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Articles by: Stephanie Longo

  • Life & People

    The Church May Close, But the Festa Will Go On


    Over one hundred years ago, a group of Italian immigrants arrived in what is now known as the “Bunker Hill” section of Dunmore, Pennsylvania. These immigrants came from the small Southern Italian town of Guardia dei Lombardi, located east of the city of Naples in the Province of Avellino.

    When these immigrants arrived from Guardia, they brought along their devotion to St. Rocco. According to Guardiese history, a deadly plague swept through the town in 1656, killing 1,110 of its 1,475 residents. The year before, Fr. Nunzio Di Leo, the town’s priest known for his philanthropic works, left 20 ducats in his will for the construction of a chapel to St. Rocco. Fr. Di Leo himself died while ministering to the sick during the plague.
    According to Fr. Antonio Parziale, former pastor of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Guardia dei Lombardi, St. Rocco has always been venerated by the Guardiesi, especially during plagues. In his book, Guardia Lombardi: Notizie di Storia Civile e Religiosa, Fr. Parziale explained how the procession to St. Rocco began during the plague of 1656:
    “Durante la midiciale peste del 1656, su riferita dal Vescovo Mons. Ciantes, una tradizione orale ci ha tramandato che il popolo di Guardia, guidato dal suo clero, indisse una processione di preghiere e di penitenza per implorare la pioggia—la siccità durava già due anni—e l’arresto dell’incipiente peste, così violenta e aggressiva.” (Page 472)
    (Translation: “During the deadly plague of 1656, according to Bishop Ciantes, an oral tradition spread that the people of Guardia, guided by its clergy, began a procession of prayers and penance to beg for rain—the drought had already lasted two years—and to end the violent and aggressive developing plague.”)
    By the time the Guardiese immigrants had arrived in Dunmore, the procession to St. Rocco had been an integral part of life in their “paese” for over 250 years. They brought this tradition to Dunmore, where the St. Rocco Festival is celebrated annually in August. “Almost everyone in our parish can trace their Italian ancestry back to Guardia dei Lombardi,” explained Chris Murray, chairman of the St. Rocco Festival. “Our ancestors paraded the saints through Bunker Hill and we are trying to keep that tradition alive.”
    However, when preliminary recommendations were released this past July as a part of “Called to Holiness and Mission,” the Diocese of Scranton’s comprehensive planning project, the diocesan planning commission suggested that St. Rocco’s Parish close and consolidate with St. Anthony’s Parish, also located in Dunmore. At present, the two parishes are linked with a common pastor, Fr. David Cappelloni.
    “Called to Holiness and Mission” began in December of 2007 when Bishop Joseph Martino of the Diocese of Scranton released the project, designed to focus on the diocese’s spiritual and pastoral renewal. Each of the diocese’s 224 parishes was to form a core group to discuss a parish’s particular needs. Then, the parishes were united into clusters based on geographic location to further discuss what should be done with each of the parishes. Results from the core group and cluster group discussions were then presented to the diocesan planning commission in mid-June.
    Following a three-day retreat in late June, the planning commission released its preliminary suggestions in late July.
    “We need to emphasize that these are preliminary recommendations; this is not the final plan,” said Monsignor Vincent J. Grimalia, V.G., director of “Called to Holiness and Mission” in a Diocese of Scranton press release. “As we have said all along, nothing has been predetermined and no decisions have been made. There will be a lot more discussion and input at the parish and cluster levels before we reach that point.”
    Although, understandably, parishioners of St. Rocco’s are worried about their church’s future; Fr. Cappelloni, in his homily on August 10 before the festival’s procession in honor of St. Rocco, told the standing-room-only crowd that they should not be afraid of what the future will bring.
    “The faith of the community, that is what’s important. We are celebrating the faith of St. Rocco; this church building has been the reservoir of faith for many years, that’s something we can never forget,” he said.
    When discussing the possible parish consolidation, Fr. Cappelloni said, “Our futures are intertwined but our traditions will last forever. This parish is over 100 years old; that means you’ve been having this procession for over 100 years. You will have it for another 100 years because it celebrates your faith.”
    While Fr. Cappelloni is trying to prepare the St. Rocco’s community for a worst-case scenario, members of the community expressed their desire to see their parish stay open.
    “I don’t think the parishioners would mind so much if the church was financially linked with St. Anthony’s,” Murray said. “But we don’t want it to close, there is so much tradition here and so many strong families to keep it going. If we can get the financial support we need and if we have a priest who is willing to say mass here, I don’t see why it should close.”
    “Everyone would be devastated if St. Rocco’s were to close,” said Ann Marie Longo, who was born in Dunmore and who now resides in Scranton. Longo’s grandparents arrived in Bunker Hill from Guardia dei Lombardi. Her father, Joe Longo, was born in Guardia and was a prominent Dunmore barber.
    “My father brought me here every year when I was little; I was always fascinated by the festival. The people of this parish are doing such a great job celebrating their Guardiese-Italian roots. If this parish were to close, it would be a sin,” Longo said. “This festival also includes non-Italian-Americans in the celebration of our heritage, we’re proud of where we came from.”
    Because of its recent linkage with St. Anthony’s, also an ethnically Italian parish, this year marked the first time in its 100-year history that a statue of St. Anthony of Padua was carried in the procession.
    “I think it is wonderful that they added St. Anthony to the procession,” said Philomena Errico of Bunker Hill, who has been a member of St. Rocco’s Parish her entire life. “They also used to carry a statue of St. Michael the Archangel but it got too old to be carried so it is now in the church. But the traditional saints were always the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Rocco.”
    Despite its uncertain future, it is clear that the members of St. Rocco’s Parish are proud of their heritage and parish community.
    “For me, St. Rocco’s Festival has been a family tradition for four generations,” said Frank Castellano, who was one of the workers at the festival. “My great-grandfather arrived from Guardia dei Lombardi in the 1880s and we were one of the founding families of this parish. We don’t take this festival lightly.”
    “Obviously, we don’t want this parish to close; it is more than just a building, more than just a place of worship,” Castellano added. “It is a family, a community; everyone who participates in this community in any way participates with their whole heart and soul. Our parish is as alive and well as ever.”
     
