A Young Italian Woman From Brooklyn Uses Song To Sooth Her Patients’ Disabilities And Her Own



One of the benefits to managing the Italian Enclaves Social Media pages (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and blog, aside from traveling to some very interesting places, is that it affords me the chance to meet spectacular people. Occasionally, I try to shed light on individuals of Italian descent who are making extraordinary contributions to society. The contributions that I look for are not of the glitz and glamour variety. People should hear about others who selflessly contribute to our society not only as a way of acknowledgement but also as a form of motivation. A fascinating part of the Italians’ contribution is that even as second, third, and fourth generation, we are always harnessing our unique skills and talents to add significant value to society.

One person who particularly struck a chord (no pun intended) is a young woman from Mill Basin, Brooklyn named Jenna Zirino. Born as a third generation Italian American to parents of Italian descent extending to Naples and Calabria, Jenna Zirino has personal challenges that she gracefully overcomes in fulfillment of her vocation as a behavior specialist. Despite suffering from a debilitating case of Fibromyalgia, Jenna gives her all to the patients with whom she works and when possible, she uses her God-given talent of song to brighten the lives of her patients and co-workers.

A Predominantly Italian Neighborhood

Jenna grew up in Brooklyn’s Mill Basin neighborhood. Mill Basin has two sections: New and Old. Old Mill Basin is a part of a greater section of Brooklyn called Flatlands. Old Mill Basin is generally anything from Avenue M to Avenue U between Mill Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. The homes in Old Mill Basin are from an older housing stock stemming from the earlier part of the 20th Century before World War 2. New Mill Basin is anything East of Avenue U between Mill Avenue and E 69th Street, extending all the way to National Drive. The homes in New Mil Basin are mostly post World War 2 and more frequently over the last few decades, some of the most luxurious homes in New York can be found here. New Mill Basin sits on a peninsula in Jamaica Bay bordering the neighborhoods of Bergen Beach, Flatlands, and Marine Park; all of which were mostly Italian throughout the 20th century. Many of the Italians who lived in Flatlands, Canarsie and Marine Park in the earlier and mid-20th Century, migrated to Mill Basin after World War 2 in search of fairly-priced housing that was made available specifically for veterans and their families.

Her Vocation

Jenna works with severely challenged patients, many of whom are dangers to themselves and others. Amazingly, Jenna risks her own wellbeing, and despite having a handicap, aims to help these individuals live their lives as positively and happily as possible. Many of the patients with whom she works are from former state-run mental institutions such as the infamous Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, New York. To really put it in perspective without belaboring the point, these patients have very limited independent skills. Some of her patients have been rejected services by other institutions for years because they have extreme maladaptive behavior like aggression or self-injury. Jenna’s job is to find out why her patients are exhibiting a specific behavior and then helps them to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a safer way. The gamut of illnesses and disabilities that plague her patients include but are not limited to: cerebral palsy, autism, traumatic brain injury, and schizophrenia. Jenna’s agency handles patients within a very wide range of disabilities, but she specializes in helping those with the most severe delays.

Jenna humbly told us how she started off as a per-diem classroom assistant making $10 an hour eleven years ago and is now the head of the Psychology/Behavior department for her current site. To support the people with whom she works, Jenna uses sign-language, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and picture communication if necessary.
Her Challenge

Jenna’s case of fibromyalgia is sadly debilitating. She shyly says that she has “good days and bad days.” In some instances, Jenna’s Fibromyalgia acts up so much that she can’t stand and remains wheelchair bound. Even on her “bad” days, Jenna uses her gift from God to spread love and happiness despite her own struggles. Jenna’s singing ability opens the hearts and minds of her most difficult patients as well as her friends, relatives and colleagues. Enchanted by her beautiful voice, some of her most challenged patients are soothed enough to smile and laugh with delight when she sings despite their depression or anger.

Reflecting on the benefits of her Italian American heritage, Jenna attributes her drive and determination to the work ethic instilled in her by her parents and grandparents: “I have learned to give of myself until there is nothing left, to feed and to nurture….to provide warmth and comfort.” Her paternal Grandfather raised his family of seven in government housing projects in Canarsie while working as a longshoreman. He lost one of his arms in a tragic accident on the docks and her father and his siblings were left to fend for themselves. They worked hard and established themselves as successful entrepreneurs and wound up moving to a private home in New Mill Basin. When I asked Jenna if there is anything that makes her nostalgic and that resonates from her being Italian, she said: “eating antipasto and stuffed artichokes for breakfast after a holiday.”


A real person with real challenges helping people despite needing help. That is how I can sum up the life of our friend Jenna Zirino. She is an impressive person who should serve as a motivation to all of us. When Monday arrives, and we are all dragging ourselves out of our homes to work, we should think for a split second about Jenna. What if we could no longer get out of bed and stand up with both feet? What if we could only get out of the house with a wheelchair? Would we still use the little energy we have left after being mentally and physically drained by an illness, to go to work to help others even less fortunate? This is part of the sacrifice and challenge that Jenna overcomes constantly. In addition, Jenna sees no boundaries between people. Her friends are from a broad spectrum of society including different races, religions and sexual preferences.  I pray she serves as a motivation to others and can motivate us all to be better versions of ourselves, so we can contribute our gifts and talents to the world with the same fervor and dedication as Jenna.

Please enjoy this beautiful showcase of Jenna’s oratory talents and may her angelic voice sooth you as it does for her friends, family, co-workers and patients:




Le Tavole di San Giuseppe: Featured From Various Italian Enclaves In North America

By: Raymond Guarini


The Feast of San Giuseppe

Most Italian communities across North America are immersed in their heritage as we rapidly approach Palm Sunday and Easter during this Lenten season. A big part of experiencing Italian tradition is rooted in the Catholic faith and that is precisely why younger generations should always know “why”  traditions such as La Tavola Di San Giuseppe exist; so that sanctity can endure.

