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Brooklyn’s first Italian parish unveils plaque dedicated to immigrants

Mayor of Mola, Italy Joins Sesquicentennial Event

June 22, 2016 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Senator Daniel Squadron (at left) presented Proclamations to Vito Parente, President of the Van Westerhout Cittadini Mola di Bari Club; Giangrazio Di Rutigliano, Mayor of Mola di Bari; and Msgr. Guy Massie, Pastor of Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen Church. Brooklyn Eagle Photos by Francesca N. Tate
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Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Church on Summit and Hicks streets was filled with people celebrating their Italian heritage. The parish, marking its Sesquicentennial (150th year), celebrated its history as a center for helping Italian immigrants from the time it was founded in 1866.

“’Dream Anew,’ as did our parents and grandparents upon arriving on our shores,” said Monsignor Guy Massie of Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Church in his homily. He emphasized that hard work and sacrifice is what helped the Italian immigrants of Brooklyn prosper as they built new lives for their families here.

The Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi Cultural Social Club provided a place where the new Italian community could relax and be accepted. The club was formed 56 years ago, when 14 teens from Mola di Bari decided they needed a center where they could hang out together without being bullied, as the Italian youths whose parents worked the docks were often ostracized.

Soon, Molese social clubs popped up around Brooklyn and Staten Island. A significant number of Carroll Gardens and Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s parishioners are originally from Mola di Bari, which is a province in the southern Italian region of Puglia, on the Adriatic coast.

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The club is named for Niccolò Van Westerhout, a 19th-century composer whose Flemish musical family emigrated to Mola.

Vito Parente, president of the Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi club, spoke of its importance in nurturing the joy of being Molese into its youth. He also spoke of the hard work of the immigrant families as they strove to succeed in America. Mr. Parente and the club donated a plaque commemorating the work of the citizens of Mola who had settled on Brooklyn’s waterfront.

The Mayor of Mola di Bari, the Hon. Giangrazio Di Rutigliano, greeted the congregation at this event.

Michael Pesce, a NY State Supreme Court Justice whose family heritage is Molese, translated Mayor Di Rutigliano’s remarks. Pesce also thanked the community for mentoring him throughout his life.

Several other Brooklyn elected officials of Italian heritage also spoke, including Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon and City Councilman Vincent Gentile. Joining them in presenting Proclamations was State Senator Daniel Squadron.

Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s parish continues its 150th anniversary year, which will culminate with a special Mass and dinner dance in November. Earlier this year, parishioners participated in a joint Evensong service with neighboring St. Paul’s Episcopal Church that celebrated the bond between the two congregations.


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