    Relic of St. Rocco
     
    Hymn: “Great Saint Rocco”
    Refrain:                 Oh! Great Saint Rocco, our Patron Saint!

                                    Watch over us and guide us, keep us in good faith.

                                    Your great devotion was the sign of the cross.

                                    Keep us from sin lest our souls be lost.
    You renounced all wealth, gave your money to the poor.

    You helped all sinners so to God they’d be lured.

    Once when you were sick you withdrew to a cave.

    And there a dog with food for you gave. (Refrain)

     

    St. Rocco's Church, Dunmore, Pa. c. 1921

  • Life & People

    From Roseto to the “Big Time”: An Interview with Adriana Trigiani


         Every year in the town of Roseto, located in Pennsylvania’s slate belt, a new “Queen of the Big Time” is crowned during the town’s annual festival in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, held at the end of July.  Roseto has about 1,650 residents; 42% of whom claim Italian ancestry. The Italians of Roseto are descendents of immigrants who arrived from Roseto Valfortore, in Puglia, Italy, where approximately 1,300 people live today. Each summer they all anxiously wait for the festival to see what lucky girl has won the coveted crown in the town's major social event of the year. This year, that lucky young lady was eighteen-year-old Mary Farino, seen at right. 
         The “Big Time” Festival, as it is also called, has been celebrated in Roseto for the past 115 years. While the dynamics of the festival have changed over the years, the festival itself is still an integral part of the community. During its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, people would come from all over the region to participate in the “Big Time”.

         It is this festival that served as the backdrop for Adriana Trigiani’s 2004 novel, “The Queen of the Big Time”. The book, set in Roseto, chronicles the life of Nella Castelluca from the 1920s to the 1970s. The reader gets to grow up with Nella, seeing her through her first love, Renato Lanzara, and to the love of her life, Franco Zollerano. Trigiani explained that memories of her childhood visits to Roseto, Pennsylvania, her father’s birthplace, helped her create “The Queen of the Big Time".

         “I visited Roseto a great deal as a child, and loved it,” Trigiani said. “I went to kindergarten at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The Italian rituals around church were very magical to me. And, of course, our home life was filled with tradition—from the delicious food we ate, to the gathering of family, several generations of cousins deep! My memories of the town played a big role in my desire to write "The Queen of the Big Time" and I wanted to remember small details my grandmother, Viola Perin Trigiani, shared with me. While the novels are fiction, they are usually based upon something real that I experienced or heard. Novels are my way of remembering the things that matter and recording them, so I never forget.”

         “I tried to weave some of the traditions into the novel; and my father’s memories as a boy really helped me describe what the big time was like—when it was truly ‘big’,” she added..

         One way that Trigiani has tried to remember the “things that matter” is through her documentary, "Queens of the Big Time", which chronicles the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel festival in detail.

         “My aunt and a couple of cousins have been queens, it is a big honor for a high school senior,” Trigiani said. “When I was a little girl, it was very exciting—the floats, the parade, the spectacle. And then, of course, it was a religious celebration. There is something very humbling about walking in the heat for miles and saying the rosary in a large group. It is cathartic. I try and attend the festival every year.”

         Readers of Trigiani’s novels will know that most of her plots and characters revolve around Italian-American themes. Although Trigiani readily admits that her heritage is important to her, she explained that her works tend to create themselves.

         “I don’t know if any artistic choice I make is deliberate,” she said. “I sort of feel that the subject matter chooses me and then I enter the world and off we go. I don’t plan much; I try to feel my way through the work.”

         “A writer goes to sleep dreaming of an idea, and it is there when I wake…” Trigiani added. “Before I go to sleep at night, I dream of Italy. The venue changes—recently, because I’ve written a novel about shoemaking ("Very Valentine", to be released in February 2009), I picture the Isle of Capri and the full moon over the sea.”