Depending on who is in your sphere of influence both virtually on social media and in your everyday lives, you may have been exposed to the many displays of Catholic tradition from Italian communities. This is especially so if your social media algorithms are anything like ours at Italian Enclaves or if you live near or within an Italian enclave.

Our feeds on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were filled with glorious photographs in the last week that depict ornately prepared Saint Joseph’s tables sporting delectable dishes as well as various breads, vegetables and fruits. We have taken this opportunity to reflect on this sacred time and to share with our readers the photographs from the unique window that Italian Enclaves enjoys into the lives of multi-generational Italians and their organizations throughout North America.

As Sicilians arrived in North America, they settled in many different parts of the country. Italian Enclaves has a unique connection to these places not only by having traveled to most but also because of the interrelatedness amongst these locations on Social Media, especially on feast days. We have received permission to share the above photos from our friends in Denver, New Jersey, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Queens, and Kansas City; just to name some. Of course, there are many more places where Saint Joseph tables are prepared, but those shown maintain some of the longest-lasting traditions in the Country and give a very clear sense of how far this tradition stretches and the immensity of the overall Italian American influence in North America.

What is Saint Joseph’s Day and why are the tables made?

Saint Joseph’s Day is on March 19th of each year and is a sacred day during Lent on which Italians celebrate Joseph, the father of Christ. There are a ton of variations as to where the tradition of “making” a Saint Joseph table originated. Some say that it originated in Sicily to end a seven year drought. Others say it started when the Sicilians revolted against French rule. Yet another variation claims that the tables originated by fishermen who were not catching enough fish to feed their towns, and therefore prayed for the intercession of Joseph to cure the famine caused without nourishment from the sea.

Each story may be true, but unconditionally the tradition itself always maintains a quid pro quo. A common denominator to all Saint Joseph Table origination stories establishes that these elaborate altars were created to honor Saint Joseph in return for a blessing. Some tables were created to receive blessings for a sick relative while others were created to bless a parent’s son to return home from war. There are many who create a table to give thanks for general, good fortunes that they already have received and attribute them to Saint Joseph.

In Sicily, the strictest line of belief that is related to the origins of the Table was that there was always a prayer to Saint Joseph to feed the poor, young orphans (le virgineddi-the little virgins), and the elderly (li vecchierreddi). Henceforth, tables were created to not only receive good fortune in crops or fishing for the community at large, but most importantly, to provide for the weak and feeble; a truly commendable example of humanity’s selflessness.


What is on the Table?

Firstly, the variations of tables we have seen perfectly captures the essence of what Italian Enclaves strives to represent; a general community made up of many smaller communities with each having unique, geographic elements…


The table is most often made with three levels to represent the Holy Trinity. Every table is to have an image of Saint Joseph. Some tables have statues as well. Other elements are: flowers (lilies), specially shaped loaves of bread, fruits, vegetables and freshly sprouted wheat if geography allows; otherwise, in lieu of wheat, many display fennel. The diversity of these tables makes looking at them enjoyable because no two are exactly alike.

One can also find traditional foods on the Saint Joseph Table such as “pasta con sarde,” (below) which is pasta in a sauce made with anchovies, chopped fennel tops, sardines, and mollica (which are toasted breadcrumbs and sugar-generally used to represent the sawdust from Joseph’s workshop or to others, used due to a the scarcity of cheese during ancient times). Please enjoy the following photos which are cropped screen shots from some of the people that we follow back on Social Media and who also represent a sample set of the amazing abundance of traditions taking place amongst the Italians in North America.



Cod can also be found on the table as well as olives, cardoons, artichokes and cauliflower.

As for the desserts found on the table, the most popular are sfinge,zeppole, pizzelli, strufoli, and taking the attention on most social media feeds, sfinge di San Giuseppe (cream puffs made with ricotta cream filling-cannoli cream). We have seen these pastries represented in our social media feeds in countless variations so I gathered some favorite photos of these pastries that were shared by those we follow back on Instagram. Please enjoy!


I hope that the takeaway from this piece is that the traditions that underscore our heritage are kept, and passed onto younger generations. The preservation of these traditions and the teaching of their importance is paramount to maintaining cultural identity in a fast-changing society. 

A special thanks to:

American Italian Cultural Center- Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Gretna

Robert William Kearney- Kansas City Saint Joseph Table from Scalabrini Hall

John Napoli- Whose incredible blog Il Regno features the table from St. Athanasius in Brooklyn (http://ilregno2s.blogspot.com/)

Little Italy Of Denver @littleitalyofdenver (insagram) Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church.

Saint Joseph Society of Lodi-New Jersey

Buffalo, New York-photo courtesy of Jason Parisi

Special thanks to all of the others whose photos we shared. Please share this with all who would appreciate it.

Isabella A. Virgilio, San Diego, CA- The Italian Catholic Federation , Branch #246 @ St. Vincent de Paul Church in San Diego




Halfway Into Lent And The CETTO Family : Christmas Easter Thanksgiving Texting Only

As we arrive at the halfway point of the Lenten season, many of us have had the opportunity to reflect and most importantly, reconcile ourselves with God by performing penance for our sins. All Christians are taught that they should give up something for Lent and most do make a sacrifice of some sort. People have customarily given up things that are often found comforting and indulging such as junk food, smoking, caffeine, etc. The reason we give up anything at all during Lent is to remind ourselves of the sacrifices made by Jesus which thus brings us closer to him.

This Lenten season, I decided to give up text messaging. I did not pioneer this concept in the least. As a matter of fact, I learned of this concept from the Vatican. In 2009, the Catholic Church told Italians that they should give up texting for Lent. Mind you, this was almost ten years ago while we were nowhere near the point of proliferation that technology has reached today. Social but not social

As one might surmise, the Church’s suggestion to abandon text messaging in Italy was met with mixed reviews. On one hand, bishops and parishioners applauded the suggestion. On the other hand, some opposed it with the line of reasoning that if it is unlikely to get younger people to attend Church, it would be further unlikely to get them to stop text messaging because the Church tells them to stop.

