St. Rocco’s Church and Italian Identity: A New Definition

The story of St. Rocco’s congregation offers one example of the many changes the Italian community experienced as it became settled in the Mahoning Valley. No longer defined by age-old identities, local Italians of the previous century appraised their new surroundings and opted to exercise new rights. Along the way, these immigrants redefined themselves as agents of change in the context of a secular, multi-religious United States.

Protestantism in the “old country” of southern Italy was unknown. Loyalty to the Pope prevailed more in Calabria, Abruzzi-Molise, Campania, and other southern regions than in the more secular north. In fact, southern peasants often formed the bulwark against the policies of the new Kingdom of Italy with its secular orientation.

In Youngstown, Ohio, in 1907, a group of Italian-speaking parishioners left St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church to found their own church, St. Rocco’s, in Brier Hill. Resentment of Bishop Horstmann’s plans for St. Anthony may have caused the exodus. The shock waves from this unique move reverberated for decades in the local Italian American community. Now Youngstown had two Italian parishes: one in communion with Rome and the other boldly independent, both in Brier Hill!

St. Rocco's Church

After a decade of staffing and financial difficulties, St. Rocco’s sat abandoned and repossessed by the bank. Its parishioners lacked clergy to perform baptisms, marriages, and funerals.

The dire situation of so many Italian Christians prompted help from a local Episcopal priest, Father Izon of St. Andrews, who enlisted the Italian-born Father Oreste Salcini to minister, under the direction of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, to the needs of St Rocco’s congregation.

Interior of the church

On June 15, 1918, 80 families of St. Rocco’s were received into the Protestant Episcopal Church.

Under Fr. Salcini’s leadership, the congregation of St. Rocco’s Episcopal Church returned to the original building, bought it back from the bank, and began to attract new members from Youngstown’s growing Italian community. All this occurred as Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Anthony’s experienced similar growth. Often members of these two Youngstown Roman Catholic Italian parishes participated in St. Rocco’s celebrations despite traditional prohibitions against Catholic attendance at Protestant rites. In fact, the annual procession every August 16 found many Mahoning Valley Italians, regardless of denomination, in the large Brier Hill parade behind St. Rocco’s statue.

Parishioners in the annual St. Rocco's procession

With the 1957 conversion of West Federal Street to route 422, the old St. Rocco’s relocated to Liberty Township on Trumbull Avenue. For many years the church remained a strong center for Liberty’s Episcopalians and for Italian Americans, though now it served a more ethnically mixed congregation than in Brier Hill. By the late 1990s, dropping attendance led to the sad realization that the parish would have to close. Nonetheless, at the final Mass on New Years Eve of 2006, songs in Italian were still being sung.

Another procession, near Youngstown Sheet and Tube

Far from the southern Italian villages of their birth, the men and women of St Rocco’s Parish shaped a new identity built on veneration of a traditional home country saint and on their experience of wider freedoms in the United States. In doing so they enlarged the options available to their community.

To view some of the statues of St. Rocco and the church’s founding documents, visit the gallery.

More info:

History of St. Anthony’s

Learn more about Saint Rocco from the Saint Rocco Society

Ben Lariccia

I wish to thank John C. Harris of St. Rocco’s last vestry for his history of the church and for permission to scan historic parish documents and photos.

27 Responses to “St. Rocco’s Church and Italian Identity: A New Definition”

  1. Anthony R Mastadonna says:

    Has anyone ever located the Original turn of the century Catholic Church records from St. Rocchus (Rocco’s) Italian church located on Calvin St in Brier Hill Youngstown Before they became Episcopal?

  2. Eleanor says:

    Sorry again for typing errors. I was eight. Maiden name: Ardiri

  3. Eleanor says:

    Sorry. It as 1949. At least I think so. I was eight f I remember correctly. Madden name: Ardiri

  4. Eleanor says:

    I’m 75. Made holy communion 1948 at St. Rocco’s. Trying to obtain photo for children. Group or single. Never could get any info by phone nor mail.