         In the end, however, Trigiani feels that her heritage is what gives her a certain perspective on life.

         “My heritage is everything to me,” she said. “To be of Italian descent colors everything: how I see things, what matters most, and how I walk in the world. It’s a point of view, really—a jumping off place for creativity, and, most importantly, craft.”

     

    Above: Roseto, Italy. Taken from: http://www.roseto.co.uk/index.php

  • Life & People

    Miracle on the Hill


        Praises in honor of St. Ann, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Grandmother of Jesus Christ, can be heard in various languages from July 17-26 in Scranton, Pennsylvania’s West Side. Although they are not united linguistically, the thousands of pilgrims who congregate on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine to St. Ann for the annual solemn novena in her honor are united in one thing: their faith that this saint will stand by them in good times and bad.

         On July 26, the feast day of St. Ann and her husband, St. Joachim, novena prayers can be heard in several languages, including Italian. It is a known fact that many Italian immigrants settled in Northeastern Pennsylvania during the 1900s, when the shrine was first built. As a commemoration of the area’s Italian heritage and as a welcoming gesture for the Italian-speaking pilgrims who attend novena services, the basilica, holds an Italian mass and novena service every year at 2:30 p.m. The basilica is run by the Passionist priests, who also have a monastery on the grounds.

    Statue of St. Ann and Mary in the grotto on the grounds of St. Ann's Basilica

         Northeastern Pennsylvania’s rich Italian heritage can even be seen on the basilica grounds. The outside grotto was begun by Carmen Daiute, a stonemason who arrived in Scranton from Italy around the time the shrine was first built. During the Great Depression, stonemason Stephen Di Rienzo restored the grotto on a yearly basis because of its position in a coal mine cave-in zone. Stephen’s son Felix continued his father’s work after his retirement.

         The Scranton coal mines are, in fact, the source of what is considered the greatest miracle to have taken place on St. Ann’s Hill. Fr. Cassian Yuhaus, C.P., who along with Fr. Richard Frechette wrote “Speaking of Miracles: The Faith Experience at the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Ann in Scranton, Pennsylvania” , explained that the “crisis of monumental proportions” occurred on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1911:

    A very serious disturbance underneath the property caused by subsidence in the coal mines significantly injured the entire structure. Most of the Passionist community was sent to other monasteries, while a skeleton crew remained to look after the spiritual needs of the people here at St. Ann’s.

    Eventually the situation seemed safe. Engineers reported that the subsidence was over, and the work of repairing and strengthening the monastery began. It all seemed to be going well until July 28, 1913, when disaster struck again. The worst “squeeze” known in local mining occurred. The priests were told it was not safe for anyone to remain in the building; a great slide was carrying the entire Round Woods [former name for West Side] in an easterly direction and nothing whatsoever could be done to save the monastery. What was it, then, that accounted for the fact that the mighty slide that threatened to swallow up the monastery and the entire hill stopped, turned back, and settled solidly under the foundations of the monastery? It seemed to reecho an earlier observation that St. Ann would take care of her own.

    The engineers and mining inspectors themselves considered the event miraculous. On the fatal day when everyone was ordered off the hill and out of the monastery, the skeleton community decided to remain and redouble the urgency of their prayers to good St. Ann. The following morning, they requested the engineers and inspectors to check yet one more time. They descended. When they emerged, they were astonished beyond words. The unbelievable happened. Three huge boulders—boulders they had never seen before in weeks of inspection—had locked themselves in an immovable position directly below the monastery: from death to life, from near total collapse to a fresh beginning!

    (From "Speaking of Miracles: The Faith Experience at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Ann in Scranton, Pennsylvania" by Fr. Cassian J. Yuhaus, C.P. with Fr. Richard Frechette, C.P., page 36. Published by Paulist Press, 2006.)
       Perhaps the pilgrims who attend St. Ann’s Solemn Novena are searching for their own fresh beginning or, at the very least, are hoping for their own miracle on the hill.
     
    Above: The main altar at St. Ann's Basilica.
    From the video:

    Fr. Dominic Papa, C.P. recites the Prayer to St. Ann to Obtain a Special Favor in Italian on July 26, 2008.

    Italian text:

    O Gloriosa Sant’Anna, piena di compassione per coloro che vi invocano e di amore per quelli che soffrono, sommamente gravato dal peso dei miei travagli, mi getto ai vostri piedi e vi chiedo umilmente di prendere nella vostra speciale considerazione l’oggetto di questa mia preghiera. (Qui si formula in silenzio la propria intenzione) Degnatevi di raccomandare questa supplica alla vostra Figlia, la Santissima Vergine Maria, e di presentarla davanti al trono di Gesù, perché Egli così mi esaudisca. Non cessate di intercedere per me fino a che la grazia non mi sia concessa. Anzitutto, ottenetemi la grazia di trovarmi un giorno col mio Dio nel cielo, a lodarlo e a benedirlo con voi, con Maria Santissima e con tutti i Santi, per tutta l’eternità. Così sia.