CETTO Family
We have heard of the CEO Christian before. This acronym stands for Christmas Easter Only which refers to Christians who only attend Church on Christmas and Easter. It is not certain where this term originated, but perhaps we can  agree that it derived from those that are critical of their fellow Christians who only attend Church twice a year. It is firmly argued by members of the Church that the changing dynamics of the Christian family or just the family in general, has been a significant contributor to the departure from religiousness in America. Whatever the reasons, people attend Church less often than they did. Statistics can invariably support this fact, especially regarding the Catholic Church.

CETTO stands for Christmas Easter Thanksgiving Text Only. I created this acronym because I could not help but notice that in America, where Thanksgiving is a major holiday for families, we tend to not see our loved ones unless a holiday obligates us to do so. In the long spats of time that elapse in between these holidays, many families tend to communicate with one another thru text messaging. Therefore, most families are held together by intermittent familial gatherings as the bricks, and text messaging as the mortar. There is nothing wrong with text messaging those we love to send them a picture or to send a quick “I miss you” or “I love you.” It’s the “ONLY” part of the CETTO acronym that is the problem.DSCN1877

We should not be okay with abandoning the two most important things that maintain our society’s integrity: religion and family. The family unit is the most sacred facet of the Christian Church. We are told by the scriptures that the love between a husband and wife should be unconditional, forever lasting, and most importantly, the antidote to the influences of evil. There are myriad reasons for this line of thought, but the simplest takeaway is that the family unit is where morality is instilled and that is normally connected to a family’s religiousness. Temptations of any kind will be weaker and less fertile in the minds of families that love one another by being together more often and speaking from their hearts on the telephone if distance separates them. If we replace our human connections such as face-to-face visits, phone calls and Sunday Mass with text messaging, then we are unwinding the fabric of civilized society one text at a time.

I am not making an argument for abandoning text messaging altogether. I am making a statement that we should all be more conscious of the importance of going to our places of worship more often with our families than just on the big holidays, and that we must supplement electronic communication with old-fashioned communication. I am reinforcing that people need to abandon lifeless objects as intermediaries between ourselves and those we love. Texting can easily become the only means of communicating that we have with one another since it is easier and can be done while multi-tasking. In order to achieve balance, one must weigh the benefits of texting to its drawbacks.

When I abandoned text messaging, two things happened. I focused more on my professional work as well as on my passion projects like Italian Enclaves. I also found that most importantly, my relationships with my loved ones benefited. At least for me, if I can hear someone’s voice, as opposed to reading their text, I am able to read the emotional content of their words much better which ultimately validates our relationship. Texting can lead to misinterpretations; it can unquestionably lead to miscommunications.

Texting has also replaced handwritten cards. Families sometimes substitute hand-written cards with text messages or e-cards. I find that sending a handwritten card is much more intimate as it takes time to purchase the card, write the note, and mail it out. These ritualistic steps although old-fashioned, show the recipients that time was taken to show them love and attention. Generally, when people received a handwritten card, they would pick up the telephone to call the sender and express thanks which would lead to a positive emotional connection. We may all have experienced an instance where we take the steps of getting a card for someone, write a note in it and mail it, only to receive a text message from the recipient thanking us for the card. At that juncture, the sentiment is invalidated and the evolution of social behavior sadly takes away from the human element.

For the remainder of this year, I implore people to try reverting their means of communications to those used before text messaging. A time not-too-long-ago, people spoke on the phone and visited one another. Try this. It may leave you feeling more fulfilled. It may not. Either way, any attempt at seeing your loved ones in between holidays is time well spent. The Church will never close its doors to you, so don’t just go on Easter and Christmas. Try spending a little time there in between those holidays. Light a candle. Say a prayer to thank God for the blessings you have, not just to ask for help when you are in despair. If your family is fragmented like many, be the catalyst. Every family has certain people who act as the glue to keep everyone else together. Be the glue. Don’t let the matriarchs and patriarchs take our traditions to their eternal resting places. Carry out your family’s traditions even if there has been a break in those traditions for years. Reinvigorate your family with spontaneity. Not every conversation needs prefacing with a text. If you are from a younger generation, pick up the phone and call an older relative. They’ll be happy to hear your voice. I promise you. I also guarantee hearing their happiness over the phone will make you happy.
Thank you for taking the time from your day to read this. Let’s make CETTO families better again.
God bless us all and God bless America.

An Italian American Teacher, An Old Italian Enclave And An Example of Paying It Forward


Our society lacks unique examples that showcase the beauty of human nature. We are usually inundated with retweets or re-posts from the same handful of people and stories that society has installed as examples of what we ought to be. Often these people are celebrities or sports figures who are relatively detached from our realities. Seldom are we told about people like ourselves who dedicate their lives to making the world better through sacrifice.

In Brooklyn, there is a young Italian American man who at 39 (today) dedicates his life to positively impacting those who are much less fortunate than himself. He isn’t a professional baseball or football player. He is not an actor or famous musician nor is he an independently wealthy philanthropist with questionable motives and unlimited money to throw at the world’s issues. In fact, it is quite the contrary; this gentleman is modestly compensated.28313499_2811008995851233_937380854_n

John Russo, a charter school teacher, puts his pants on every morning just like anyone else. What John does differently is that he awakens each day to dedicate his life as a teacher at the Summit Academy Charter School, which is an institution that struggles to keep delivering hope to the youth of Red Hook, a neighborhood that has much less than most.

To first understand the challenge that John and Summit Academy have, one must understand Red Hook, Brooklyn….

