Our Italian culture has been a source of personal pride since we were little kids, running out of St. Anthony’s Church and directly into Pat & Matt’s after Sunday Mass for our penny candy treat. Unfortunately, many of us let our religion slip off to the sidelines of our lives. That is, until we established ourselves or we needed to get married in the church. At the point in our lives where we had children, we usually came back for good. That’s somewhat the case with our Italian culture, except for the fact that our culture had to wait until we got old enough to appreciate our roots.
For us Roselandites, thanks to Fra Noi, the St. Anthony Alumni Dinner Dances, the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page and other outlets, our Italian culture has never been too far away. And thanks to cable television, our cultural hunger has been satisfied by all those Italian cooking and travel shows.
So now we are really into the culture of our forefathers, but will it be available as our legacy? How can we become more involved in guaranteeing that our Italian heritage will be available for our children and grandchildren? We know that they will get to a point in their lives where they will want to delve deeper into their roots. Will the internet and cable TV, with their highly selective view of what’s “trending” at the moment, be their only choices?
The answer to the question lies 20 minutes from downtown Chicago, in the pastoral setting of the former Sacred Heart Seminary, established in the 1930s in Stone Park by the Scalabrini Fathers.
Casa Italia offers Italian language classes, Sunday masses, summer festivals, seminars and Italian pension services, and houses art exhibits, an Italian American Veterans Museum and so much more. The Italian Cultural Center, located on the Casa grounds, houses the Florence Roselli Library, which has a collection of 5,000 published books, 10,000 images, a host of DVDs, and extensive oral histories. For a catalog, visit http://www.librarything.com/catalog/ItalCulturalCenter.
Someone at St. Anthony’s once commented that Roseland’s Italians seemed to be underrepresented in the photography displays at the Cultural Center. But in a recent visit, I discovered that there were at least seven photos that captured scenes of Roseland in addition to the photos that were already identified as such.
At a recent meeting to discuss a book about Roseland I have decided to work on, two of those in attendance were cultural center volunteers. There was fellow St. Anthony classmate and graduate Jeanette Risatti Viehman, now living in Itasca, and Tony Maro, who lived in Roseland and Pullman and now resides in Homer Glen.
Back in 2010, Tony contacted Dominic Candeloro, the curator of the library, to discuss his family’s genealogy. Tony was so bowled over by how much material was available for review that, when Dominic asked if he’d like to volunteer one day a week, Tony couldn’t resist and has been there ever since.
Tony has become a genealogy specialist, with his first project being the gathering of the entire collection of the newsletter “Communes of Italy,” which was published for 10 years by Chicago’s Grace Olivo. After accomplishing that task, Tony went to work on transcribing interviews of Italian immigrants to Chicago and making them available online. He is presently involved in helping with research into the life of Anna Carlo, an important midwife in turn-of-the-century Little Italy.
Jeanette Risatti Viehman attended an Italian writer’s conference at Casa Italia and realized that Dominic was not only coordinating the program but also handling all the activities required to make the conference successful. She asked if she could help, and has been doing so for the past three years.
Jeannette assists in preparing conferences and film festivals, as well as coordinating refreshments for author nights and artist exhibits that take place on the grounds of Casa Italia. She also helps identify documents, putting them online after cataloging them.
Tony and Jeanette are both retired and volunteer on Monday from 1 to 4:30 p.m., because Monday is the volunteer day at the Library. One day a week of service to your Italian culture is all that Dr. Dominic Candeloro asks. That includes an espresso break at 2:30. Dominic has a PhD, and is a renowned expert on Italian-American history.
Dominic and his merry band of volunteers will gladly copy your family photos and documents and accept donations of family artifacts that will add to the Roseland presence in the collections at Casa Italia.
If you want to improve the odds that your children and grandchildren will embrace their Italian heritage, it’s up to you to become more involved in this important institution.
Casa Italia is located two blocks east of Mannheim Road and two blocks north of Lake Street in Stone Park. To schedule a visit, volunteer, or set up a time to copy or donate artifacts, call 708-345-5933.