    Buona Sant’Anna, madre di Colei che è la nostra vita, la nostra dolcezza, la nostra speranza, pregatela voi per noi: e otteneteci le nostre richieste. (Si ripeta altre due volte).

    Padre Nostro, Ave Maria


    Buona Sant’Anna, pregate per noi.
    Il sacerdote benedice il popolo colle reliquie.
    Above: Relic of St. Ann
    English text:

    O Glorious Saint Ann, filled with compassion for those who invoke you and with love for those who suffer, heavily laden with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at your feet and humbly beg of you to take the present affair, which I recommend to you under your special protection. (Here mention silently your intentions) Please recommend it to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and lay it before the throne of Jesus so that He may bring it to a happy issue. Please continue to intercede for me until my request is granted. Above all, obtain for me the grace of one day beholding my God face to face and with You and Mary and all the Saints praising and blessing Him for all eternity. Amen.

    Good Saint Ann, mother of Her who is our life, our sweetness, and our hope, pray to Her for us and obtain our requests.
    Our Father, Hail Mary
    Good Saint Ann, pray for us.
    The priest then blesses the congregation with the relics.
    The author wishes to thank Fr. Richard Burke, C.P., rector of St. Ann’s Monastery, for allowing her to videotape the Italian Novena prayers for this website.

  • Life & People

    No Wonder His Happy Heart Sings


         West Scranton in the 1950s was, by all accounts, an Italian neighborhood. Tiny ma and pa stores run by Italian families lined either side of Main Avenue; neighborhood children would walk around listening to Elvis Presley on their transistor radios before having to go home for pranzo.This is the West Side Jack DeLeo grew up in.

         “West Side was a little city within a city,” DeLeo said. “There was a hospital here; as well as a police station with its own precinct, shoe stores, doctor’s offices, pharmacies… there was even a Woolworth’s right in the heart of the neighborhood.”

         But, of course, the world didn’t stop on Main Avenue.

         “When you got away from your families and your little neighborhood and went out with your friends; you didn’t think about being Italian,” DeLeo said. “When we were out on the ball field with other kids of other ethnic backgrounds, we were all kids, all people, no ethnic divisions.”

         Perhaps it was a combination of these early experiences that fostered in DeLeo not just his ethnic pride but also his community spirit; a spirit that has taken him to the presidency of the Scranton chapter of UNICO, the nation’s premier Italian-American service organization.

         “Involvement is what UNICO is all about. The events and whatever we’re trying to do to raise money for all goes back to the charities UNICO is involved in,” DeLeo said. “So we’re continuing to raise money and benefit charities. Cancer is now one of my important charities; being a survivor, whenever I can do something for the cancer societies, I try to help out.”

         One such way that DeLeo has tried to help the community at large is by participating in “Dancing With the Stars”, a fundraiser for the Scranton Cultural Center based on the popular ABC program. 

         “It’s important to keep the arts alive in this area. I want Scranton to someday be better than what it is, to be better than what it has been,” DeLeo said.  “I am hoping that by the time my daughters get out of college we have a better area where they don’t have to go to Philadelphia or New York City to get a nice, decent-paying job.”
         In one of his last acts as UNICO president, DeLeo put on his dancing shoes on June 20 at the Scranton Cultural Center where he performed a Fox Trot to Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” DeLeo’s year-long UNICO presidency ended on June 30. 

         “I always loved Dean Martin; I have been fascinated by him since I was a young kid,” DeLeo said. “I just have so much respect for him so it was great to be able to dance to one of his songs.”

    DeLeo won the Fox Trot portion of the contest, beating out 92.1 FM’s Kerry Kane in the total amount of votes he received. In August he will perform another dance in the fundraiser’s finale. However, DeLeo is quick to point out that Kane was an integral part in the fundraiser’s success.

         “I probably should have and would have lost the competition because Kerry Kane was a better dancer. I think I got the sympathy vote because of the people,” DeLeo said. “She was a marvelous girl, lovely, gracious, and a sport. Somehow if I can incorporate her in my August dance, I would like to do it. I think she was much a part of making that a success as I was. I won’t walk in there in August like Mr. Big because I’m not.  If we can’t dance together, I would at least like to bring her out. We were a team.”

         Besides his involvement with UNICO, DeLeo was also appointed by Scranton’s Mayor Chris Doherty to sit on the city’s Parks and Recreation Authority. He also sits on the board of directors of the Scranton Chapter of the American Red Cross and the advisory board of the Salvation Army and is past president of the Columbus Day Association of Lackawanna County. For DeLeo, his involvement is truly a labor of love.

         “Being spread out allows me the opportunity to meet people from Carbondale to Old Forge. I like being around people. Whenever there’s something I can lend a hand to and help out, I am always there,” he said. “I’m not looking for recognition or payment; I just want to be a part of it. If I can enhance whatever we’re trying to do with what little expertise or talent I could offer, I’m there.”