History of Red Hook

A land with an extensively rich history, Red Hook was first the land of the Canarsee Native American tribe before the Dutch settled there and both parties peacefully agreed that the Canarsee would sell their land to the Dutch and migrate to Staten Island. Subsequently, threatened by the British Monarchy, Red Hook was home to Fort Defiance and a brave contingency of colonialists who committed to defending America from imperialism. The Battle of Brooklyn was fought in the direct vicinity of Red Hook (throughout Brooklyn Heights and into present-day Sunset Park). When the war was won, and after the creation of the United States in 1776, Red Hook became a critical hub of commerce because of its geographical significance (also why Fort Defiance existed there to protect the Buttermilk Channel). Red Hook housed ports and docks that were the destination for cargo ships entering the Narrows Canal from the Atlantic Ocean. 28236018_2811014442517355_537720193_n
The most important waterways in America needed plenty of dock hands to physically move goods from the ships and into the warehouses that still exist till this very day. Enter the Irish and Scandinavian immigrants seeking better lives in the newly founded United States. Throughout the 1800’s, until roughly the late 1800’s, Red Hook was an Irish and Scandinavian neighborhood. The Irish and the Scandinavian laborers built many of the buildings from the 1800’s that still remain, including Visitation Church.

Then, in the late 1800’s, Italians began to come to Red Hook also attracted by the jobs provided by the booming docks and ports of Red Hook and the rest of South Brooklyn. Much of the housing stock in the neighborhood that remains from this period housed the Italians who started arriving in droves to eventually completely replace the Irish and Scandinavians.

An Italian Enclave

In the early 1900’s all the way until the 1960’s, Red Hook was a thriving Italian Enclave replete with bakeries, restaurants and salumerias. Visitation Church became an Italian Church. The neighborhood was thoroughly safe. Neighbors knew one another from their towns in Italy and their children became second generation Italian Americans. Fiorella LaGuardia, New York’s first Italian American Mayor, spearheaded the construction of the Red Hook houses in 1938 to house the growing populations of laborers and longshoremen who sought prosperity there. This was one of the largest public housing projects in the entire country.

In the 1960’s there was a revolutionization in the shipping industry which shifted bulk shipping to containerization. With that change, many of the businesses moved to New Jersey’s more modern ports and along with them, so did the jobs. Many Italians moved across Hamilton Avenue to a thriving Italian Enclave called Carroll Gardens. Robert Moses’ Gowanus Expressway bifurcated downtown Brooklyn along Hamilton Avenue effectively creating a firm border between Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. With the fleeing Italian American population, the Red Hook Houses became the home of low-income Latino and African American residents. The same trend was reflected throughout the surrounding houses and buildings. Eventually, by 1990, crime soared as unemployment ravaged Red Hook. Lack of public modes of transportation into Red Hook isolated the neighborhood even further and rendered it unsafe to not only outsiders but also to its own residents. Life Magazine named Red Hook as one of the ten worst neighborhoods in America and called it the “crack capital of America.”28308739_2811014379184028_72227839_nJohn’s Inspiration

As a teacher in such a disadvantaged community, John’s inspiration comes from his own hardship as the son of a single mother. Not born of privilege, John worked diligently to better his life by disciplining himself to study hard. A graduate of Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Mr. Russo went on to study at Johns Hopkins University as well as Harvard University where he studied Environmental and Ecological Sustainability. Being a great student came easy to John so he took his academic talents and applied them as a way to earn extra money as a tutor to many of the yearning neighborhood kids of Carroll Gardens and neighboring communities. Mr. Russo eventually found his calling when he became a teacher at Summit Academy Charter School in Red Hook.

Natasha Campbell, Summit’s founder, envisioned a charter school that could serve the underprivileged youth of Red Hook to reach new summits in life, hence the name. Whether by coincidence or the grace of God, John found his way to Summit to help Natasha see this vision into reality. The school in and of itself is an immense story worth mentioning. Considering the high rates of delinquency and poor percentages of high-school graduates in Red Hook altogether, Summit was able to create a dream team of sorts that has led their school to achieve what was before a statistical impossibility: 99% of Summit’s 2017 graduating class ended up going to college. This immense accomplishment is a testament to the hard work of the faculty and staff at the school not to mention the students. It was such a fascinating accomplishment that Ellen DeGeneres invited the entire graduating class to her show’s studio in California and wound up paying each and every student’s first year of college.

When I asked Mr. Russo about his students’ recent accomplishments, he never used the words “me or I”. He attributed it to the entire staff at Summit. The words “we and us” were how he referred to his students and the school. John candidly admits that he could earn more money for himself if he worked at another school such as a public school, but he persists at Summit because he shares a vision that more Americans need to see. Integrity breeds success. John instills honesty and trust unto his students. He does not teach at them, he teaches with them. He leads by example. He shares whatever he has whether it’s his last morsel of food or his wisdom. John doesn’t see other people according to race or creed. When it comes to people, John doesn’t see color or nationality; he sees other human beings.

One story that resonated with me was when I came to know of John’s generosity towards one of his students. Straddled with the expense of buying a suit for his prom, one of the students came to Mr. Russo for help. The young man didn’t want to attend his own prom because he didn’t have the proper attire nor did he have the money to acquire it. John sat down with his student at his laptop and in a totally out of bounds gesture of generosity and compassion, ordered that young man’s suit for him as well as a shirt, tie and pair of shoes.

The proud grandson of a WW2 Veteran, John passes to anyone who knows him something that is missing from much of what we are exposed to today, the human element. John Russo makes phone calls more than he texts. John isn’t afraid to say “I love you” to his cherished friends despite how uptight the world may be. John speaks with his hands like most Italians. He says “whatchamacallit” when he’s referring to something. He’s a real person. He gives those he loves the shirt off his back. Everyone in the neighborhood knows who he is. He’s warmly referred to as “Johnny Russo” by the old-timers in the neighborhood. John’s the kind of old-school guy that many would say: “they don’t make anymore.” It took a great deal of work for me to get John to brag a little. As a matter of fact, he didn’t brag at all. He calls his students his “kids.” He hugs his friends. I accumulated a lot of what I know about John by watching his actions since his words about his accomplishments and sacrifices don’t exist. John’s students reciprocate Mr. Russo’s passion for what he does for them the best way they know how. Aside from his love of Nutella, which they bought him for his Birthday, they emulate his passion to persevere. 28312699_2811014395850693_649156068_o


