One-time ‘rising star’ in Chicago mob: ‘I do say prayers’
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Michael Magnafichi, once described by authorities as a “made” member of the Chicago mob, raised Catholic, says he prays every night before bed, believes in heaven for most people.
Nearly 20 years ago, an FBI document described Magnafichi as a “rising star” in Chicago’s underworld. How would he describe himself now, at 55?
“Well, not ‘up and coming in the mob,’ that’s for sure. I describe myself as first just enjoying life, I guess. . . . I still play a lot of golf.”
“I don’t do anything illegal any more. I was basically just in the gambling business . . . Truth of it is what’s legal today was illegal yesterday. Now, there’s gambling all over the place . . . It’s a thing people are doing at their office on their breaks,” going online.
Grew up in Bensenville, went to college for two years or so, including Northern Illinois University on a partial golf scholarship.
His dad Lee Magnafichi was a mob figure of some heft, a confidante of late Chicago Outfit overlord Tony Accardo and deceased boss Jackie Cerone. He died of cancer in 1989.
“We were a very structured family, meals at home . . . very normal.”
“Wasn’t beaten . . . over the head” with religion.
“We were born and raised Catholic, went to catechism” — in other words, Sunday school — “church every Sunday . . . My father didn’t go.” But his mom often did.
“She always . . . told us that you don’t have to go anywhere to have faith. You could say your prayers. As long as you believe in God and try to do good by God, God could hear you anywhere.”
His parish growing up was St. Alexis in Bensenville, though the family also attended Holy Ghost in Wood Dale sometimes.
Magnafichi’s dad didn’t discuss it but had religious beliefs. When he got ill, a friend’s wife gave him a saint’s medallion that he kept in his wallet.
“I always thought that religiously, that if you don’t pray during the good times and only in the bad times, that God wouldn’t hear you. But that’s not necessarily true.
“I’m no religious person. I don’t go to church . . . I do say prayers, though. I pray every night before I go to bed. . . . I say an Our Father, Act of Contrition and a Hail Mary. And I pray for . . . healthiness for all my friends and family.
“I believe that God does answer your prayers in His time. You can’t say a prayer, buy a Lotto ticket, say, ‘God make me win this Lotto.’
“I believe in, I don’t want to say karma, but it seems like good things happen to good people.”
How do mobsters reconcile religious convictions with a criminal life?
“A guy one time told me that God is not concerned with the person, he’s concerned with the person’s soul. So the person could do things that maybe aren’t God’s way, but, if the soul is good, that’s what God’s concerned with. And that’s how I think a lot of guys rolled with it, dealt with it that way.”
In other words, “This is my business, but this is my life, my life I choose to lead one way, my business” is different.
“I don’t know if that’s hypocritical, I don’t know if it just works for me, but it does.
“My dad was away when we were young. He went away for four years.
“I’m at peace with everything I’ve done . . . I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have peace with it . . . You can call that what you want, but that’s just my way.”
Once during mass as a kid, when the basket was being passed for donations, the priest said, “I want to hear a silent collection today” — meaning just bills, no change.
“You kind of lose respect for the Church. They’re a business, too.”
He’s godfather to several friends’ kids.
He stopped regularly going to church around 13. “I was sports-minded . . . I just didn’t make time for it.”
The 10 Commandments, “I’ve broken a few.”
“I’ve gotten caught up in some things, I’ve been in jail before . . . but I believe I paid the price for that.
“My idea of heaven would just be Augusta National, being able to play that every day.”
Believes most people make it to heaven.
But “I think what these terrorists are doing, I think that’s unforgivable . . . I don’t think God has a place for these people who kill innocent people for no reason.”
Face to Faith appears Sundays in the Chicago Sun-Times, with an accompanying audio podcast, with additional content, at chicago.suntimes.com.
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