    But, at the end of the day, DeLeo comes home to West Side, where he lives with his wife, Patty, and their daughters, Brittany, 15, and Tia, 10.

         “I want my children to know they’re Italian. You can talk to some families and ask them what nationality they are and they will probably tell you they’re Catholic or Protestant because they have no idea. Or they’ll tell you they think they’re a mixture of 100 different things. Maybe you are but wouldn’t you want to find out?”

         “I wouldn’t want to be anything other than Italian. People love Italians, we’re happy people. We are fun, loving, happy people. Everybody loves Italian people.”

  • Op-Eds

    A Charming Intellectual and His Political Passion


    The terremoto, the grande sisma brought us together. I never met Rocco Caporale, who died this past week, in person but our e-mail exchanges while I was completing my Master’s thesis at the University of Scranton will always remain precious to me.

    Our conversations started simply enough; a mutual friend told me that I had to get in touch with Prof. Caporale since he was the authority on the 1980 Irpinia-Basilicata Earthquake.  I had already heard of Prof. Caporale and looked forward to being able to discuss my family’s homeland with him.

     

    When I saw Prof. Caporale’s reply in my inbox, before opening it I immediately pictured a stereotypical academic—cold, stuffy, distant. I remember taking a deep breath, hoping that he wouldn’t be too annoyed that some grad student from Pennsylvania was bothering him about his research.

    The Prof. Caporale I came to know through our e-mail exchanges was warm, friendly, always willing to answer my questions… the complete opposite of what I had pictured. We remained in contact every so often even after my graduation; always remembering our common link, our beautiful Irpinia.

     

    Although Prof. Caporale was not born in Irpinia, to me, that is just as much a part of his bloodstream as it is mine. I could tell in our e-mails just how much he loved all of the Province of Avellino, how he was willing to do anything in his power to see our Irpinia fulfill its destiny and truly recover from the damage wrought that fateful November day in 1980. In fact, in one of his e-mails he wrote, “Irpinia is an acquired taste… a second home.”

     

    The Caporale Archives, part of the Disaster Research Center of the University of Delaware will, of course, forever be testament to a man who devoted almost 30 years to the study of the most tragic event ever to befall the Province of Avellino.

    What Prof. Caporale probably did not know was that his love for Irpinia was returned to him by its residents. No matter when I would visit the province, when I would discuss my research people would always mention his name with a smile. They knew how much he loved them. And, perhaps, that is an even stronger memorial to him.


         Grazie, Professore. Che Dio La benedica.

     

    Below is an e-mail that professor Caporale wrote to Stephanie Longo in 2005, when she was writing her dissertation on post-eartquake Irpinia. In it, the noted sociologist recalls the political impact that his research had in Italy at the time. We publish it here as a testimony of the civil and political passion of this prominent intellectual.

    The Editors

    Dear Stephania,
     
    Thanks for contacting me. Paolo has given you the right indication, since, for better or for worse, I did spend ten years monitoring the reconstruction from the Irpinia/Basilicata Earthquake of 1980, first under two grants from the NSF and then under a grant from the Italian government and from the Basilicata regional government.
        I believe ours ( I had 40 research assistants working for me) was the largest and best study of a natural disaster ever. Of course, it got us into big trouble since we discovered and made public the embezzlement  of tens of billions of dollars by unscrupolous politicians and mafia people...This led to my testifying in front of the parliamentary commission on the reconstruction, and because of this public audition I made big enemies among some of the Italian politicians of the time, one of whom the Hon. (nothing honorable about him......) De Mita had to resign from his position as Prime Minister of Italy....
       It is a long and complex story and it would take weeks to narrate.
    Indicate to me from what viewpoint you are approaching the issue and what is the hypothesis you intend to demonstrate and I will be glad to help you with your assignment.
        You may want to know that all the material relating to the study I conducted, I donated to the University of Delaware, Disasters Research Center, in Newark, Delaware, and now constitutes the Caporale Archives on the Irpinia earthquake. It consists of nearly 30 boxes of material and is accessible to you as a researcher if you are interested.
      Best regards to Paolo and best wishes with your dissertation.
     
    Prof. Rocco Caporale

     

     

     

  • Op-Eds

    Becoming Italian-American


         My mother wanted to name me Stefania; however, Stefania Rewt just didn’t sound right. So I was born Stephanie Ann Rewt in the winter of 1981 in Scranton, Pennsylvania to an Italian-American mother and a Lithuanian-American father.

         Shortly after my birth, my mother put an Italian horn and hand in my crib, to protect me from evil spirits. Nothing or no one was going to hurt her bambina, not if she could help it. These Italian relics were her way of uniting me to her family’s bloodline, even before I was old enough to understand.

         My parents divorced when I was three and my father and his family disappeared from my life. My mother’s parents had died well before my birth so it was just the two of us. To her credit, she did what she could to teach me both Italian and Lithuanian traditions, but how could she instill something in me that was foreign to her? To this day, I would rather eat my mother’s polenta than her pierogies; they both taste good but there is more of my mother’s soul in the polenta—that’s because she is proud of her heritage and she passed that down to me.