I wanted to write this piece about John Russo and Red Hook Brooklyn to shed light on the fact that the Italian American contribution to America still happens today. Such a contribution isn’t always in the form of a famous Italian chef’s new restaurant, it isn’t a wealthy CEO donating an insignificant sliver of his net worth for accolades and it isn’t a wealthy actor with a vowel at the end of his or her name kicking some money into a nonprofit for a tax deduction or an honorable mention. I hope I am successful in reminding the readers of Italian Enclaves that Italian Americans built from grit and hard work are still contributing to our world in the most honorable ways possible. This piece highlights the fact that it’s noble to pay it forward. Differences of race, religion or sex shouldn’t make any difference whatsoever. Neighborhoods come and go, such is the cycle of life. We shouldn’t lament change nor should we resent our former enclaves’ new residents. We should pass the torch and take solace in our sovereign right to choose what’s right. We should all take a page out of Mr. Russo’s book.

If you know of an Italian American who contributes to your community and exemplifies what it means to be a good human being, please reach out with his or her story. We would like to hear from you so that we can share these heart warming stories to implore everyone to work in solidarity for the benefit of our world’s future.

Please find the following link to Summit’s website where if you wish, a donation can be made to the school and its scholars: http://www.sacsny.com/giving/


  1. http://www.sacsny.com/
  2. Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal by Joseph Alexiou
  3. http://brooklynink.org/2009/12/24/6406-a-day-in-the-life-at-the-red-hook-houses/


Apparizioni Madonna, Martedi Grasso, And The Cause of Beatification Of The Servant Of God Carlo Acutis


Our last guest post by Gioavanni Napoli was so inspiring that I began studying the various Italian Saints. In doing so, I stumbled upon a young boy who is in the process of being beatified, named Carlo Acutis. Carlo first received the Eucharist at the age of 7 and continued to receive it each day of his life until his untimely passing. Born in 1991 and having left this earth all too soon in 2006 at the age of 15, Carlo spent his young life in Italy dedicated to Jesus by collating on his website each and every Church verified apparition of our Blessed Mother that occurred on this planet for over two millennia.carlo02

Such a task is immense and sets Carlo far apart from every other young adolescent. In his own words: “too many people are born unique and yet die carbon copies.” His unique devotion led to him harnessing his talents with computers to create an online tabulation of each Blessed Mother apparition or Apparizioni Madonna.

In reading through these “Apparizioni Madonna” that have been catalogued by young Carlo, there was one event that correlates to this Tuesday, February 13th 2018, which as the day before Ash Wednesday is referred to as “Shrove Tuesday.” The word “shrove” is a form of the English word “shrive,” which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by confession. It has become customary for those observing Lent to indulge in the foods on this day that they will be giving up until Easter.

Amidst Carlo’s painstaking accounting of Mary’s apparitions was an introduction to a woman who was visited by the Blessed mother and Jesus on separate occasions in Milan, Italy. Sister Maria Pierina De Micheli (1890-1945) wore the habit of the Daughters of The Immaculate Conception. Sister Maria had been visited by the Virgin Mary on May 31st, 1938 where Our Lady presented her with a scapular telling her: “This scapular is a defensive arm, a shield of strength, a token of love and mercy that Jesus wants to give the world in these times of sensuality, and hate against God and the Church. They tighten the diabolic nets to rip faith from hearts, evil overflows…A divine remedy is necessary and it is the Holy Face of Jesus. Everyone who wears a scapular like this one and who visits the Holy Sacrament every Tuesday to make reparation for these offenses, receive His Holy Face during the Passion, and receive the Eucharist every day, will be fortified in their faith, ready to defend it and overcome every difficulty-internal and external. Besides this they will have a peaceful death, under the amiable watch of my Divine Son.”images2

On November 21st, 1938, Jesus presented himself to Maria, dripping in blood and with great sadness he told her: “Do you see how I suffer? Yet, I am understood by so few. There are so many ungrateful people apart from those who say to love me! I gave my heart as a delicate object of my great love for mankind and I give my face as the delicate object of my suffering for the sins of men: I want to be honored with a feast on the Tuesday of Lent, meaning the Tuesday that comes before Ash Wednesday a feast preceded by a Novena in which all the faithful make reparation with me, united in participation of my suffering…Every time you contemplate my Holy Face, I will pour my love into hearts, and through my Holy Face one will obtain the salvation of so many souls.”

Eventually, with the grace of God and steadfast obedience to Jesus, Sister Maria succeeded in distributing a medal with Jesus’ face as a replacement to the scapular with the same promises and favors granted to those in possession of it.images

Such amazingly powerful accounts of the “Apparizioni Madonna” collected and disseminated by Carlo Acutis is a testament to the devotion and love of Christ that we should all emulate as Catholics.

In Italy, the dedication to the Tuesday preceding Lent (Ash Wednesday) is celebrated with great respect. In Italian it is called Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday). This is the main day of Carnival in Italy. In Molfetta, for example, a cross bearing Christ’s face is walked through the town at midnight symbolizing Jesus’ and Our Lady’s wishes of disseminating the scapular and Christ’s Holy face towards the absolution of sins and to bring mankind closer to Christ. 646561202

In our turbulent world with much more intensified examples of Our Lady’s acknowledgements to young Sister Maria, I write this post to evoke Jesus’ wish for us to receive penance and carry out our duties as Catholics, whether Italian or not.

Carlo Acutis is an amazing example of how we can harness the power of the Internet towards spreading the message of Christ’s love for mankind in a world where the internet is often corruptly misused. He dedicated his life to discovering ways that we can all reinforce our faith. I find it no coincidence that I discovered the page dedicated to his beatification as I believe his work will forever continue as long as we help share it.

