Fifth Avenue and A Church In Little Italy 1896

Almost unknown to the outside world and unappreciated accept by the little community benefited is the work being carried on by the Rev. Father Saponara of the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at the corner of Union avenue and North Eighth street, in the eastern district.

At one time the district now covered by the parish was the scene of many a crime. it has not yet shaken off the stigma of its former associations and still remains, to all appearances, one of the lowliest districts of what used to be called upper Williamsburgh. The district is inhabited mainly by Italians, who are in a sense isolated form their English speaking neighbors and the locality is known among the people residing near as Little Italy.

A decade ago it possessed an unenviable reputation, for in it crimes were committed that were never brought to light. it is no wonder that it proved a fitting field in which a minister of the gospel would find work to do in uplifting and helping his countrymen. The man who assumed this task about eight years ago was the Rev. Peter Saponara. it was a lucky chance that led him among his countrymen here. Born in Italy 50 years ago and ordained by Bishop Spilotros in the province of Tricarico, Italy, in the year 1874, he came to this country in March, 1875. His first clerical work was in the Church of the Epiphany, Second avenue and Twenty-first street, New York, of which the Rev. Dr. Burtsell was then pastor. There Father Saponara remained for three years. Then he went to St. Mary's church, Staten island, and assisted the Rev. John Lewis, who was pastor of the church for seven years. After a decade of assiduous clerical work in this country the Rev. Father Saponara returned home for a much needed rest. He remained in Italy two years and returned to America in 1887.

His first thought was to consult the late Bishop Loughlin as to what he should do, and the bishop thought of no more fitting field for a man of the energy, thoughtfulness and ability of the Rev. Father Saponara than the dark district of Williamsburgh to which reference has already been made. At that time there were about two thousand Italians within the Fourteenth and Fifteenth wards. it was a promising field, yet fraught with many obstacles to any pastor who might choose to undertake the duty of rallying the people together into a church community. Sprinkled among them were many Turinians, a hot blooded class of the race to w hom the slightest provocation was enough for the commission of crime. Furthermore, the great mass of the people were quite poor, many fo them eking out an existence by keeping fruit stands or barber shops, work entirely foreign to their nature and which they were compelled to follow on landing in a large city fresh from the rural occupations which they pursued in the land of their birth.

The Rev. Bishop Loughlin gave Father Saponara full permission to work as to him seemed best.

Father Saponara's first lucky step was the purchase of property consisting of four lots at the corner of Havemeyer and North Eighth streets. Within a few weeks afterward he sold this land to a Mr. Holliday for $5,000 and this money formed the nucleus of a fund which led to the establishment of the present church at Union avenue and North Eighth street.

The Rev. Father Saponara has reason to look back upon his work of seven years with much gratification.

Website: The History
Article Name: Fifth Avenue and A Church In Little Italy 1896
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle April 19, 1896
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