         My mother would always tell me about her father, Joseph, who came to this country when he was 11 years old and who died without ever seeing his beloved Guardia dei Lombardi again and her mother, Anna, my namesake, whose parents came over from Calabria. She would tell me about her grandmother, Nicoletta, who never spoke a word of English and who was convinced that my mother, whose parents didn’t teach her Italian, understood every word she said.  She would remember what it was like when her uncle Angelo finally arrived in America with his wife and children and how, as a young girl, she was fascinated by their accents and their different customs. This is my heritage, this is my gente.

         Growing up, I never considered myself as having a dual ethnicity. I was Italian, punto e basta. The fact that I am half Lithuanian was just a detail. In a heavily ethnic area such as Northeastern Pennsylvania, upon meeting someone for the first time, it was normal to first be asked your name then the famous, “And where are your people from?” I would always respond, “Guardia dei Lombardi, Italy” because it is the truth. The confused asker would then remark, “But you don’t look Italian and Rewt isn’t an Italian name!”

         Rewt may not have been an Italian name but by the time I was 18 I felt more Italian than anything. At that point in my life I began to learn Italian and I began researching my family’s history. The closer I got to Italy, the farther away Lithuania felt until, finally, when I was 21 it disappeared forever when I legally took my mother’s maiden name, Longo, as my own. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of my Lithuanian heritage because I am not; rather, I feel more connected to my Italian roots. I am more my mother’s daughter than my father’s daughter, despite what DNA has to say.

         At this point in American history, it is difficult to find a “purebred” Italian-American like my mother. With intermarriage between the various ethnicities of our immigrant forebears, our ethnic traditions are in danger of disappearing not because of the intermarriage but because of carelessness. Had my father remained in my life and cared enough to teach me about his family’s history, perhaps I would feel both Italian and Lithuanian, but he did not. My mother cared enough to teach me her family’s traditions and now these stories have been woven into the fabric of my life.
    My grandparents’ legacy will be passed down to my children; my children will be Italian-American, even if I marry outside my heritage.

         Ethnicity is a choice. We can choose to remember our heritage or we can choose to ignore it in an attempt to be more “American”. This was the mistake of my grandparents’ generation; my mother often comments about how much she wishes her parents taught her Italian. Our heritage is our lifeline to our collective history; if we don’t know our past, how can we understand our present and future?

         As Italian-Americans of the third, fourth, and, perhaps, even fifth generation, we need to remember who we are and where we came from but we also need to remember where we’re going. As an ethnic group, we need to take precautions now to preserve our heritage and history because, if we don’t, they will be lost forever.

         I encourage everyone who is reading this to join I-Italy’s social networking group, to read up on their family’s ancestral town, to learn how to cook a traditional Italian meal… anything meaningful to you that will keep our heritage alive in your life. You won’t be sorry.

  • Life & People

    The "Spirit of Italy" in North Pocono


     

         It’s no secret that Northeastern Pennsylvania boasts one of the nation’s largest Italian-American populations; according to the 2000 United States Census, Italian-Americans are the second-largest ethnic group in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. But, perhaps, the region’s biggest secret is that we have a representative of the Italian government right in our own backyard.

         Francesco Stoppini who, along with his wife Mary Anne, owns American Group Travel in Elmhurst, has been Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Italian Consular Correspondent since 1993.

         “Before then, if you were an Italian citizen living in this area, you had to go to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh if you needed consular services. Since we don’t have a train that can take you to these cities, you would have to travel by car,” Stoppini said. “The Italian government realized that, given the number of Italians living in this area, something needed to be done. At one point, my name was suggested and I became Italian Consular Correspondent to this area on June 10, 1993.”

         During the peak years of Italian immigration to the United States, Scranton was home to an Honorary Italian Consulate. Fortunato Tiscar, who is buried in St. Catherine’s Cemetery in Moscow, held the position from 1896 until 1941 when America went to war with Italy. Stoppini is Tiscar’s immediate successor.

         As Consular Correspondent under the jurisdiction of the Italian Consulate of Philadelphia, Stoppini offers limited services out of his Elmhurst office; including help with visas, pensions, and dual citizenship. He also helps American and Italian citizens alike in navigating the two countries’ often divergent laws.

         “It gives me great pleasure to help people in whatever way I can,” Stoppini said.

         Stoppini’s government work began when he was 16 years old in his native Assisi, Italy, where his family owns two hotels. When the city of Assisi was liberated following World War II, he was the mayor’s official interpreter. “I had an English aunt and she taught all of us to speak English,” he remembered. “I worked for the mayor for three years and then I went with him to Rome to work as a part of the Allied Screening Commission, which tried to compensate people who helped the Allies during the war.”

         When planning was underway in 1951 regarding Italy’s presence at the 1964 World’s Fair, Stoppini was sent to New York for a year to oversee the reconstruction of an exact replica of Assisi’s Porziuncola, the small chapel where the Franciscan movement is said to have started.

    During the 1950s, the United States was involved in the Korean War. Stoppini was drafted into the American Army since, at the time, the American government could draft non-citizens for service if they were living on American soil. He spent a little over two years in the American army, working with American linguistic services in Europe. Following his Honorable Discharge from the American Army, Stoppini was granted dual citizenship with the United States.

         “My military service was the best time of my life,” he said.

         Stoppini’s arrival in Northeastern Pennsylvania came from a chance encounter at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. There he met Mary Anne Jankauskas, whose parents both served as postmasters at the Elmhurst Post Office. The couple eventually married and remained in Italy until 1976 when they returned to the United States with their children.
         Mary Anne has witnessed first-hand how her husband’s work as Consular Correspondent has touched the lives of the people he serves.

         “It is Francesco’s mission to the community,” she said. “He does not charge for his time, only the fees that are required by the Consulate in Philadelphia. We have people that bring us tomatoes, seeds, fig trees… Italians are known for their generosity and they insist on wanting to do something.”

         “The best thing about this job is being able to help other people in whatever they might need,” Stoppini said. “In Northeastern Pennsylvania, there are many Italian-Americans who try to maintain their traditions and to maintain their link with Italy. I came to this area I 1976 but the Italian spirit—lo spirito italiano—never leaves you.”

  • Life & People

    Connecting Through the Corsa


         Late in the afternoon on Saturday, May 24, crowds of people began to line either side of Church Street in Jessup, Pa. The sounds of “Eh Cumpare” and “Volare” flowed out of a nearby hair salon and several members of the throng began to hum in tune to the music.

         “Today, everybody’s Italian. It is like with St. Patrick’s Day, everybody is Irish. On St. Ubaldo Day, everybody is Italian,” said Diane Mellow of nearby Peckville. Mellow, along with her daughter, Melissa, has been coming to St. Ubaldo Day every year since 1976.

         Along with Gubbio, Italy, where the festival originated, Jessup is the only other town in the world that celebrates St. Ubaldo Day. The day-long festivities culminate with La Corsa dei Ceri or “The Running of the Saints” where statues honoring St. Ubaldo, St. Anthony, and St. George are set high atop wooden structures called ceri and raced through the streets of the town.

         Legend has it that St. Ubaldo protected Gubbio twice from invasion while he was bishop during the 1100s. After successfully negotiating peace, St. Ubaldo was placed on a platform and carried through the streets of Gubbio to show citizens that he was safe.  La Corsa dei Ceri was brought to Jessup by immigrants from Gubbio.

         “We are trying to follow the original traditions of Gubbio’s festa as closely as possible. They consider our ceri as part of the only Corsa dei Ceri known to exist in the world,” said Thomas Fiorelli, III, who was president of the St. Ubaldo Society from 2003-2007. The St. Ubaldo Society was formed to promote La Corsa dei Ceri in Jessup as well as to preserve the town’s Umbrian heritage.

         “We are rekindling our heritage and not just in our families. We have made so many friends in Gubbio. If we have a question regarding the historical accuracy of our Corsa dei Ceri, we call them and they are always happy to help us. I can’t imagine where our celebrations would be right now without that connection to Gubbio,” Fiorelli said.

         St. Ubaldo Day almost became part of the pages of Jessup’s history; in the early 1990s the town stopped celebrating the festival.

         “They took a break for a while from 1990-2000 and then the younger generations brought it back. It was great to bring it back. Seeing it as an adult, it is a very inspirational thing. Now it is more energetic, too; it’s livelier now than it was back then,” said Jim Casarin of Jessup. Casarin ran in the Corsa dei Ceri as a child and then again for five years after the festival was reinstated.

         Although it celebrates Jessup’s connection to its Italian heritage, St. Ubaldo Day also celebrates family ties. 

         “My great-grandfather, Francesco Baldinucci, came to the United States in 1905. The current cero of St. Ubaldo in Gubbio was built in 1895. My father and my brothers Michael and Jon all carried the same cero my great-grandfather carried when they were in Gubbio. When you talk about how the St. Ubaldo Day celebrations unite generations, this proves the point,” Fiorelli said.

         As the brightly-colored ceri rush down Church Street and disappear around the corner, one can’t help but think that St. Ubaldo Day is a bridge between the old world and the new.

         “A long time ago, Jessup was like Italy. People would sit outside playing cards and drinking wine. Everybody is disconnected today, people were connected back then. The world is so cold now and people are floundering about. Unfortunately, they aren’t grounded in their families anymore,” Mellow said.

         “St. Ubaldo Day is a reminder of what was, of how we should all be connected, how we should remember our traditions.”

     

    Do you know of other Italian-American festivals similar to Jessup's St. Ubaldo Day? Join our "Italian-American Festivals" discussion on www.i-italy.us under the category "Italian Ways and Lifestyle".


