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Rudolph Giuliani: Faith in work, God, and himself

The former New York mayor's sense of discipline, which stemmed from a childhood living with a devout Catholic father and attending parochial schools, has shaped his career in public service.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 3, 2007

New York

Minutes before the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed into a roar of white dust and debris, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani caught a glimpse of the Fire Department's chaplain, Father Mychal Judge.

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"Pray for us," the mayor said, reaching out to grab the chaplain's hand as the two raced past each other in the chaos.

"I always do," replied Father Judge. "I always pray for you."

It was the last time Mr. Giuliani would see his close friend and spiritual adviser. Judge was killed minutes later as he administered last rites to a firefighter. The chaplain was just one of many personal friends among the casualties, which the mayor summed up for the stunned nation simply as "more than we can bear."

That calm, resolute, sensitive leader who emerged on Sept. 11, 2001, transformed the combative, operatic, and unpopular lame-duck mayor into New York's Churchill in a baseball cap. On the strength of that feat and his career as a crime-fighting, bureaucrat-busting reformer, Giuliani is staking his bid for the presidency.

At the core of his public life has been a private faith: faith in God, the American spirit, the value of hard work, and, unapologetically, in himself. Born and raised a Roman Catholic, educated in rigorous parochial schools, Giuliani says he even seriously considered becoming a priest "at least twice." But the thrice-married former prosecutor now declines to talk about his religious beliefs, calling them a private affair.

God, though, is another matter. On the campaign trail, he drops frequent references to the Almighty, even crediting God with preparing him to cope with 9/11 by guiding him to a book deal to write about leadership. "It was as if God provided an opportunity to design a course in leadership just when I needed it most," he writes in his book, aptly named "Leadership." As for faith, he believes in America's founding ideals. In a Monitor interview he called them a "secular religion."

"Where do our rights come from? Most Americans believe they come from God," he says in a conference room overlooking Times Square in the office of Giuliani Partners, the consulting firm he founded. "I mean the really basic ones: the idea that all people are created equal, that human rights are enormously important, that people should select their own leaders. And they're not just ours. They've been put there for everyone."

Rooting for the Catholics

Giuliani's strong sense of self and of his role in the world was honed early. Living in Brooklyn just blocks from the Dodgers' Ebbets Field, 5-year-old Rudy was sent out to play wearing the uniform of the archrival Yankees. Neighborhood kids threw him in the mud and started to put a rope around his neck before his grandmother chased them away. "I'm a Yankee fan, and I'm going to stay a Yankee fan," he's quoted in Wayne Barrett's biography "Rudy!" as saying about the incident. "I'm not going to give up my religion. You're not going to change me."

Giuliani credits his father with instilling a deep respect for his Catholic upbringing. Harold Giuliani did time in Sing Sing state prison, pleading guilty to robbing a milkman on the Upper East Side in 1934. He later worked in a Brooklyn bar owned by a brother-in-law who reputedly was a mob-connected loan shark, according to the Barrett biography. But Rudy's father moved his family to Long Island, to Garden City, to keep his son away from such connections. There, the boy spent much time with an extended family of local police officers and firefighters. He went to a Catholic elementary school and was chosen to attend Brooklyn's elite Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, to which he commuted from Long Island.

Brother Peter Bonventre, then assistant principal at Bishop Loughlin, remembers Giuliani as a "gregarious, bubbly personality with a big smile." As a senior, he played Santa Claus and ran a friend's campaign for student council president. He also founded the school's Opera Club.

His classmate and friend Peter Powers, who remains a close adviser, says Giuliani was a natural leader.

"He was always the guy we followed," says Mr. Powers. "Like with the Opera Club. We were a bunch of middle-class kids who hadn't for the most part been exposed to that. He was always reading librettos and listening to operas. When he had an interest in things, he shared it and got us involved."