By: Raymond Guarini
One of the many incredible contacts that I made at the most recent event for the Italian American Baseball Foundation was Sabino Curcio of the social media phenomenon, Growing Up Italian. Sabino invited me to join his podcast as a guest. I graciously accepted. About a month after the IABF event, I met with Sabino at the San Sabino Society Club (206 Withers Street) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I am grateful to have accepted this invitation as I was not only welcomed warmly by Sabino and the rest of the Growing Up Italian folks and made to feel appreciated for my work with Italian Enclaves but also because I learned a great deal about Saint Sabino and the innerworkings of the San Sabino Club, which mirrors many other Italian clubs in North America.
Started as a mutual aid society, the San Sabino Club was founded in Williamsburg in 1932. The purpose of the society, much like all Saint societies in the US since the late 1800’s, was to pick up where the government left off. Italian immigrants were often discriminated against and had a tough time upon arriving.
After arriving in the U.S., Italian immigrants were frequently un-hirable, often taking low-wage jobs and having little disposable income to invest in things like health or life insurance. The society would help pay members’ medical bills and even support the families of deceased members, if necessary. I learned that one of the members was a funeral director and would often assist families of deceased members in funeral preparations with great generosity. The necessity for this was immense.
At the time, the United States Government did not have anything in place to help immigrants afford doctors or final expenses. The San Sabino society helped its members survive and gracefully provide for themselves in a country that provided little for immigrants at the time. The society worked on a quasi-barter system where favors were exchanged instead of money. A doctor could help people seeking medical help in exchange for something, an ironworker or laborer could offer their services in exchange for whatever they might need, and so on.
When a new member came up for review, every member got both a black and white ball. White balls were a yes vote for the new member to join and the black ball was a no vote. 50 members voted by placing either a white or black ball in the box. When all members submitted their vote, the box would be opened and the great reveal was made. The catch is that if a newly proposed member received three or more black balls in the voter box, the person would be denied. So out of 50 members, 48 had to vote in favor of the person for them to be approved to join. The other absolute must to get in is that your family had to be from Sanza.
As with any Saint society, there is a patron Saint that is venerated and often processed throughout the town or neighborhood in which the society’s club exists. San Sabino is the patron of Sanza. A town somewhat isolated in the mountains, Sanza is home to great devotions to Catholicism and its Saints by the town’s constituents.
When the mass migrations occurred from Italy to the US before and after the Great War, the Sanzese emigrated from Italy to the US in hopes of greater opportunity like everyone else. Such opportunity not only existed but was eventually realized by the members of the San Sabino society because of their devotion to one another and their commitment to perpetuating the veneration of their town’s patron, Saint Sabino. They were able to purchase their club’s building and quickly paid-off the mortgage.
As quoted by Wikepedia:
“Saint Sabinus of Spoleto (died c. 300) was a Bishop in the Christian church who resisted the persecutions of Diocletian and was martyred.
According to legend, Venustian, governor of Etruria and Umbria, had Sabinus and his deacons arrested in Assisi. Diocletian’s order required all Christians to sacrifice to the gods or be put to death, with their estates seized for the state. Venustian mocked Sabinus’s faith, accusing him of leading the people to the worship of a dead man. When Sabinus said that Christ rose on the third day, Venustian invited him to do the same thing. He had Sabinus’s hands cut off.
The deacons were in great fear, but Sabinus encouraged them to hold to their faith, and they died after being torn apart by iron hooks. In prison after the martyrdom of his deacons, he was tended by a woman named Serena. While in prison, he healed a man born blind. Venustian heard of the cure and sought a cure for his own eyes from Sabinus. Sabinus healed the governor and converted him to Christianity. Venustian then sheltered Sabinus. Maximianus Herculius, hearing of this, ordered the tribune Lucius to address the matter. Lucius had Venustian, his wife, and his two sons beheaded at Assisi, and he had Sabinus beaten to death at Spoleto.”
Sabinus’s feast day in the Roman Catholic Church is December 7th.
Growing Up Italian
The fact that I was one of the first guests to air live from the San Sabino Club on the Growing Up Italian podcast was thrilling. I had a great time chatting with Sabino and the folks of Growing Up Italian. It felt like I was home in my living room speaking with cousins or life-long friends. I look forward to making another post with a link to the podcast later this month. Stay Tuned.
As always, sharing our work is encouraged and appreciated.