  5. Giardullo says:

    My great Grandfather Rocco Giardullo is on page one of St. Rocco’s founding. I would appreciate is someone would check to see if our name is on the donated statues at Saint Johns.
    Sam Giardullo

  6. Ben Lariccia says:

    Jed Mele, some records still exist, tho 1908 is before the incorporation as St. Rocco’s Episcopal in 1918. Have you searched Mahoning County marriage licenses? That may be easier. There’s a genealogical librarian at the main branch of the Mahoning Country library system. If you go to the Library’s website, you can post the question. They usually get back to me within 24 hours. Best of luck!

  7. Jed Mele says:

    I have been doing Genealogy and have discovered that my 2X Great Grandparents married in the St. Rocco parish in 1908. Is there a some place that I might be able to find the marriage certificate now that the church has been dissolved?

  8. Ben says:

    Tom Resciniti, I’m sorry, but I don’t have information about your grandfather. Why not try your local library for help with this search? If you know your grandfather’s birthplace, try one of the LDS Mormon Family History Centers. For a small fee, they allow anyone to use their records. They may be able to help you find a microfilm copy your grandfather’s Italian or US birth certificate.
    Good luck!

    Search for the nearest Family History by using this link:
    https://familysearch.org/locations/centerlocator

  9. Tom Resciniti says:

    I am looking for my grandfathers birth information in 1895.

    Name: Andrea Resciniti (Rescineto)July 11, 1895.
    Father: Benedetto Resciniti
    Mother: Angela Tierno

    Lived in Brier Hill.

    Thank you, Tom

  10. Ben says:

    Joe Laurene,
    Your materials on St. Rocco’s sound very interesting. At the moment,
    Steel Valley Voices has stopped publishing. That said, I still would like to have a contact number or email for you. You can reach me at
    blaricci @ hot mail dot com. Just eliminate the spaces and substitute “dot” with a real dot.

  11. Joe Laurene says:

    Ben, I don’t have an email address for you so I am writing here, to see if you would like me to scan and email you the following:

    First off, I have an 18 page booklet printed in 1963 Titled, “Brief History of St. Rocco’s Episcopal Church”, by Rev. Oreste Salcini. The last 3 pages are a continuation by Rev. Richard Petersen.

    Secondly, I have an 8 page Dedication of St Rocco’s new church in Liberty Township. from, Nov. 15 1959

    Last, I have a large format booklet of St. Rocco’s Parish members printed in 1980 it has a one page history and all the members of the church listed with their addresses. many members have their pictures printed in the book and it also has many pictures of parish life.

    You have my email address in the box for leave a comment, please let me know either way.

  12. Ben says:

    John Skardon,

    I believe the church records have been archived. I have a contact for you. Please email me at <blaricci at hotmail. com.

    Ben Lariccia

  13. John Skardon says:

    What happened to the church’s vestry records and are they available for research by a church archivist. I need source material for a book. Thanks.

  14. Marie McNulty says:

    Is the church/building still on Trumbull Ave.? What a great story.

  15. Mark Suhovecky says:

    My great-grandfather, Angelo DelGiudice, came over from Italy in 1907, and lived on Dearborn St. in Brier Hill. My grandfather had told me once that they went to St. Rocco’s, although he wasn’t real clear on how they ended up being Episcopalian. Now I know the story. He’s listed on the founding document, page 2, line 13, as “DelGiudice, Angelo, and Family”.

    Thanks so much for this article!

  16. Looking for information on Archangelo Degli Esposti from Marseilles France who we believe was one of the early founders of St. Rocco’s.
    He was married to Fannina DeMarco, later divorced, and remarried.
    He is my Uncle. His son, John Degli Esposti was baptized st St. Rocco’s, godparents were Salvator Flauto and Carmela Plauto-Cassella.

