Chinese proverb, “One generation plants the trees and another gets the shade,” and they have been provided shade and have provided much shade to many people over the years. I am grateful to have parents who would make any sacrifice to try and find a better life for their 10 children. That’s right. I have nine siblings.
My parents chose to emigrate from Italy 55 years ago, shortly after the war. At the time, they were finding it almost impossible to support their young family as farmers in southern Italy. On their arrival here, my father, Gaetano, found work laying track for CP Rail. Two years later, he started a small print operation in the basement of his tiny home, working part-time, while he continued to lay railroad track full-time. Fifty-three years later, that small one-man operation is St. Joseph Communications, Canada’s largest privately owned communications company. I joined the company as its 13th employee, and am now proud to say the company has 1,500 employees across Canada specializing in integrated communications and marketing solutions. Our services include photography, designing, branding, printing, document management and publishing. Toronto Life
and FASHION Magazine
are two titles from our magazine portfolio.
It is no doubt that my father will say that founding St. Joseph Communications was one
of the most important works of his life. But ask my father what the most
important work of is life is, and he will have another answer. You see, my parents believe that success is built on solid foundations – foundations that include successful lives, loving families and thriving communities; two out of the three will not do. To put it more simply, my parents believed in service – that we all have a responsibility to serve a cause that is greater than our self-interest.
So if you ask my father what he considers to be the most
important work of his life, it is not about money - it is about serving others. “Founding Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation” is what his answer will be.
My father started Salt + Light six years ago at the age of 86. Yes, at the age of 86, he took on a brand new initiative. His purpose was to create a charitable organization that is dedicated through modern media to creating stories and presenting real-life examples of hope and charity that help bring people closer to their faith.
Now you may also be wondering what could have prepared him for starting Salt + Light. You see, neither my father nor anyone in our family had any experience in creating television programs or documentaries or films.
For those of you who do not know my father, he believes with conviction that we are all
given a gift of life by our God and that we are also given the opportunity to serve our God and our fellow man with that gift. He has chosen that path for himself.
My father is also one of the most determined men on the face of this earth. His strength of character, courage, deep faith, and passion are a combination that is unrivalled. For 64 years, my father has also had a great woman not behind
him - but beside
him - every step of his life. My mother Giuseppina.
And so my father brought all those attributes and more to launching Salt + Light. Only six years later, it is a television network that is already viewed by millions of people in Canada and its documentaries and films have been viewed around the world in dozens of countries in many languages by tens of millions of people. At the age of 92, my father still plays an active role in spreading messages of hope and faith through Salt + Light. A lesson to us all that it’s never too late to chase your dreams and that you can accomplish anything, maybe even the most important work of your life on a new project that you start at 86 years old.
I have no doubt that one day soon, hundreds of millions of people around the globe will come to discover the important work that Salt + Light is doing in promoting interfaith dialogue and trying to make this world a more peaceful and positive place for us all.
So you can understand that in my parents I have incredible role models in service to others. It is a philosophy I live by as CEO of St. Joseph Communications and as a citizen of this great country. From a corporate context, giving back to the community is one of our company’s founding Values & Guiding Principles. Following in my father’s footsteps, we have always tried to be a company that serves goals larger than self. We believe that charity is a fulfillment of our obligation towards the community and a responsibility to all our stakeholders.
Each year, we give 10 percent of our profits to support various charitable endeavours through the St. Joseph Family of Companies Foundation. We help community organizations communicate their message, whether it be providing advertising space in our magazines or printing their materials. And we also engage our employees through our “Values in Action” Volunteer Day. Since 2006, each year our employees have served their communities by building houses with Habitat for Humanity, sprucing up community centres and seniors centres and planting trees with Scouts Canada. What is most rewarding following one of these days is to receive the feedback from our employees: “I felt I accomplished something big
by doing something small
” ….“what a rewarding experience to help those less fortunate than I” are just a few such examples.
Extending beyond a business context, I have continually asked myself how I, as a proud and grateful Canadian citizen, can give back. My parents taught me that each of us is given many gifts and talents by our God; that our very life itself is a precious gift. We are called upon to make use of our talents. I know that life can sometimes be hard. Believe me, I know this all too well. The challenges can be daunting and we can miss the truly important things. But life is short and how we spend our brief journey though life matters. What matters MOST are the things that cannot be weighed or measured on a material scale; the beauty of art and music, a dear friend, your loved ones, the privilege to serve others.
I would like to share with you a question that I think about every now and then. It is the age-old question that Shakespeare put into my head and my parents put into my heart:
“To be or not to be”
- To be indifferent or to make a difference
- To be intolerant or to celebrate diversity
- To look after myself or to feel privileged by serving others
The truth is that, as I get closer to answering that one question, I get closer to discovering the real purpose in my life.
- Being a part of building St. Joseph Communications as a community-minded company these last 31 years… has been an attempt at answering that one question.
- Working with a team at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto’s vitally important inner-city immigrant hospital to deliver improved health care has been an attempt at answering that one question.
- Helping my father and others launch Salt + Light Television with a dream of one day becoming a world leader in using broadcasting to bring people closer to their faith…. has been an attempt at answering that one question.
- Working with others to bring the Italian community together to create Galleria Italia and support Transformation AGO in a way that pays tribute to the previous generation of Italian immigrants and shows the way to the next generation… has been an attempt at answering that one question.
- Co-founding Luminato with an inspiring group of people and launching the inaugural festival in Toronto as the largest multi-arts celebration in North American history in a way that inspired and dazzled audiences… that too has been an attempt at answering that one question.
Those who know me well or as you may have picked up on through my words so far, I am passionate about the arts and think they are a key to creating vibrant, sustainable communities. Great civilizations and great cities are built on the strengths of their cultural vibrancy. It my hope that through Luminato and the cultural renaissance that is taking place in Toronto, we can begin to see ourselves in a new light and that this, in turn, will lead us to conduct our affairs in a new way, to relate to one another with more tolerance and to actually celebrate
our differences and ultimately, to re-shape the world as one that is safer, more inclusive and more respectful.
The arts have rippling effects in our communities. I don’t think of the arts as a single performance or a piece of art; I think of the arts in the sense of togetherness, engagement and appreciation they inspire within a community.
The same thing can be said about serving others. A selfless act shouldn’t just be defined by the act itself, but by the hope and determination it inspires in others.
Take, for example, the outreach programs our police services take part, in most cases on a volunteer basis. It may start with a simple act of a police officer leading a game of basketball with at-risk youth. What can this one act of service inspire? The youth benefits from a safe place to go and a great socializing experience. With the police as mentors, the youth feel more comfortable around police and begin to think of them as friends. They can develop leadership, co-operation and social skills. All of the above will help to change the direction of that youth’s life for the better. I thank each member of our police service for your countless acts of service in our communities.
In closing, I consider myself to be a very fortunate man: to have been born into a wonderful and caring family; to now have a wonderful family of my own; to have been raised in Canada. We are all really quite fortunate and that is why it is up to each of us to guide Canada toward its place in the world.
One of the dreams that I have for our country is that when the world talks about Canada, it will be because Canada is the world leader in service to others…that Canada will be a nation where its citizens view it as a privilege
to serve others and where, in fact, most of them do. When that happens, it will be Canada’s crowning moment. Thank you to all of you for your contributions in trying to make that dream a reality.
It was a personal pleasure to be a part of this celebration of family, faith, community and service to others.
May God bless you.