Mafia to Ministry: Mesothelioma Survivor Helps Reform Mobsters

Stories from Survivors

Glenn Hovater made the jump from Mafia to ministry long before he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, providing the backdrop for the fight of his life.

Time moves a lot quicker now.

Hovater, who was once a mid-level associate in the Mafia underworld, has spent the last nine years trying to convert mobsters into followers of Christ.

“I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I was part of [the Mafia]. People glorify, romanticize it, but believe me, it’s no way to live,” Hovater told The Mesothelioma Center at “My goal is to get them out of that life now. I tell them, ‘No sin is unpardonable.’”

Hovater opened his unlikely ministry in 2009, starting Goodfellas4God, a takeoff from the 1990 gangster film “Goodfellas.”

“I guess you could say I’m a minister to the mob now, a reverend to the Mafia,” Hovater said. “There are people who want to get out of that life. And they talk to me about it. Leading a hit man, a contract killer, to the Lord, is a life-changing experience. It has become my calling.”

Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Hovater, 69, was stunned by his diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma late in 2015. He was living in Cleveland, Ohio, but traveled to Boston to reach thoracic surgeon and mesothelioma specialist Dr. Abraham Lebenthal at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

He underwent aggressive pleurectomy and decortication surgery early in 2016, a life-changing experience he would rather forget.

“I got great care from a great team of doctors and staff, and I realize that God has given me a second chance in life, but when I think back to what I went through, it makes me sick to my stomach,” he said. “It makes me want to never go back to Boston. I don’t like to think about it.”

Following the surgery, Hovater underwent four rounds of chemotherapy, but declined the recommendation of follow-up, high-dose radiation treatments.

He hated the thought of reliving his Boston experience.

For more than two years after surgery, his CT scans in Cleveland were coming back clear, yet the days leading up to each checkup became anxiety nightmares, sometimes making him physically ill.

A Strong Belief in Supplements

Hovater has become almost fanatical about his diet of various supplements.

He eats berries from Africa and takes a baking soda and molasses concoction. He believes in essential oils and ingests huge amounts of vitamin C. He drinks Essiac tea and oxygenates his blood.

The most recent scan showed new tumor growth, sending him back to the hospital for more chemotherapy.

“I knew there was always a possibility of the cancer coming back, which gave me so much anxiety at times,” he said. “Just sitting in the waiting room, waiting for results from the CT scan, that was always tough.”

Leading Others to Jesus Christ

Despite the recent setback, Hovater still focuses on his primary task in life today: Working his past connections to bring others closer to Jesus Christ.

Sometimes it’s like talking to a wall. Other times, it clicks.

He has recruited members of the famed Colombo and Gambino New York City crime families to his Goodfellas4God ministry to help spread the word.

Some friends have scoffed at his beliefs. Others embraced them.

His work can be eye-opening. He talked one acquaintance out of committing a contract murder at 2 a.m., leading the man into church later that day.

Hovater became an ordained minister almost a decade ago. He visits prisons to talk privately to inmates. He returns to his old neighborhood to chat casually, mingling with friends who still live a life on the fringes of organized crime.

Looking Beyond His Own Problems

Hovater helps others despite the physical problems that linger from the treatment and the mental strain that comes from a cancer that has returned.

He is hoping to start a mesothelioma support group in Cleveland, already securing a downtown meeting place to raise awareness and help others with the disease.

All cancer patients will be welcomed to join.

“I just try to live one day at a time and stay positive. I don’t worry about what tomorrow might bring,” he said. “I force myself to get going every morning or nothing gets done.”

There are days he forgets the names of friends he has known for 50 years. There are times when he loses his cellphone, only to find it two hours later in the refrigerator.

Hovater has found his lost eyeglasses on top of his head more than once.

“At times, the chemo brain worries me. When I was first diagnosed, I had a lot of resentment. I was filled with fear,” he said. “But I got past that, and when I did, it made me even more determined to do things the right way.”

Mafia Ties in His Younger Days

Hovater spent his younger years as “an entrepreneur,” working a variety of jobs while raising his family and living on the underworld fringe.

He ran a small pest control company. He managed downtown parking lots and marketed patriotic memorabilia bought from China to be sold in the U.S.

Hovater also spent time as a bag man for after-hours nightclubs and illegal bookie operations.

In his most recent entrepreneurial fling, he helped produce “Bleeding Blue,” a film about police and minority interaction in America’s big cities.

Hovater is part of a production company trying now to market a reality television show surrounding the Goodfellas4God ministry. He appears in “The Thrill Is Gone,” a soon-to-be-released film that will document the redemption road from Mafia to ministry.

He also knows the clock is ticking faster than it ever did before. There is no definitive cure for pleural mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Hovater already has lived longer than the majority of patients diagnosed with this disease.

“The most rewarding thing in the world for me today is seeing the look in the eyes of someone who committed something as horrific as killing another person, and him knowing he has been forgiven,” Hovater said. “It’s like starting a whole new Mafia, but it’s God’s Mafia this time.”

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