    Any info would be appreciated

  17. Ben Lariccia says:

    Joe Laurene,
    You’ve added an important piece of information to the history of St. Rocco’s Parish, i. e. the inscription on the old church’s bell. I’m so glad you were able to find your father’s signature on the founding document!
    Ben

  18. Joe Laurene Jr. says:

    My grandfather Prospero Laroina signed page 2 of St Roccos founding document lacated in the gallery of this website. As you can see my father Americanized our last name when he started Tod School, He said the teacher wanted to know how to spell it and he just made up Laurene.

  19. Joe Laurene Jr. says:

    As a child I went to services with my parents Mae and Joe Laurene, I remember the old church and Fr. Salcini later Fr. Peterson. I also was there when they tore down the old church, They found the bell in the bell tower had property of St Anthonys church inscribed on it. It was returned to St. Anthonys. Also they found statutes of saints under the floor boards when they were demoing the building.
    We then had services at Tod Cemetery Chapel until the new church in Liberty, was completed. The festival every Aug. was great and the Hot sausage the ladies made was the best in the world! Who could forget the procession carrying St. Rocco thru the streets of old Brier Hill with money pinned all over it. I left Youngstown in 1967 when I joined the Navy. When I returned I got married and moved to Akron.

  20. BM Fortunato says:

    My husbands Grandparents, Toby & Rose [Novello] Mirto were married at St Rocco’s as well as other family members. His parents were also married by Fr Salcini. We were just in the Youngstown area talking to his uncles about their memories of growing up in Brier Hill as I have been working on putting together a family book for our families. They spoke of the St Rocco festival fondly as they shared their memories with me.

  21. Harry Kidd says:

    I would be interested in learning what happened to the Stained Glass windows installed in the church in 1983.

    Thank You

  22. Ed Meredith says:

    I am looking for any one that went to Puerto Rico in 1971 with the group from Christ Church in Warren. Any one the knows Joe Tufarro (sp)

    Please contact us at e.meredith@att.net or call us at 412-343-0999.

    Thanks for any help in locating any one involved in the trip.\

    Ed & Jean Meredith

  23. Ben Lariccia says:

    Delores and Joann, what interesting responses!
    St Rocco’s last pastor, Fr. Pressey, was present two weeks ago at the mass celebrated by Presiding Bishop Schori at St. John’s Episcopal in Youngstown.

    Do you have any photos of the church/neighborhood when it was located in Brier Hill? Please let me know. I would be interested in any info on this important Youngstown parish.

  24. joann[rich] laurie says:

    yes i too remenber that wowderful church.my sister barabara ,my brother frank and i joann [rich} .we lived on calvin street. in june 1on june950, i meet my furture husband at a wedding at the hall behind the church. on june 21, 1952, jim and i got married at the church.ure;s

  25. Delores Tocco Tekieli says:

    I lived next door to St Rocco’s Church on Calvin St. for five of my first seven years. My parents, Dominic (Dixie) and Annette Tocco were married there. I was baptized, learned religion and made my first Holy Communion there. St. Rocco’s Church was like a family
    for us. I remember Fr. Salcini, the beautiful traditions of the different events, the food, the festival and carrying the “unjanes” (spelling???), the little floats decorated with candles. I am proud to have had this wonderful part of my Italian heritage. I also taught Sunday school at the new Church in Liberty when I was older. The wonderful families who kept the Church going for many years are to be commended especially the Pastor and his wife, Connie.

  26. Ben Lariccia says:

    Sarah A. Cart’s article in “Church Life!”, Fall 2010, Magazine of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, has a very nicely detailed history of St. Rocco’s and its living legacy. Locally, St. Andrew’s and St. James parishes also have been enriched by sacred items bequeathed to them by St. Rocco’s.

    Additionally, at St. James, Boardman, the feast of St. Rocco is kept with a healing ministry followed by a homemade cavatelli dinner prepared by men of former St. Rocco’s Church.

  27. Ben Lariccia says:

    Two statues from St. Rocco’s have been incorporated into a side chapel at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Youngstown. So the memory of the Saint and his spirited congregation still live on in Youngstown.

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