Anthony F. Sansone Sr. will be remembered as a successful international businessman, but more so as a humble and devoted Catholic who instilled the faith within his family and who served God and His Church.
Sansone, founder and CEO/chairman of the Sansone Group, died April 27 in Palm Beach, Florida, at the age of 93. A memorial Mass was celebrated Oct. 3 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan as the main celebrant.
As founder and CEO/chairman of the Sansone Group, Sansone personified the “American Dream.” The descendant of Italian immigrants, his first job as a young man was selling bananas out of an old truck. His daughter Deby Sansone Schlapprizzi said he “wanted more and prayed for more, with a faith and unwavering resolve, to make a better life for his family.”
A few years ago, receiving an award, he reiterated an often quoted saying from his grandmother: “in the Old Country, if you’re born poor, you die poor. But in this country, if you’re born poor, you get an education and you work hard, you can be and do whatever you want to do.” He added, “and ladies and gentlemen, that holds true to this day.”
Born July 19, 1926, in St. Louis to Anthony “Lan” Sansone and Rose Cammarata Sansone, he was married in 1954 to Mary Anne (Michaels) Sansone, whom he often referred to as his “partner, confidant, advisor and sweetheart.” They had eight children: Deby Sansone Schlapprizzi, Cindy Sansone Finney, Anthony F. Sansone, Jr., James G. Sansone, Gregory G. Sansone, Timothy G. Sansone, Douglas G. Sansone and Nicholas G. Sansone. He was “Pa” to 42 grandchildren and 29 great grandchildren (which includes two on the way).
Cardinal Dolan described Sansone as having “a deep, sincere, all-penetrating and embracing Catholic faith; it was a passionate love for Jesus and His Church that drove Anthony Sansone. A love for Jesus and His Church is to be the passion of our lives, as Pope St. John Paul (II) often explained.”
“Tony Sansone learned as a boy the answer to the question why did God make me?” Cardinal Dolan said. He knew that “God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in his life, and then to be happy with Him forever in the next. Tony sure prepared for ‘brother death.’ He expected it. He was ready for it.”
Sansone was involved in numerous charitable, civic and social causes and received numerous recognitions and awards.
Devoted family man,
a supporter of Church
Sansone’s eldest son, Anthony Sansone Jr., described his father as a “crusader for the sanctity of human life — but not just the unborn. The elderly, the infirm, the oppressed, the impoverished. He was a true crusader of mankind.”
Sansone Jr. described how their father, even after working late into the evening, would visit the children at bedtime, making the sign of the cross and kissing them on the forehead. The children felt “there was nothing to fear. We could sleep quietly and we could sleep without concerns. Our father, our servant, was there to protect us,” he said.
Deby Sansone Schlapprizzi described her father as her “confidant,” a man who gave his all to his family and lived out his faith. His prayer life had a profound effect on his children, she said, often witnessing him praying the Rosary or attending eucharistic adoration. “He taught me so much about being a man of faith,” she said. “He knew he was not the center of the universe — God was.”
She said his example of faith was most evident in the last year of his life, when he became ill. “We saw his whole philosophy of life in action,” she said. “Dad had always said that when things get tough, stand up, don’t hide, don’t cower. Stand up for the truth always. Be a man. Be a woman.” During his time of difficulty, “his spirit soared and his inner strength was never more evident,” she said.
At the end of the memorial Mass, Sansone’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren presented 110 roses at the Communion rail, symbolic of two living Rosaries in memory of loved ones who had passed into eternal life, and for family who remain on earth.
Longtime family friend Msgr. Eugene Morris met Sansone in the mid-1980s, through a connection with the Augustinian Nuns in St. Louis. The priest got to know the family; he said what struck him the most about Sansone was “the strength of his faith,” Msgr. Morris said. “But it was understated. He didn’t draw unnecessary attention to the faith — you knew it in the way he talked and the way he acted.”
Sansone also lent his expertise as a businessman to endeavors in the local Church, Msgr. Morris noted, through involvement in numerous organizations’ boards of directors and other efforts, such as helping with fundraising and construction for the Augustinians, for example.
“Here was a man who was successful, but he wore it very humbly,” Msgr. Morris said. “What an inspiration he was in terms of the faith … He wanted to make me be a better Catholic man, and as I grew older, a good Catholic priest.”
>> Anthony F. Sansone, Sr.’s civic involvement included
• Board of Governors of Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital
• Chairman of the St. Louis Archdiocesan Development Appeal
• Co-founder and trustee of Vitae Society
• Member of the board of directors of the National Italian American Foundation
• Member of the board of directors of White House Retreat
• Co-councilor of the Northern Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
• Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
• Member of the board of directors of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land
• Co-founder of the Anthony F. and Mary Anne Sansone Scholarship Fund, part of the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate.
• He had a special devotion to St. Anthony; Tony and Mary Anne also had a special devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, and they were friends of the Discalced Carmelites and of the Carmelites of the Divine Heart of Jesus. He spearheaded the building of the Carmelite Child Development Center, and headed development efforts for the expansion of St. Agnes Home.
>> His awards included
• Guardian of the Holy Land Award, the highest honor given by the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land
• Saint Paul Man of the Year Award
• Order of St. Louis King Award, the highest honor given by the Archdiocese of St. Louis
• National Businessman of the Year by the Apostolate of Family Consecration
• Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus Caritas Award for “Love of One’s Fellow Man”
• Affiliation to the Order of St. Augustine by the Augustinian Sisters
• Cardinal John J. Carberry Award