The Italians of Penns Grove
From a talk given by Donna Federanko -Stout at the Penns Grove Historical Society Meeting - July 31, 2001
The immigrant story is the story of America. It is the story of Penns Grove. Today, we look at the story of one group of immigrants who settled in a new land
with a new language, new customs, and new ways. They arrived and they brought their language, their customs and their ways with them.
Over 100 years ago, Pietro Montagnoli came to Penns Grove from his hometown village of Valle San Giovanni in the Abruzzi region of Italy. After his visit,
hew returned to Italy to get his young family, wife, Cisera and Daughter, Maria, to bring them to their new home in America. In 1902, the Montagnolis
became the first Italian family to settle Penns Grove.
His daughter, Minnie Quatrini once told me that her father loved Penns Grove. To him it truly was the land of opportunity. Pietro wrote back to people in the
hometown. There was fishing, shipping, railroad, farming ... everything was here he said ... Come! Come! And they did!
The Clemente's who were cousins to the Montagnoli's were the next to come and after them many other Italian families from Abruzzi followed and made
Penns Grove their home.
In 1910, the Montagnoli's had built a stately brick home on Mill Street which looked much like the row home in South Philly. Attached to the home was an
Italian bakery and a grocery specializing in fine Italian products. As the business grew, so did their family. And so did the number of Italians in Penns Grove.
Although there proved to be plenty of opportunity in Penns Grove, life here was not exactly easy for the Italians. The first immigrants faced some difficult
challenges overcoming a barrier of language and customs. Olga Banco, daughter of Mary Montagnoli, recalls her mother being shunned and even
attacked as a child because of her Italian heritage. The Italians of Penns Grove had a lot to prove in America. And that they did!
Pietro Montagnoli died at the young age of 42, November 21, 1921. He did not get to see how important his coming to America, coming to Penns Grove
would man in the lives of the Brutses and the other Italians who came. He did not get to see the contribution that the Italians made to Penns Grove in the
fields of business, sports, construction, law and medicine. The Italians who built a thriving business community and who still carry on the family traditions
Families whose children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are represented here tonight. What is your family name? Franceschini, Piccolomini,
Mangiocco, Rappa, Furio, Macconi, Pomponi, Pratta, Garbini, Massari, DeSantis, De Frank, Domenico, DePalma, Dalessio just to name a few.
Italians who made their living proudly and with the seat of their bow. Builders-Verdecchio, Martell, Massari, Nicolini; Doctors - Zappala, Caggiano,; Lawyers
¬DiNicola, Crecenzi; Policemen - Fonto, DiTeodoro, Spinelli; NJ Hall of Fame Boxer-Firpo Bracale; Grocers - Quatrini, DeLuca, Traini; Businesspeople -
Cataldi, Pelura, DiPrinzio, Baldini, Parente, DiPietro, Merendino. Leone, Ferrara, Banco, and how can
we forget the Food - Travaglini, DiPaolo, Bomba; Bakers - Campagnoni, Prioli. Who did we forget?
The Italians created their own neighborhoods like Pitman Street, Penn Street, Walnut Street and Mill Street.
In the early 1920's, there were already three active organizations of Italian Americans in Penns Grove - The Italian American Citizen league, the Lodge of
New Rome of the Order of the Sons of Italy and the Mother of Grace Society.
In the small village of Valle San Giovanni, Pietro Montagnoli's hometown, the Feast of the Mother of Grace continues to be a major celebration. Held the
first Sunday of July, the feast day is preceded by a week-long gala carnival. The Italians from Abruzzi who settled Penns Grove wanted to carry on this
wonderful tradition. The small Catholic church, Saint James would now be the center of religious life for the Italians. And kinda like we do, the Italians took
over! They decided to bring the Feast of the Mother of Grace from their old hometown to their new hometown, of Penns Grove. To carry on the tradition,
they commissioned an exact replica of the statue of the Blessed Mother Mary cradling the Child Jesus that was used in the hometown.
There was much anticipation as the Italians waited for the wonderful Statue to arrive. It is said that it hadn't rained in Penns Grove for weeks that summer,
but on the day that the Mother of Grace statue arrived, the heavens opened and the rain poured down. That is what they say!
The first Feast Day was held on July 2, 1925 with mass celebrated at St. James Church by Father Massey. A procession was held through the streets of
Penns Grove, through the Italian neighborhoods. The St. James Church was crowded to the doors at the morning services which were conducted by Rev.
H.L. Massey. The benediction was delivered and the sponsoring of the life size sitting statue of Madonna and Child took place when the replica of the
original statue at Teramo was revealed for the first time upon the blessing of the Priest. Miss Catherine Clement and Mr. Pietro DiFilippantionio acted as
sponsors. Mr. DiPaolo had built the cart that would carry the Madonna and Mrs. DiPaolo made her beautiful gown. About noon, the procession formed in
front of the Church while the Committee brought the statue to the door. The line of march was then on Beach Avenue proceeding to South Broad, to Willis,
Smith, East main and State, Railroad, Oak, West Main, Penn Street, Pitman then on to Broad Street and back to the church.
Great celebration surrounded the Feast Day. Music, a Picnic and fireworks made the Feast Day weekend a joyous time.
The Feast Day continued for many years with all the faithful involved. The processions continued with each Communion class dressed in white, other
children dressed as saints, the women dressed in all white, and shat impressed me most as a child, was the members of the Mother of Sorrow Society,
dressed in black and walking barefoot on the hot street payment. A tradition that came from the homeland and continued.
As a girl, I can remember my grandmother making sure that all her grandchildren were a part of the procession. She walked, so we walked. The traditions
of home were then placed on our hearts.
Today, the processions are not as elaborate, but on Feast Day, we still walk. And if my grandmother were here today, she would be walking too. The
Pietro Montagnoli could not have known the legacy he would leave by making Penns Grove his new home. The new lives that would come from his simple
decision and his call to come, come.
HOMETOWN NEWS, FALL, 2001