The Italian Catholic Federation Branch 392 presented Giovanna and Antonio Gerardi with its Mother Cabrini Award on Nov. 13. The award is bestowed each year upon a couple that represents the Italian values of community, family and faith. The event will feature a Mass at St. Francis Borgia Church in Chicago and a dinner dance at Porretta’s.
Giovanna Cacciapaglia Gerardi was born in Mola di Bari in the beautiful southern Italian region of Puglia.
At the age of 13, she left Italy along with her parents and sisters to join her older sister, who had moved years earlier and lived in Chicago. Shortly upon her arrival she enrolled in Santa Maria Addolorata Catholic Grammar School, near downtown Chicago.
Little by little, with the help of a wonderful nun, Giovanna began to learn the English language and to feel comfortable in her new surroundings. She went on to attend the prestigious Immaculata High School in Chicago. In her senior year, she received one of the highest recognitions for high schoolers in the city when she was chosen among 500 students to be featured in the “Voice of Youth” section of the Chicago Tribune for writing an essay on the celebration of Christmas in Italy, a tradition still very dear to her.
Giovanna loves Christmas and following the Italian tradition, proudly displaying her Presepe (Nativity scene) every year. It takes Giovanna up to two weeks to prepare this beautiful display for all her relatives and friends. Her version goes well beyond the usual manger scene, including representation of an entire village. Giovanna began collecting the famous Fontanini statuettes decades ago. Her Nativity Scene is so memorable that Fontanini ranked it among the top 10 out of a thousand entries from across North and Central America two years in a row.
Giovanna has been working for the Italian Consulate in Chicago since 1999, where she is the Special Assistant to the Consul General. From the beginning, she has been and continues to be a focal point for the Italian-American community in Chicago.
As we all know, Chicago welcomes a new Italian Consul General every four years, making Giovanna’s role a particularly crucial one. She has been a constant at the Chicago office through five administrations, easing the transition for the Consul General and the community and serving as a talented and always gracious point of first contact throughout each four-year term.
“She is one of the true unsung heroes of our community, working tirelessly behind the scenes for the benefit of all without thought of recognition for herself,” Italian Catholic Federation Central Council member Teresa Helfand says. “We’re particularly proud to be able to shine the spotlight on her and give her the acknowledgement that she so richly deserves.”
A decade ago, Giovanna fell in love and married Antonio Gerardi, also originally from Puglia. Antonio had moved to the United States in 1956 and after finishing his studies he became a successful business owner who later went to work with his brother’s construction company. He is also an avid golf player.
Antonio has three children from a previous marriage and Giovanna has three daughters from a previous marriage. Antonio and Giovanna are proud grandparents of nine beautiful children. Among many activities and hobbies, Giovanna and Antonio enjoy traveling to their homeland of Italy and throughout the United States.
Mother Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants, and Giovanna and Antonio are truly worthy of an award given in her honor. Our branch is thrilled to be able to bestow it upon them.