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.

An Italian Enclave, A Little Italy, A Vanished Ward, A Church That Was Its Heart And Soul And A Gentle Saint Who Touched Their Lives; A Beautiful Love Story

We would like to thank Father Thomas Nicastro for writing this beautiful blog post regarding Newark’s First Ward, and the national shrine of Saint Gerard Maiella at Saint Lucy’s Church in Newark, New Jersey. The feast will be held this weekend. The procession of the statue of Saint Gerard will be at 1:00PM. Please enjoy this beautiful guest blog post:

Each October countless scattered Italian Americans from all over the United States pilgrimage in what is a joyful return to the “old neighborhood” for the annual feast of Saint Gerard at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, New Jersey. They come because they wish to express their outward devotion to a gentle saint who has touched their lives and their ancestors’ lives in numerous ways.

Even though the old neighborhood is not thriving as it once did, the Feast of Saint Gerard and St Lucy’s Church provided devotees with a real sense of belonging and a sacred place to reenact traditions, sights and sounds of yesteryear. For over one hundred years, the celebration of this venerable feast has been the spiritual catalyst to bring back to life the “Old First Ward,” the “Italian Brigadoon.”

As many know, the migration of Southern Italians to the United States in its early stage saw a large number of immigrants settling in New York City. However, as early as 1873, Newark, New Jersey, experienced immigrants settling approximately some eight miles to the west of Manhattan outside of New York. Newark became one of the first American cities to settle a very large amount of Italian immigrants. At the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century, Newark became the fifth largest little Italy in the United States. As these immigrants arrived from southern Italy from the Campagnia region, their concentration in an area approximately 250 acres certainly added to it..”a boisterous, colorful atmosphere…” In the center stage of this Italian enclave, one would easily agree that St. Lucy’s church on old Sheffield street was definitely the “First Ward’s spiritual axis.” Today, it still remains the most enduring institution of faith and Catholic life in a vanished ward which once was a thriving Little Italy.

The significant role that St. Lucy’s has played in the early history of the First Ward reflects the centrality of the Catholic church in Southern Italy where village-based solidarity (Campanile) of the Church…(Michael Immerso, Newark’s Little Italy, the vanished First Ward, Rutgers Press, 1997, pg 65). These Southern Italians from various paese (villages, towns in Italy) expressed their faith and devotion in a very demonstrative manner by carrying on their shoulders the patron saint of their town throughout the surrounding locale. When they arrived in America in Newark, they brought this devotion to their patron Saint to St. Lucy’s Church where they housed the statue of their heavenly patron. Gradually, the church transformed these immigrants from various paese into Italian Americans.

The celebration of these Patron Saints helped the newly arrived immigrants feel like they were back home in Italy even while beginning a whole new way of life in the New World, the new country. “…The church became a source of community and strength” (Back cover, Reverend Thomas D. Nicastro, The Feast of St. Gerard Maiella, C.S.s.R., The History Press 2012). Many feasts were celebrated at St. Lucy’s beginning in the month of June with the feast of Saint Anthony right through September with the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel and the Flight of the Angels ending in October with the feast of Saint Gerard ending in a blaze of Glory.

On October 16, 1899, St. Lucy’s greatest tradition was born, the Feast of St. Gerard. Interestingly, the Feast began in 1899, five years before Br. Gerard was canonized a Saint, on December 11, 1904 St. Lucy’s Church and the feast of Saint Gerard would be forever linked. One cannot say enough about the role of Saint Gerard and his impact on the Italians of Newark and St. Lucy’s Church in the Old First Ward. Many would agree that it is a beautiful love story between heaven and earth, between an Italian Saint and the devoted faithful of Newark’s “Old First Ward.”

Anyone who has ever visited St. Lucy’s or attended the Feast of St. Gerard knows why I decided to write down for posterity, the customs, the traditions, heritage and related activities that take place at the National Shrine of Saint Gerard at St. Lucy’s church. Anyone whoever grew up or descended from Italian immigrants from Newark’s “Old First Ward” will understand that this venerable feast was our grandparents’ treasure, in particular, our grandmother’s treasure, which was passed down to us. It has become our heritage and their legacy.

My book, on the first one hundred years of the feast of St. Gerard Maiella, traces the immigrant story back to Italy. It will take you to the Campania Region in the Province of Avellino to the town of Caposele and Materdomini where the sacred remains of Br. Gerard Maiella, a Redemptorist, are housed in the world famous shrine.

The story brings you back across the ocean to a small hamlet where St. Gerard was born in Muro Lucano and then later worked at the Redemptorist house at Materdomini where he died on October 16th, 1755. Devotion quickly spread through this region and beyond Italy. The immigrants from the town of Caposele brought with them the customs and traditions practiced in Italy along with a statue they sent for of the Saint. The book chronicles the early years of the feast, the history of St. Lucy’s Italian enclave, the priests, the Feast and the procession. This humble brother was quickly becoming the heavenly patron of mothers, their unborn babies and their children.

