OUR HERITAGE: The Hall of Saints

Directly behind the St. Joseph altar on the southwest corner of our church, just off the corridor to the Jay Street entrance, you might find some of our parishioners paying reverence before one of several statues of saints.

Stories behind the statues filled with history

BY A.J. VALENTINI

Many of our readers are familiar with the room directly behind the St. Joseph altar on the southwest corner of our church. Some might not know it exists.

In any case, if you happen to go there (the entrance is just off the corridor to our Jay Street entrance), you might find some of our parishioners paying reverence before one of several statues of holy figures. The origins of these statues go back to the early members of our parish.

Parishioner Felicia Grassi, 87, recalls how her mother and some of her other friends from Missanello, in the Basilicata region of Italy, collected donations by going door to door throughout East Utica to purchase the statues of saints Donato, whose feast is celebrated on Aug. 7, and Rocco, whose feast is celebrated on Aug. 18 and 19 in their native town. For them the presence of these patrons from their former lives far away brought comfort to them here in their new lives in America.

In the collection one can find Santa Rosalia, patroness of Palermo, Sicily, whose festival still takes place in the chapel across the street from Mount Carmel/Blessed Sacrament. St. Lucy, the one celebrated in the famous song “Santa Lucia,” and patroness of the eastern end of Sicily, particularly Siracusa, also is there.

But who were these saints, and why were they so revered. Here’s what we learned.

Santa Rosalia
Santa Rosalia, also called “La Santuzza” in Sicilian, was born to a noble family who claimed to be descended from Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor. Appalled by the sinful world she lived in, she became a hermit living on Mount Pellegrino, near Palermo, where she died alone in 1166. During a plague in 1624, she appeared to a hunter and showed him where her mortal remains were. She instructed him to take them into the city. After a solemn procession through the streets, the remains were given a proper burial and the plague ended.

St. Donato
Although our statue says San Donato Missanello on its base, all research we found either in English or Italian points to the St. Donato who was born in Turkey and as a boy came to Rome. Persecuted by the Roman emperor, his parents were killed and he fled to the city of Arezzo. There he became a follower of the monk Ilariano, and later ordained a priest under the bishop Satiro. He was credited for many miracles and eventually became the bishop of that city. His many miraculous works drew the attention of the Roman prefect who had him decapitated on Aug. 2, 362, for the practice of magic.

St. Thomas Acquinas
St. Thomas Acquinas is one of the 33 “Doctors” of the church, those select people who have been accredited with establishing the precepts of our religion. He was born in Roccasecca (between Rome and Naples). He joined the Dominican Order and attended the University of Naples. Combining his classical training with religious dogma, he became one of the Catholic Church’s foremost theologians. In Acquinas’ view, man existed at the junction of the corporeal and spiritual; his body is a manifestation of the material world and his soul is his link to the infinite. Heavy stuff, even for theologians.

St. Lucy
St. Lucy is known as the patron saint of sight. She was of a noble family of Siracusa and was to be married off but refused to marry a pagan, vowing rather to remain a virgin. She was reported to the Roman authorities who tried to bring her to a brothel. By Divine force she became immoveable and could not be taken away. A local guide in Siracusa told us they gouged her eyes out. They next tried to burn her, but she was impervious to the flames. At last she was struck on the neck with a sword and died. She was buried in Siracusa, but during the Saracen occupation the Venetians took her remains to Venice. Her feast, Dec. 13, heralds the coming of Christmas.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patroness of the Carmelite Order, originally hermits who lived on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land in the 12th and 13th centuries. Tradition says that Mary gave a brown scapular to an early Carmelite, St. Simon Stock. The scapular is a sign and pledge of devotion to the Holy Mother and an incitement to imitate her virtues of humility, chastity and prayerful spirit.

St. Rocco
Little children love the statue of St. Rocco because he is shown with a dog that has a loaf of bread in his mouth at his side. A French nobleman born in 1340, he was left an orphan under the care of an uncle. Dedicating himself to God and the Virgin, he gave his wealth to the poor and took an oath of poverty. He went to Italy to administer to the sick and contracted the plague. He became very ill and had an open sore on his leg. Living in a cave, a local dog took to bringing him bread from his master’s table. Curious to see where the dog was going with his bread, the master followed him to the cave. The man took Rocco back to his castle and nursed him back to health. St. Rocco is the patron of victims of plagues and other illnesses.

Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Fatima is sometimes called Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima. The story goes that Mary appeared to three Portuguese children on the 13th of six consecutive months in 1917. It was during the World War I and there was global turmoil. A lady in brilliant white, as the children would later say, told them that people needed to be penitent and dedicate themselves to the immaculate heart of Mary. In her three prophecies she is said to have predicted the beginning of World War II, the shooting of Pope John Paul II and the peace that would follow if Russia was dedicated to Mary. More than 70,000 pilgrims joined the children on the last apparition and many of them reported seeing the sun dance and brilliant colors shooting forth from it. The Catholic Church has declared the events of Fatima “worthy of belief.”