Written on: February 4, 2014
I grew up in Jackson Heights, in Blessed Sacrament parish. It was a very Catholic neighborhood. Of course, there were Protestant and Jewish families living there but the overwhelming feeling and personality was of a Catholic community. Emphasis on the word “community.” Everyone knew everyone else and everyone talked to everyone else. There was a commonality of values. The way you were brought up was the way the kids next door and the kids down the street, were brought up.
Religion was important; actually, it was the center of our universe. We all attended Mass and we had Holy Hour every afternoon and every Thursday night. I remember bringing my Protestant friend to Holy Hour and showing her around the church, showing her the statues of the saints and the vigil lights and explaining everything to her. Many, many religious vocations came out of Jackson Heights and Corona.
In the 1960s, I was sent to St. Leo’s parish in Corona to teach 6th grade. It was a working class, predominantly Italian parish. When you walked down the street, the sounds of lively Italian conversations streamed out of the windows. St. Leo’s was a parish filled with warm, friendly, caring people. The kids were beautifully behaved and came from good, loving homes.
The Italian Americans were such devout people! When they came into church, they would sprinkle holy water on the floor for the souls in Purgatory. They were devoted to St. Lucy, “Santa Lucia,” and her feast day in December was always celebrated at St. Leo’s. Her statue was out in the center of the altar and there was a gold plate with glass eyeballs on it because she was the protector of eyesight. It was an important day in Italian spirituality.
I gratefully remember that St. Leo’s Mothers’ Club was very active and always made sure that we sisters benefited in some way from their fundraising projects.
I was sent to many different places in my years in ministry and met many different people. But my time at St. Leo’s—and all of the parishes where we taught in Queens–has a special place in my heart and my memory and I pray for them every day and wish them well.