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A PEOPLE OF FAITH, HOPE & LOVE — A CELEBRATION OF HERITAGE

My pride in my spiritual and ethnic heritage, my interest in local history, and my writing, research, and organizational skills all came together when I served as president of the St. Anthony of Padua Parish 100th Anniversary Committee. After more than two years of work by this sizable and dedicated group, parishioners and friends celebrated the anniversary on June 13-15, 2003. It was a huge success.

One thing I had wanted to do for the anniversary was to write a book-length, professional-quality history of the parish. St. Anthony was started as an Italian-American national parish by Italian immigrants to North Adams. Some, like the Marra and Cirullo families, were my ancestors. I wanted to celebrate both their spiritual and their cultural heritage.

Members and friends of the committee did a wonderful job in providing me historic photos and great information. On top of this, I interviewed 22 people and conducted extensive research in parish records and at the local library. I wrote the book and chose the photos, and Fr. Daniel O’Hear, our pastor, and several committee members went over the book before it went to press.

The result was A People of Faith, Hope, and Love: The First Hundred Years of St. Anthony Parish, published by the 100th Anniversary Committee just in time for the anniversary weekend. It consists of 144 information-packed pages and close to 70 photos. It deals not only with the spiritual history of these immigrants and the founding of their parish but with their cultural, economic, and political history as well.

I’m glad we made the effort to celebrate the anniversary and produce the book. For one thing, many of our oldest parishioners who best remembered and appreciated the early days of the parish died either shortly before or shortly after we observed the anniversary. In interviewing them for the book, I was able to preserve history that otherwise would be lost.

Another reason I’m glad we celebrated the anniversary in a big way is that the Catholic community in North Adams — as in so many places — has undergone dramatic changes recently. The priest shortage, a money shortage, and the aging of parishioners led in 2005-2006 to the consolidation of several Catholic parishes in North Adams down to one combined community. While all Masses in the city are now held at St. Anthony Church, it is no longer a distinct Italian-American parish. So it goes. Deep down I knew there wasn’t going to be a second 100 years of the parish when I chose the book’s subtitle. Whether we’re of Irish, French-Canadian, or Italian heritage — the three main Catholic ethnic groups in North Adams — we’re all Catholics.

Presented on this site are a couple excerpts from the book. One is an entire chapter I wrote on Luigi and Antonia Marra, my great-grandparents. One of their daughters, Clara, was my father’s mother. The second excerpt is the chapter which recounts the experiences of the immigrants' children growing up in North Adams during the first half of the 20th Century.

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Photo: With the Knights of Columbus leading the way, parishioners get ready to start a traditional procession in honor of St. Anthony before a Mass observing his feast. This was part of the 100th Anniversary celebration of St. Anthony of Padua Church, North Adams, Mass., June 15, 2003. The church is across the street from the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. In the museum's previous incarnations as a textile mill and an electronics factory, it employed many Italian immigrants and their children. Photo Mark E. Rondeau

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