Before the sacred journey of Lent for those of Catholic faith, I would like to leave you with the words spoken by young Carlo that echo what each of us should already know and if not, can always learn or relearn: “ Surely,” Carlo said, “the miracles accomplished by the Virgin Mary during her apparitions on earth can be of great help to increase the Faith of many people…How can they be ignored…the appeals that Our Lady gave us? And yet knowing our little Faith, in her maternal goodness, the Blessed Mother wanted to work countless numbers of miracles precisely to help us to believe, yet despite these amazing signs many, still today, remain so indifferent! Many people seek signs from Heaven to reinforce their Faith, but there are also many who unfortunately do not even seek them and if by chance they find them, intentionally ignore them because they are too preoccupied with worldly things.”

The following link will take you to a page where you can register to the Association for the cause of beatifying Carlo Acutis: http://www.carloacutis.com/en/association/associazione





Most Precious Blood Church, the Heart and Soul of NYC’s Little Italy

The Italian Enclaves blog is extremely proud to share this post with our readers today. Giovanni di Napoli has been selflessly documenting Italian heritage throughout America by diligently photographing and taking part in the rituals and traditions of Italian churches as well as their vast devotions to Italian Saints and Roman Catholicism. We asked Giovanni to make a guest blog post and he delivered so graciously based on his incredible faith and devotion without even asking us to mention his blog. So, before reading the below, please make a note to check out Giovanni’s blog and follow him on social media (www.ilregno2s.blogspot.com, on Facebook; “Il Regno.”) Please enjoy….

Near the corner of Baxter and Canal Streets, on the border of New York City’s Little Italy and China Town, stands the Church of the Most Precious Blood (113 Baxter St.). Once a bustling National Parish serving the burgeoning Italian American community of Lower Manhattan, this historic house of worship lies sadly neglected with, considering the recent spate of church closings, an uncertain future. The church is currently part of the parish of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (263 Mulberry St.) and under the pastoral care of Msgr. Donald Sakano. The Heart and Soul of Little Italy, it is arguably best known, due to the immense popularity of the saint’s feast, as the National Shrine of San Gennaro.


For those who are less familiar, the church is also the longtime home to the feasts of Sant’Antonio da Padova, Sant’Angelo d’Acri, and Saints Cosma and Damiano. With the regrettable closing of St. Joseph’s Church (5 Monroe St.) in 2015, Most Precious Blood acquired the statues, relics and feasts of San Rocco di Potenza and San Vincenzo Martire di Craco. Though smaller in comparison to San Gennaro, the organizers and devotees of these other celebrations are no less fervent in their devotion to their respective saints.


From St. Joseph’s, Most Precious Blood has also come into possession of the statue of the Madonna delle Grazie, patroness of Santa Caterina Villarmosa, Sicily and the icon of the Madonna di Ripalta, patroness of Cerignola, Puglia. These sacred images join the church’s already impressive collection of statuary and iconography from southern Italy, which includes the recently restored statues of San Calogero from Sciacca, Sicily and San Michele Arcangelo, thought to hail from Sant’Angelo le Fratte in Potenza, Basilicata.27152569_10215959387767677_1201314931_n


In addition to the above mentioned statues, the murals of Donatus Buongiorno (1865-1935), damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, are currently undergoing much needed restoration. Nineteen paintings in all, they depict the Principal Episodes in the Life of Christ, of St. Francis of Assisi, and of St. Anthony of Padua. The first painting rescued thus far was Buongiorno’s Saint Francis with Dante Alighieri and Christopher Columbus.26996506_10215959387887680_1737232599_n


More impressive than the paintings and statues, Most Precious Blood boasts an array of first class relics, the most important being a splinter of the True Cross. Safely stored in the sacristy, the bone fragments of San Gennaro, Sant’Antonio di Padova, San Francesco d’Assisi, and St. Jude Thaddeus are brought out for veneration during each saint’s feast day. The one relic on view all year round is San Vincenzo’s, which is kept in an ornate, gilded wooden reliquary at the foot of his reclining statue in front of the so-called “Guariglia” bye-altar.


As an aside, every August, during the Feast of San Rocco, the St. Rocco Society of Potenza publicly display the relic of their beloved patron for veneration. Unfortunately, their original relic mysteriously went missing after the closing of St. Joseph’s Church. But upon learning of their terrible loss, the Very Rev. Cav. Msgr. Joseph Ambrosio, pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Newark, New Jersey generously donated his relic to the society at the feast in 2016. In the meantime, a member has been charged with the enviable task of safekeeping the new relic until Most Precious Blood’s ongoing restoration project is completed.26994691_10215959391887780_528658070_n


The 129th Annual Feast of San Rocco will be celebrated on Sunday, August 19th at 12 noon. Following Mass there will be a procession with the world famous papier mâché statue of the saint through the streets of Little Italy, escorted by the Giglio Band.27043175_10215959389487720_1365555882_n26996510_10215959389647724_459573571_n


Weekly parishioners aside (they no longer offer daily Mass), by far the most active members of the church have been the Comunità di Sant’Egidio, an international prayer group dedicated to communicating the Gospel and performing charitable works. Meeting every Friday evening, from 6:30PM-7:30PM, the St. Egidio Prayer Group, led by Dr. Andrea Bartoli, gather before a replica of the Icona del Santo Volto (icon of the Holy Face of Jesus) from the Chiesa di Sant’Egidio in Rome, and fill the nave with beautiful song and prayer.


Speaking of song and prayer, Most Precious Blood Project Manager Bill Russo has been organizing a monthly “Music and Voice” concert series, which has featured many extraordinary talents, including musician-singer-actor-folklorist-teacher Nando Citarella and internationally renowned guitar virtuoso John T. La Barbera, among others.


