Lottery winner's son finds religion

Gloria Bentivegna of W. Babylon says she owes her�$1-million winnings to her Sweet Million ticket and, just maybe, her son's reawakened faith. �Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (May 26, 2011)

For Gloria Bentivegna, winning the $1-million lottery jackpot was . . . divine.

The West Babylon woman is crediting the state Lottery win with helping to bring her son Sal, 28, -- who places himself someplace on the spectrum between atheism and agnosticism -- back to his mother's faith.

The day before she won the scratch-off game in late April, Sal had challenged his mother -- and their Roman Catholic faith -- to win in the name of religious proof.

"I told her, 'Why don't you ask Jesus for a million dollars?' and she said, 'It doesn't work like that,' " he said Thursday.

" 'Jesus, give my mom a million dollars,' " the Smithtown man recalled saying at the time. "If he wanted me to have a little bit of faith, he would do it."

Then his Gloria Bentivegna, 61, won.

"It was a true miracle," the retired store manager said. "I prayed for it so hard. . . . Jesus was there, guiding everything."

After taxes, she will be paid $33,000 a year for 20 years, which is about how long she said her son hasn't gone to church.

But all that's changing: After Bentivegna won, Sal, a car audio installation technician, and his mom went to a Wednesday Mass at Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Deer Park, his first service in decades.

Bentivegna said she's still absorbing the fact that she's a winner and hasn't decided how she'll spend the money.

And her son is beginning to believe again.

"There's so many coincidences. Sure, I could brush it off as another freak incident. But to do so would be just stupid -- would be ignorant on my part," he said.

Five of the other winners announced Thursday by state lottery officials were Long Islanders, including the $21.5-million jackpot winners, Fred, 78, and Beverly, 71, Lifschutz of Woodmere.

Others were from Valley Stream, Centereach and Medford.

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