Hon. Charles A. Abdella Sr. ’60 P’92,’95
Judge Abdella with his wife Monica at the 2010 “To Lead is to Serve” Gala.
Charles Abdella ’60
To whom much is given, much is expected: This is the quintessential motivation that sparked Judge Charles Abdella throughout his life.
He was raised in a three-decker home in the Grafton Hill area of Worcester by his beloved parents, George and Elizabeth Abdella. His father left high school in order to support his parents and siblings, working tirelessly at a small printing business while attending night school to acquire his high school diploma as an adult.
Education was of the utmost importance to George and sending his son Charles to Saint John’s was a financial struggle. Charles graduated from Saint John’s in 1960. He was a member of the debate team that won the New England Invitational Tournament, the State Catholic Tournament, and the Diocesan Championship under the guidance of Brother Simeon. He went on to study at the College of the Holy Cross.
It was during the fall of his freshman year that he unexpectedly lost his revered father. Judge Abdella credits the strong foundation in Xaverian values gained at Saint John’s for enabling him to succeed during this time of adversity. Brother Simeon wrote to him monthly, providing him with words of encouragement during these times of profound grief. Through his own hard work, the generosity of Holy Cross, and the support of his mother, Elizabeth, who took on her first job at W.T. Grant and ultimately the Worcester District Courthouse, he was able to complete his college degree, graduating from Holy Cross in 1964.
Judge Abdella ultimately went on to receive a law degree from Boston College, where Father Robert F. Drinan was his mentor and supporter. Father Drinan encouraged the young Charles to speak out for the disadvantaged. This changed his view of the world and his role in it. He began his law career at the firm of McGuire and McGuire in Worcester and he credits his bright and compassionate mentor, Attorney John K. McGuire, with providing care and direction in his early years of law practice.
He was then asked to serve as the assistant solicitor for the city of Worcester. As interesting as the position was for him, the best part of the job was meeting his future wife, Monica. She is still the most beautiful woman he knows and when he first saw her, wearing his favorite color, purple, there was nothing that could have stopped him!
In 1998 he was appointed to the bench in Worcester District Court, where he served for 11 years. Ten of these years were served as First Justice in East Brookfield District Court. Judge Abdella knew each and every employee in his courthouse. He shared in their daily joys and sorrows and made rounds daily checking in on each employee. He invited the custodian into his office daily just to catch up. He still asserts that the custodian at the East Brookfield Courthouse was the hardest worker in our judicial system.
Judge Abdella and his greatly respected court employees endured the tragedy of Molly Bish. Molly, the 16-year-old daughter of John J. Bish, a probation officer in the East Brookfield district, disappeared from her lifeguard post. Her remains were found three years later. During this time of despair and uncertainty, Judge Abdella worked passionately with local officials to aid in Molly’s return as he felt she was a member of his own “court family.”
Judge Abdella was non-traditional for the sake of the common good. He invited local high school classes to observe in his courtroom. By doing this he hoped to broaden their view of how their actions can affect the course of their lives.
He saw his legal career as “an opportunity to serve the people of the commonwealth in administering justice in a fair and impartial manner.” Being a judge was a rewarding, challenging opportunity and an awesome responsibility. The values he learned from his parents and Saint John’s continued to keep him grounded and non-biased with regard to his ethics. His humble beginnings allowed him a true awareness and sense of responsibility to care for those without a voice.
Judge Abdella is passionate about the values taught by the Xaverian tradition. Brother Paul Feeney exemplified the charism instilled in this tradition when he taught Charles as a freshman at Saint John’s. Today, possessing astute wisdom and spiritual compassion, Brother Feeney continues to offer a clear vision for Xaverian education into the future. He humbly represents the Xaverian persona, energizes Judge Abdella’s efforts, and remains his valued friend to this day.
The Xaverian Brothers embraced shared authority and welcomed lay men and women into their fold to ensure that their values would be protected and preserved for generations to come. Judge Abdella serves on the Board for Corporate Members who aim to invent the future with a vision of the past. He also served on the Board of Trustees for Saint John’s for ten years. The values held high by his parents were augmented by the Brothers at Saint John’s. He has supported the school with his resources because for him, stewardship is an important obligation.
He has always been a self-proclaimed dreamer. As part of his dream, he established the Abdella Center for Ethics at Saint John’s in honor of his father. It was a vision to keep Xavarian morals relevant to the modern world. It is hoped to augment and manifest ethics by conveying a message to students, parents and the community. His ultimate goal has been to educate students to become tomorrow’s leaders and equip them with unique characteristics to see the world through clearer lenses. Guests like Dr. Paul Farmer and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel have provided tremendous insight to the Saint John’s student body as well as the community at large.
He credits his parents for providing him with a keen sense of morality, a deep faith, and a tireless work ethic. His mother sacrificed everything for Charles and his sister, Anne, and felt that education was of the utmost importance. After his death, his father’s memory guided him and silently opened doors for him throughout his life because of the wonderful man he was. His father was his navigator and his mother’s ethics were the engine that propelled him to become the silently generous and courageous man he is today.
Monica, his wife of 37 years, has been the pillar in his life, raising their two sons while he was heavily involved in a law practice and continually giving back to the community. She was raising their young sons and attending Assumption College, taking one course at a time and a total of 13 years to complete her degree. He is so proud of her for her persistence and her determination.
Judge Abdella states that every day is a gift. Family is clearly the most important thing in his life. His sons, Charles Jr. ’92 and Andrew ’95, bring him great joy. Charles is the chairman of the Social Studies Department at Saint John’s, and Andrew is an assistant solicitor for the city of Worcester.
His sons felt that he was an extraordinary father and role model. They knew he had high expectations for them and responsibilities were always linked to privileges. They knew that he had a great love for them. Judge Abdella was compelled to help people without recognition and his sons constantly observed this caring way about him. He believed in the Latin phrase facta non verba, which translates into “deeds, not words.” He has been a silent hero for his boys and the people of Worcester.
Charles and Andrew, along with their wives Kerry and Rebecca, gave Judge Abdella and Monica the best of gifts in the form of three granddaughters, Zoe, Molly and Jasmin, who are the apples of his eye. Having lost his father at a young age, the privilege of being a grandfather brings him joy beyond anything for which he could have hoped. They are the answers to his prayers.
What does one expect when one meets a judge, a man who for years has been stripped of his first name, a man who has been unable to participate in the world in the same manner as the typical human being, a man who, for many people, would likely to be seen only behind the black robe he wore as he provided thoughtful guidance in a seemingly broken world? All expectations quickly wither and fade as one is confronted with this man who is the definition of graciousness and compassion from the moment one approaches him. Judge Charles Abdella is a truly loving and caring human being, the person in whom resides an enormous heart and a tender way about him which those of us around him are fortunate enough to enjoy. He has a rare, but truly beautiful wholeness to the way he sees the world. It is easy for one to lose hope as one recites the problems in which we are all embroiled. Charles Abdella always sees opportunity in people regardless of society’s labels. Hope is palpable in his presence. He sees us all as brothers and sisters who share the ability to care for one another with simple, nonjudgmental love and care.
Judge Abdella left the bench after many years of earnest effort on behalf of all of us. He left his position because he has been called to an even loftier position: husband, father and grandfather. As he said to his newborn granddaughter, Zoe, immediately after her birth, “I’m going to love you so much, Zoe! I’m going to love you so much!”
“Love,” the Honorable Judge Abdella would say, “is the only way.”
From the “To Lead is to Serve” Gala Program Book, 2010.