When his bad decisions sent Tony Crescio to prison for a traffic crash that killed his best friend, those four concepts served as the foundation that helped him turn his life around and find his purpose — teaching.
“I love teaching,” Crescio said. “Every time I teach, I’m taught.”
Crescio is currently serving as the director of youth and young adult ministry at St. Katharine Drexel Parish, but leaves at the end of the month to pursue a master’s degree in theological studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He hopes to eventually pursue a doctorate degree and to work at a university.
Crescio said his work for the last year has been faith formation activities for students from eighth through 12th grade and young adults from 18 to their early 30s. He also worked for the Tri-Parishes of Dodge County and said it kept him very busy.
“It’s been great to serve the people in the area,” Crescio said. “An opportunity for me to give back.”
Crescio said that while the number of young people in the youth program is not huge, those who are active in the church are passionate about their faith.
“They are hungry for this,” Crescio said. “They are ready for serious ideas. It has been really edifying for me.”
Crescio said faith can “help people get through the tough times, but also learn to live life to the fullest so we can avoid those missteps.”
He did not avoid missteps.
It was just before Christmas 2009, when—after being pulled over twice in the previous nine months for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated—Crescio chose to get behind the wheel again. This time he borrowed a car to head to a party with his friend Dustin “Pugs” Vredeveld.
They never made it.
While driving south of Randolph on Highway 73, Crescio lost control of the car while negotiating a sweeping curve. The car spun into the ditch, rolled onto its passenger side and filled with snow.
Crescio crawled out of the car.
Vredeveld did not.
Crescio was sentenced in December 2010 in Dodge County Court to 10 years in prison, with two and one-half years of initial confinement and seven and one-half years of extended supervision after being found guilty of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle in July.
He pleaded no contest to the charge.
Crescio does not call the crash in 2009 “an accident.”
“It was the ugliest kind of accident — totally irresponsible,” he said. “A life was lost. A life that was very dear to me.”
Crescio received an early release from prison in 2013, two months before serving the two and one-half years.
“The time I was in prison really helped me,” Crescio said. “I asked myself, ‘How can I best help people?’”
He found his answer in his faith. He describes his life after the accident as a literal, “come to God” moment. Crescio said that in the months after the accident, he was feeling sorry for himself and guilt-ridden. He credits the Rev. Justin Douglas, then serving as pastor at Living Hope Community Church in Fox Lake, for “helping me to get out of myself.”
“He really helped me turn to my faith,” Crescio said.
Douglas, now serving as the lead pastor at a church in Pennsylvania, wrote that he met Tony when he was in a “pretty dark place.” Douglas wrote that he and others helped reminded Crescio that “God’s grace is enough for even the worst wrongs.”
“Tony accepted that grace and it changed his direction. He is an extraordinary person who is doing amazing things for the community,” Douglas wrote. “I am proud to call him a friend.”
While in prison, Crescio said his mother visited him every week, with his father and sisters visiting regularly, along with other family and friends.
“My family was amazing,” Crescio said. “I feel so bad. A lot of guys I was in there with go a year without a visitor. The support I had was overwhelming.”
Crescio said his family supported his distance learning studies as he earned two years of general credits, including buying him an electric typewriter so he could write papers for classes.
Crescio said he would do his in-prison job, spend time at the gym and use the rest of his day to read, study and write papers.
“It’s harder if you don’t have support from outside,” Crescio said.
He only had access to a computer once a week and no Internet access so he studied by reading.
“It taught me how to learn,” Crescio said. “You learn so much by trying to find stuff.”
Crescio applied to four colleges, and chose Marquette as it had the best theology program, to pursue his long-term goal of being a teacher. He enrolled two months after his release from prison and graduated in May 2015.
“I love Marquette,” Crescio said.
While living in Milwaukee, Crescio said he witnessed homeless people on the streets near his apartment. He said he actively destroyed his life and felt undeserving to have the support he has when he looked out and saw people who did not have any.
“It re-emphasiszed the hurt that is in the world for me,” Crescio said. “What people need is loving service.”
Crescio no longer drinks and said he has not had a drop since the accident, not even Communion wine. While the conditions of his probation forbid drinking, he said that is not the only reason he abstains.
“It’s not so much that I can get in trouble,” Crescio said. “It’s the spiritual effect. For me, I’ve got other things to do. There is so much life to be lived.”
Crescio spoke about the culture of drinking in Wisconsin, especially among high school and college-aged young people.
“It lends itself to the idea that there is no rush to get serious about life. We are supposed to have fun, and never ask ourselves the big questions. We miss out on an opportunity to ask ourselves what our purpose is,” Crescio said.
Crescio said that with a six-year separation between when he first started college and returned to it, he saw that the party culture is still going strong.
“The whole party/hook-up culture is geared toward mutual use, not mutual recognition of another,” Crescio said. “It’s an ugly thing.”
Crescio said he struggles with forgiveness. He will not ever say that he forgives himself and will never be cleared of blame.
“It’s easier to say God has forgiveness for me,” he said.
Crescio said there is still life to be lived and he is actively pursuing his purpose.
“If you are not doing something for the everyday person, I think you are wasting your time.”
Crescio said he thinks about Vredveld every day.
“We were more brothers than friends. The hardest thing for me,” Crescio said, “is I felt like I had an opportunity to care for someone and I failed so miserably at it.”
Crescio started an online ministry called Fresh Image aimed at “reawakening the recognition of the dignity of the human person within the culture.” The ministry’s message focuses on faith, respect, endurance, setting goals, hope and recognizing that every person is priceless, created in the image and likeness of God. To learn more visit freshimage.org.