However, in my humble opinion, the most recent interesting development has been the attention given to the church by the U.S. Delegation of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George, an ancient dynastic order of knighthood whose origins traditionally date back to Constantine the Great. It appears that the Order is interested in making the church its official chapel in New York City and look to sponsor Traditional Latin Masses there on a regular basis. In fact, over the past two years the Order has offered several Tridentine Masses, including a requiem Mass in 2016 for their late Grand Master, HM King Francesco II di Borbone of the Two Sicilies. On any given occasion individual Knights and Dames can be found praying in the church, alone or with other members of the laity.


The Constantinian Order’s next Solemn High Mass will be held on Friday, March 23rd at 7:15pm, in honor of the Madonna Addolorata.


For those of us who still hold dear our Catholic faith and value our rich religious and cultural traditions, Most Precious Blood Church offers a remarkable opportunity to expand ones devotional life. If you are looking for a peaceful place to pray or interested in helping the various prayer groups and saint societies—the custodians of our southern Italian culture and traditions—I encourage you to come forward. Practical efforts to help them and the church to grow are sure to be warmly received.


Giovanni di Napoli

Feast of St. Sebastian, 2018


For more information visit:


Starting on Friday, February 2nd, the Communita di Sant’Egidio will be moving their weekly prayer gathering from 6:30pm-7:30pm at Most Precious Blood Church to the Basilica at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, which is located at 273 Mott Street, New York NY 10012.

100 years, 7 fish: Cosenza’s maintains new and old world traditions for a century in Bronx’s Little Italy

Cosenza’s fish market is on a very short list of family-owned businesses that have lasted for a century. Come tomorrow, January 2018,  this neighborhood cornerstone will be celebrating its 100th year in business. We recently visited and had a wonderful opportunity to hear about the origins of this family business rooted in a time that we can experience only by piecing small parts of our world today into a mosaic that portrays life in 1918 with tastes, smells, businesses and structures.

Being in Cosenza’s fish market was an experience. While at Cosenza’s, John graciously shared his family business’ rich history with us that transported our image of the fish market to a time where there were farms, horse and carriages, and peddler push carts.


In this video, along with Danielle of Arthur Avenue Food Tours and Anthony from the Italian American podcast, we piece together the origins of the Seven Fish tradition which is widely adopted among Italian American communities throughout the United States. Since the “Seven Fish” tradition was essentially originated in America, Italians in Italy are unaware of the custom’s origin. Since the United States has so many different Italian communities whose people are from different parts of Italy, and their locations within the United States have geographically unique traditions, the actual origin of the Seven Fish is still slightly ambiguous. An overall agreement about this tradition’s origins is that its significance stems from the seven sacraments. Also, there are seven seas throughout the world. No two families have the same menu of seven fish. As long as there are seven fish at the dinner table on Christmas eve is all that matters. They can be made oreganata, marinara, stuffed, plain, in a salad, in a cocktail or even raw.

Many of the patrons who shop at Cosenza’s are former residents of this old Little Italy neighborhood. Others just come from near and far to acquire some of the best specimens available to home cooks and restaurants. Cosenza’s, aside from having some of the best quality, has some of the most competitive retail prices anywhere. They also speak Italian.  As you can hear in the background of the video, Italian is still spoken in this old world fish market.

The market’s humble beginnings can partly be attributed to the success of their oyster and clam cart that fed the hungry working class of Little Italy in the Bronx. The sheer deliciousness of fresh raw oysters and clams has helped this delicacy remain the same for over 100 years without change. The vintage photo below is just an example of the same type of cart that was commonplace a century ago. The other photo is of present-day Cosenza’s fish market’s raw clam and oyster cart which sits on the sidewalk in front of this centennial business. clam cart DSCN1640

John indicated that the Belmont neighborhood had a lot of Neopolitans, Barese and Sicliani over the years. Arthur avenue has tremendously changed and is no longer an Italian neighborhood according to the demographic of those who live within it. However, the businesses in Little Italy still create a cohesiveness that is poetry in motion to the outside observer. One would think that Italians still live en masse throughout the side and cross streets of Arthur Avenue based on the density of the businesses in this little enclave. Unfortunately, the Italians have long gone but the neighborhood can still maintain its charm and thrive as long as there’s awareness of its existence. Many people, especially many Italian people, throughout New York and the Tri-state area, have not traveled to Arthur Avenue because they are unaware that it exists or even if they know it exists, they’re unaware of the treasures that are there. One of the primary objectives of Italian Enclaves is to raise awareness of each and every Italian enclave throughout America in order to evoke our followers’ and readers’ interest into  visiting neighborhoods and businesses such as Cosenza’s on Arthur Avenue so that they can maintain for another 100 years. The experience is so rich that it will touch you forever. How many 100 year old sidewalk clam bars are there where you live?

Arthur Avenue Food Tour With Danielle Oteri and the Italian American Podcast


There is something very enchanting about snow, especially when it’s snowing on Arthur Avenue during Christmastime. We had the luxury of being a part of the exclusive Arthur Avenue food tour with Danielle Oteri and Anthony Fasano of The Italian American Podcast. Besides tantalizing our taste buds, we were given some first hand looks at what goes on behind the scenes at some of Arthur Avenue’s most legendary establishments and the neighborhood’s rich history.

While we sunk our teeth into some delectable delicacies, Danielle illuminated so many wonderful historical facts about the Bronx’s oldest Italian neighborhood. Being situated in a section of the Bronx called Belmont, Arthur Avenue is the main artery of a once thriving Italian enclave. First populated by Italians in the late 1800’s who were primarily employed as masons to build the many sprawling estates and government buildings in the area, Belmont got its name, which literally means beautiful hill, because of the Lorillard estate which once sat atop the hill at the corner of Crescent Avenue and Arthur Avenue. The walls of the estate which were built by Italian immigrants still stand and their most recognizable remnants still remain at the base of this hill and intersection.

Our tour included stops in such famous establishments as G. Addeo & Sons Bakery,  Cosenza’s Fish Market, Calabria Pork Store, Teitel Brothers, Cerini Coffee & Gifts, Calandra Cheese, Biancardi’s Meat Market, Clabria Pork Store and Egidio Pasticceria. These are just some of the many that comprise one of the largest concentrations of Italian businesses in America.