Fast forward, the book shows how St. Lucy’s became the official National Shrine of St. Gerard in America. There is also a chapter on a holy woman, Mary Grace Belotti, who followed St. Gerard in a procession in the early years and may very well one day become a Saint herself because of her profound holiness and devotion to St. Gerard. It is written in such a way that I hope portrays “a verbal pilgrimage” with anecdotal accounts of my maternal grandmother which bring to life her immigrant story of faith and devotion to St. Gerard. Truly, it is a story of faith and devotion that journeys back in time and helps the reader relive the enchanting story of the “Old First Warders.”

The book illumines the faith and devotion of so many who look to our dear “Santino” as the gentle Saint who will bring hope to women praying to conceive and pregnant women who seek heavenly aid that influences so many lives and “transcends time and space.” Hopefully it will bring back many warm, happy memories of our ancestors and not only give encouragement and hope but a colorful exposition of our Catholic faith and Italian American culture in the U.S. Dare to step back in time for a moment, relive again, the Old First Ward, the Feast of St. Gerard and our grandmothers’ treasure. Go now walk outside the church doors, “imagine the old neighborhood still thriving and alive outside the Church doors, the boisterous sounds, the exuberant feasts, the rag-tag bands,the smell of bakeries, the peddlers, and the pushcarts…the voices of countless friends and the smile of a beloved grandparent…The Old First Ward, the way it once was.” (Michael Immerso, pg 158) This year, join those whose “devotion never wavered…and follow in the footsteps of grandparents and loved ones…” and walk with them as they follow the Saint through the “once teeming streets of Newark’s vanished Little Italy” (Michael Immerso). Be a part of our grandparents’ treasure which is our heritage and their legacy, the living tradition of the feast of Saint Gerard Maiella.

God Bless you,

Reverend Thomas D. Nicastro

Father Nicastro’s amazingly informative book can be found on sale at our online boutique: http://www.ItalianEnclave.com

Italian Neighborhood Restaurant Red Rose Throws in the Dish Towel after 34 years

I remember a somewhat famous Italian restaurant closing in 2012 called Rocco’s, which was in Greenwich Village. Rocco’s had a steady clientele, amongst whom, one could find some very famous names. Nevertheless, forces beyond the popularity of this Italian neighborhood’s eatery shut its doors for good. This opened my eyes to an unstoppable trend that has been taking place throughout America’s Italian neighborhoods; the forever loss of their authentic restaurants. Such unraveling led me to set out to photo document the current state of these neighborhoods and their establishments in consideration of the fact that they will eventually be no more. The result was me collecting an uncanny amount of photos from various places throughout America that reflect the trending decimation of the authentic Italian neighborhood restaurants and businesses. These photos usually show a closed store front with a for lease or for sale sign. Other times, it’s a sign in the window that bids farewell to the community or it’s just a building or storefront stripped completely of any indication of what was once there. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to get a heads up before a long-standing Italian American business closes and we try to make it there to photograph it and capture its essence before its totally gone. One such example is that of the Red Rose Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, New York.
Going back 34 years, Santino and his father Anthony have satisfied the discerning taste buds of their neighborhood’s Italian community. This community is within a neighborhood called Carroll Gardens, which has a tremendous lineage to the country’s earliest years and its arteries are brownstones and brick buildings that are neatly laid out in a typical urban street grid where horses once pulled buggies. All throughout Carroll Gardens’ formal years, she has housed Italian families from different parts of Italy. Since the 1800’s, Italians from Sicily, Bari, Naples, Calabria and more have intermittently settled in Carroll Gardens whether to seek work as laborers in the city’s never-ending construction or on the docks as longshoremen. Italian Americans from Carroll Gardens have contributed many wonderful gifts to the world and one of those gifts is this intimate restaurant with an original wood bar, stools and other decorum fashioned in the mid 1900’s.

Red Rose was not just a restaurant for the last 34 years under its current management. She was a restaurant with a full bar since decades prior. That old-fashioned feel and perfectly prepared southern Italian food gives Red Rose that time capsule effect. Being there is an experience as opposed to a meal that’s prepared and served. The experience such that as you eat your meal, you can’t help but notice the laughs and apparent happy mood of the neighborhood gentlemen at the bar; one of whom is constantly referred to as father, and so maybe you think he could be a local priest. The feeling in Red Rose is warm. Santino walks over to a table of people and sits amongst them to make them feel at home. His father Anthony can be heard conversing with another older gentleman in Italian. As you possibly sip your wine and take in this unique and virtually extinct atmosphere, you perhaps realize that you are experiencing living history.
As one-by-one, America’s Italian neighborhoods lose their staple restaurants, we can only do our best to continue to frequent those that continue to provide venues for our nights out, engagements, communions, birthdays, and holidays.
In the meantime, we wish Santino and his father Anthony well in their future endeavors. They will be greatly missed.
One of the regular patrons at the bar expressed his sadness. He said: “It’s like losing a best friend. There’s nothing that can replace it.”
More about Rocco’s: http://thevillager.com/2012/01/19/classic-red-sauce-restaurant-is-closed-after-huge-rent-hike/


Our Lady Of Loreto : An Italian Church and Neighborhood Gone But Never Forgotten

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.









%d bloggers like this: