Since creating the Italian Enclaves Facebook page several years ago, I have learned about so many more Italian neighborhoods throughout America than I would ever have guessed existed before I embarked on my journey to visit each and every one. There are so many individual communities that it really is phenomenal. They are all unique in their own ways but still so similar. Neighborhoods with familiar churches, priests, funeral homes, bakeries, pork stores and so on. The characteristics are all very similar across the country but there are distinct qualities such as the names of the businesses, the names of the streets and the people and their nicknames for each other and the objects in their every day lives. Most of the themes remain the same, though; hard working immigrant families and even second or third generations, who all live in an area centered around a Roman Catholic church as well as local businesses and fraternal societies that serve the community’s needs. This interspersed Italian Catholic heritage throughout America is starting to quickly unravel. Before this heritage fades more, we should embrace and document what still exists in order to preserve the pictures, places, and memories of these people to the best of our ability.
To discover every physical place that still or once housed communities of Italians is like embarking on an urban anthropological quest of unprecedented proportions. It requires being willing to travel across an entire continent east to west, and almost the same north to south. This hunt begins with a process. First, it is undertaken by identifying a community that existed, where it existed, and its cornerstones. The common denominator for the urban anthropologist or historian is to arrive at a place that is or was considered sacred to the people of that community. In the case of the Italian Americans, it begins with their churches.
To truly uncover the first Italian neighborhoods of America, one needs to unveil the churches that served those communities. This task is monumental because some of the very first structures are no longer standing for many different reasons. Some are still standing, but are closed and no longer in use. Others have been repurposed. Then there are the churches which have been standing for over a century and in some cases almost a century and a half, but their congregations have changed throughout the many decades to serve different communities; at some point along the line, some churches did house Italian communities but they no longer do whereas there are churches that are mainly composed of Italian American congregants now, but previously were home to different ethnic groups. This really follows the natural rhythm of society.
As a starting point, I first set out upon discovering these old Italian churches. Amongst many intriguing findings, I was led to a beautiful church called Our Lady of Loreto in Brooklyn, New York. Thanks to a strong social media interaction between like-minded people on Instagram and Facebook, I was able to connect the dots to this church.
Our Lady of Loreto has been the epicenter of a decade-long controversy whereby the archdiocese has been accused of turning its back on the Italian people due to assertions that the land on which the church stands was purchased from the first Italian land owner in Brooklyn and the church itself was built by Italian artisans for Italian parishioners. Although Brownsville was once a bustling Italian enclave, it is no longer, and there are no Italians remaining there as of today. Most of the people who remember it as an Italian neighborhood are getting older and soon, very few people besides those familiar with history, will know that this neighborhood was Italian and very much centered upon this church. It has been debated that this church should remain for the aforementioned reasons alone. Regardless, the archdiocese made a decision to sell the land and with that comes the destruction of the church. As this post gets written, the Church of Our Lady of Loreto is halfway disassembled.
Thanks to the strong social media interaction between like-minded people who wish to preserve the memories of their sacred childhood churches on Instagram and Facebook, I was able to connect the dots to this church. Our Lady of Loreto has been the epicenter of a decade-long controversy whereby the archdiocese has been accused of turning its back on the Italian people due to assertions that the land on which the church stands was purchased from the first Italian land owner in Brooklyn and the church itself was built by Italian artisans for Italian parishioners. Despite these assertions, the church made a decision to sell the land and with that came the destruction of the church. As this post gets written, the Church of Our Lady of Loreto is halfway disassembled.
Discovering these old churches has been fascinating. Many old churches remain almost anonymously throughout the various neighborhoods of New York. Empty and unattended to, they often stand in states of disrepair without a hint to their pasts. In some sad cases, the churches have statues or plaques honoring men who died for our country many years ago in World Wars I & II. For me, this has become a parallel endeavor.
As quite a few of the old Italian parishes have War memorials or honor rolls, it has become my goal to do my best to photo document as many of them as I possibly can before they are taken away and stored in some basement or worse, even destroyed. It troubles me greatly to think that these men made the ultimate sacrifice for future generations to enjoy freedom yet their names are only on statues or memorials that aren’t even being maintained. As I took these photographs of Our Lady Of Loreto in her final days, people walk by her, clueless as to the significance of this plaque and the church. After so long, people become used to this structure just being there but unfortunately, they’re unaware of the building’s significance and unknowing of the people who once created her and took care of her. The hands of time and inevitable demographic changes bring about the demise of structures like Our Lady Of Loreto. With her destruction, the names of her parishioners, her pastors and the young men memorialized on her grounds who fought for all of our freedom, will be engulfed by the tidal wave of changing times.
I transposed the names of the men from Our Lady of Loreto’s Honor Roll into this post so that it can act as a virtual memorial for the men who lost their lives just out of high school.
Pasquale Addonizio, John O. Agueli, Frank C. Albarella, Frank Alesi, Robert J Aquavella, Lawrence J. Bilello, Nicholas Bora, Robert Brande, Vincent Buonaguro, Ronald Cardone, Enrico F. Caridi, Jack Cartisano, Carmine D’Argenio, Louis De Cicco, Jerome De Rosa, Liberty De Vitto, Pasquale Di Donato, John Di Martino, Rocco Di Pietro, Angelo Esposito, Calogero Ferrenate, Samuel R. Gaglione, James Giambrone, Albert Giove, Anthony Iadanza, Peter Iannace, Joseph S . Ianotta, John Iannuzzo, Charles A. Iovino, George Lacertosa, Fiorindo F. La Corte, Joseph La Manna, Joseph Licari, Albert Luizzi, Michael Luongo, Salvatore Maira, Angelo Mancuso, John Mannarino, Paul Marino, Aelia Marotta, Ralph Massaro, Pasquale Mazzei, Victor Mulieri, Louis Nasta, Fred J. Occhipinti, Guistino Parente, David A Prontino, Carmine T. Rocco, Frank Santillo, Jack Sardo, Vincent Scarfo, Anthony Scazzero, Pasquale A. Sergio, Joseph Sotero, Michael Stigliano, Ralph Tranchese, Salvatore A. Trapani, Antonio Vaccaro, Alfonso Yannotta.
May they Rest in Peace.
The original honor roll plaque was dedicated by Eugene Sicignano & A.M.I.C.O.
Thank you. It was a long time ago when I and my family lived in Brooklyn, attended the Church and my brother and I went to the school. I am saddened by this loss from my childhood and am thankful for those that are choosing and capable of preserving what they can from her.
I too went to school with the nuns and served many Masses as an alter boy of Fr. Barretta – for those who allowed this House of Woeship to be destroyed you should be ashamed …… what a sin of loss, thank you to those few who have preserved what they could of this time filled with love, faith, Mass, family, all things Italian …… when I was little I remember a Pope came to visit and those of us lucky enough to attend his Mass received a rare Papal Blessing – the church stood the test of time and should have remained for all time.
Thanks for this informative history. My parents were married in that church and I was baptized there. So sad to see it gone.