DSCN1657Calandra Cheese is a must for any cheese lover, especially for those with discerning taste. We were given samples of their various cheeses and each one held its own in freshness and purity of taste. The counter has at least ten different cheeses that customers can sample and if you are on Danielle’s food tour you can have even more to choose from. I recommend their truffle cheese. Slightly shredded over some pasta or just sliced and paired with wine, this cheese will take your taste buds on quite an adventure.

DSCN1662Cerini coffee and gifts has one of the largest selections of coffee machines in the country. They also have a breathtaking collection of dishware and collectibles. The store has so much inside of it and everything is neatly laid out for convenient browsing. While there, you’re encouraged to try their espresso from one of the many machines they sell and service. The espresso is delicious.

DSCN1632Addeo Bakers churns out one of the best lard breads in the country, not to mention amazing olive bread and Saint Joseph bread as well. I blinked and the lard bread sampled to the tour disappeared. It was incredible.

Cosenza’s Fish Market has an interesting history. It was one of the very first Italian establishments on Arthur Avenue. John Cosenza generously gave us his time and knowledge in explaining the feast of the seven fish and the significance to fish among the Italian communities of America. They are rounding their 100th year in business this January. While there, it isn’t uncommon to hear Italian being spoken between the employees and customers. This fish market has an old world feel and really epitomizes the American immigrant success story.

DSCN1626Biancardi’s Meat Market ironically was originally an animal pound in the 1800’s. It was used as a place to collect feral and escaped livestock. The area surrounding this bustling enclave in the 1800’s was known for its farmlands and estates. At the time, it was common to see wondering goats and foul. Now, Biancardi’s serves up some of the best cuts of meat around and their specialties include but are not limited to tripe, sausage, and other Italian specialties.

DSCN1670You’ve probably seen pictures online of Calabria Pork Store. They’re known for their dry sausage which abundantly hangs from the ceilings creating the world’s largest meat chandelier. Patrons can try samples of their hot and sweet sausage while waiting for their orders. A must see while on Arthur Avenue.

At Egidio Bakery we were given a real behind the scenes look at how their famous pignoli cookies are made by the bakery’s gregarious owner, Carmella. She generously showed us the bakery’s sacred recipes which are still on the same paper that they were written on 100+ years ago. Her homemade marzipan made for the best rainbow cookies I have ever tried in my life.

Tietel Brothers happens to be one of the most well-known businesses on Arthur Avenue. The funny thing is, they’re not Italian, but that certainly hasn’t stopped them from becoming one of the largest distributors of imported Italian products in the country. Famed for their heroic system of offering credit to patrons during the great depression, the Tietel brothers became a lynchpin of the Belmont community by preventing many of the neighborhood’s residents from starvation during a dark chapter in American history. The picture on the left is of Anthony and Danielle. Anthony is holding up Bottarga, which is a dried fish that is prepared around this time of year by being rehydrated just like baccala.

I have a feeling that Danielle could have made this tour an entire day and she still wouldn’t have scraped the surface for her knowledge of Belmont. When someone is so passionate about what they do, they’re said to never work a day in their life. This is certainly true of Danielle and her Arthur Avenue food tour. She makes you feel like a welcomed family member visiting a long lost relative in a familiar place. The warmth that we experienced here despite the snow and cold is something everyone should experience at least once. Please feel free to reach out to Danielle at : Booking@feastonhistory.com or by calling 718-618-6264.



A Look Back at the NIAF Conference and Gala of 2017

Italian America has many faces but it has just a single backbone, and that is NIAF (National Italian American Foundation). An immense organization with roots all across America, NIAF seeks to ensure two pillars of importance: 1) that Italians in America strive to preserve their heritage’s traditions and 2) that the contributions made by Italians to American society as a whole are never forgotten.

Amongst Italians in communities all over America, there’s tremendous buzz each year about an annual event that has no rival anywhere else in the world. This event is the NIAF Conference and Gala in Washington D.C., the home of NIAF Headquarters and home to its former President, John Viola.

John Viola’s poise and graceful demeanor made him the perfect man for the job as President of NIAF for several successful years and this year’s Gala was no exception to the qualities of a flawless reign with a program featuring robust guests such as Italy’s Ambassador to the United States, the Sicilian tenor Carmelo Sorce piping out the Star Spangled Banner, and Co-host (along with Mr. Viola) Maria Bartiromo, the famed news anchor.  The inaugural Community Champion Award was bestowed upon Governor Mario Cuomo for his vigilance in preserving the symbols of Italian American pride across New York, especially the city’s Christopher Columbus statues which have been the subject of unjust negativity.

This year the conference honored Sicily. A two day event, this year’s conference showcased some phenomenal talents from right here in our own backyard in Brooklyn such as cooking sensation Rosella Rago of Cooking with Nonna (her Cookbook is on Sale through our online boutique: https://italianenclave.com/products/cooking-with-nonna ), panel speakers of young Italian influencers such as Dolores Alfieri and Anthony Fasano of the renowned Italian American Podcast (http://italianamericanexperience.com/episodes/) , and this author representing Italian Enclaves.

In addition, there were performances from different Italian artists, namely Tony DeNonno of Brooklyn, NY(http://www.denonnoprodinc.com/ItalianGallery.html) and his enchanting marionette performance. Also contributing to this great celebration of heritage was John Napoli of Il Regno in Brooklyn, NY (http://ilregno2s.blogspot.com/), who is unparalleled in educating his readers about Italian American religious customs.

NIAF is a growing organization yet its growth remains vitally dependent on there being a knowledge of its existence in the first place. Many great Italian Americans are living enriching lives helping their communities in major ways, yet NIAF and these people know not of one another. Explore NIAF’s website (http://www.niaf.org/) for information about how to join and become instrumental in preserving one of the most incredible heritages on this earth and share this with anyone and everyone that you think may find it interesting.

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