     
     

  • Life & People

    The Shining Stone of West Scranton


     

         Two soldiers lay dying. The Italian soldier beseeches Jesus Christ to take his soul to Heaven while the war rages on behind him. To his left, an American soldier prays the same prayer to the Blessed Mother. 

         Brothers in arms, now brothers in marble.

        
    Every day for the past 85 years, the sun rises and sets on the faces of these two men, etched in time on the front of St. Lucy’s Parish, the Mother Italian Church of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa. 

        “The history of this parish is really unique,” said Rev. Sam Ferretti, the pastor of St. Lucy’s Parish. “When it was built, this was still basically an immigrant parish with a lot of family members in Italy, and both Italy and the United States were allies in World War I. The parish was dramatically impacted by the war because they were getting death notices here and as well as for relatives in Italy.”

         St. Lucy’s is believed to be the first Italian parish in the Diocese of Scranton; formally established in 1891 by Rev. Rosario Nasco, although it can trace its origins back to 1871. Scranton was a major hub of European immigration during the late 1800s and early 1900s because of the prominence of its coal mining industry. Ethnic groups would establish their own parishes and hold services in their native languages. Today, however, ethnic designations of parishes in the Diocese of Scranton refer to the church’s cultural heritage.

         “There is no true ethnic parish anymore in this area because we don’t have the immigration anymore of the original ethnic groups and because of intermarriage. The numbers of Italians immigrating into this area is practically non-existent. Because St. Lucy’s started off as an Italian parish it is known as an Italian parish,” Fr. Ferretti said.

         Although the shine of the marble exterior of St. Lucy’s is as bright as the lights of the city of Naples, from where most parishioners can trace their ancestry, the interior of the church also harkens back to the madre patria.

         As Fr. Ferretti walks down the main aisle of St. Lucy’s, he pauses a moment to talk about the imposing stained glass windows on either side of the church. He points to the windows on the right, which depict various prophets of the Old Testament, except for one of the heroine Judith, who is hardly ever portrayed in stained glass, and says, “Look very carefully at their faces and hands.”

         Fr. Ferretti explained that the windows came from Munich, Germany and were executed under the guidance of F.X. Zettler, a master artisan known for injecting humanity into his glass portraits. “You can actually see the lines on their faces and hands,” Fr. Ferretti said.

         “But, when Mussolini came into power, this was an anti-fascist parish. On June 10, 1931, the local fascists bombed the opposite side of the church; blowing out the original windows. They were replaced after the war ended in 1947, but if you look carefully at the faces and hands of our patron saints, you can see that the quality is different,” Fr. Ferretti said. “After World War II, the top paid artists, who did the faces and hands, were gone. They are still Zettler windows but not the original quality.” 

         Other parts of St. Lucy’s Church have undergone a more pronounced metamorphosis since construction was completed in 1924. 

         “Unfortunately in the mid 1950s, the mines collapsed underneath the bell tower and, due to bad advice, the church underwent many changes that it didn’t have to,” Fr. Ferretti said, adding that the pastor at the time was told that the church was too heavy and would collapse into a coal mine if most of the marble was not removed from the interior.

         “There used to be a marble walk up pulpit that today would be valued between $300,000- $500,000. The bottom of this pulpit had three angels holding a rose garland and the top showed Christ entering Jerusalem with a crowd all around him,” Fr. Ferretti added. “But now the base is outside at St. Ann’s [The Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Ann, also located in Scranton] and the pieces of the pulpit are in someone’s yard, eaten away by decades of acid rain. We offered to buy the pieces but the owners wouldn’t sell.”

         Other interior changes included the removal of a marble depiction of Christ’s crucifixion above the main altar and the removal of the church’s original marble flooring.

         “This church cost millions in 1927; the cost of it today would be well over ten million dollars,” Fr. Ferretti said. “You can tell the subtle differences in the marble angels around the altar because they are hand-carved. You don’t get that quality anymore.”

         One original artifact in St. Lucy’s remained a mystery until Fr. Ferretti became pastor several years ago. To the left of the main entrance was an unmarked statue that he has since identified.

         “It took me eight months of searching through books of pictures of saints before I finally identified this statue as Sant’Agnello, one of the co-patrons of Naples,” Fr. Ferretti said. “We don’t know which group brought this statue here but you could tell it is the original because it is burlap with a plaster coating so it would be easier to carry in the processions instead of the solid heavy plaster ones we make.”

         “There are glimpses of our past all over this church, not just our Italian heritage, but our local heritage as well, Fr. Ferretti said.

         While exiting St. Lucy’s Church, visitors can see a Latin inscription around the choir loft that translates to, “Awesome is this shrine! It is nothing else but the abode of God and the gateway to Heaven!”

         As the sun shines off of the church’s white marble façade, it becomes quite clear that, perhaps, St. Lucy’s church is one of Scranton’s most treasured gateways to Heaven.
     
    Do you know of other Italian-American parishes in the United States? Are you a member of one of these parishes? Join our Italian-American Parishes discussion on www.i-italy.us under the category "Italian Ways and Lifestyle".