49-Serrapede Family in America: The Little Church in Dyker Heights, 1930

Introduction

Filomena Serrapede D’Agosto was the eldest sister of Sam Serrapede.  She was the first member of Sam’s family to come to America.  Filomena married Giuseppe D’Agosto in 1923.  Giuseppe secured employment as a truck driver for the New York City Department of Sanitation.  The D’Agosto family lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY.

In 1925 Sam came to America with the intention of making a new life for himself.  He aimed at getting himself established through securing employment and beginning the process towards citizenship.  Giuseppe and Filomena provided him with a place to live during his first five years in America.

Relationship Notes

• Sam (Sabato) Serrapede was:
• The son of Gennaro and Emilia (nee Pappalardo) Serrapede of Agropoli, Salerno, Campania Province in Italy.
• Sammy’s father.
• EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandfather.

The Federal Census, April 7, 1930:  Where is Sam?

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Header for the 1930 Federal Census.

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Entry for the D’Agosto family in the 1930 Federal Census.

Sam had lived with the D’Agosto family until March of 1930.  When the Census enumerator visited the D’Agosto family on April 7, 1930 they were living in a two-family house at 2472 West Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  Giuseppe was still working as a truck driver.  Filomena and Giuseppe now had three children:  Lillian (6 years old), Frank (3 years, 11 months old) and Emilia (1 1/2 years old).  Moving away from Red Hook to Dyker Heights signaled the beginning of many changes in Sam’s life.

The first change would be no longer living close to the waterfront with the view of the ports and the Statue of Liberty.  We wonder what Sam thought about this industrialized area when and if he ever thought back to the beautiful beaches in Agropoli.  It’s possible he may have not looked back since we have learned that his home life and relationship to his father, Gennaro Serrapede, was not good.  One of Sabato’s first locations in his new neighborhood that would play an important part in his life was St. Rosalia’s Roman Catholic Church.

Who was St. Rosalia?

St. Rosalia was born in Sicily about 1126.  She was descended from a noble family and grew up in great luxury.  When pressured by her family to accept a suitor she retreated to a cave on her father’s property.  There she lived as a virgin and hermit dedicating herself to a life of prayer and solitude.  When word of her reputation and holiness spread, she moved to another cave to avoid being found.  Legends tell of apparitions St. Rosalia made during times of plague.  She requested churches built in her memory.  When construction began, the legends state, the plague ceased in that location.

St. Rosalia is the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily.

St. Rosalia’s Church in Dyker Heights

St. Rosalia was always called “The Mother Church” by our family.  The church is still in existence today and is located on 14th Avenue at the corner of 63rd Street in Dyker Heights.

The Bensonhurst Bean (see Resources section for link) posted a concise history of the parish on November 5, 2011.  According to the Bean’s reporter, St. Rosalia began as a store front church in 1902.  The parish was established in 1904 with the church building being erected some time after that.  By the time Sam moved to Dyker Heights, the church had established itself as a spiritual center for the Italian immigrant community.  In a future posting we will examine in-depth the devotional and prayer services conducted at the church throughout the Great Depression and WWII years.

Why St. Rosalia’s Church has a place in our family history

St. Rosalia is called “The Mother Church” because from the Italian immigrants that formed the congregation in the early 20th century came the prayers, resources and donations that helped build the Shrine Church of Regina Pacis.  The parish of St. Rosalia, along with the Monsignor, vowed to build a shrine to Our Lady Queen of Peace if the United States won WWII.

When WWII was over construction began.  Thanks to the generosity of the parishioners and the fund raising of the Monsignor Cioffi the shrine church is now known as one of the most beautiful houses of worship in New York City.  In 2014 it was designated as a Basilica.  On special occasions Our Lady Queen of Peace wears a crown of diamonds.  These diamonds were donated by the Italian immigrant and Italian-American women of the community after WWII.  Many of the diamonds came from wedding rings and other jewelry the women owned.

St. Rosalia’s was the place where Sam married Josie Muro in March of 1930.  It is also the church where their children were baptized, received First Holy Communion and Confirmation.  At the church the community gathered for festivals, funerals and celebrations.

From our photo album:  St. Rosalia’s Church on December 20th, 2015

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Today, St. Rosalia’s parish is a mix of long-time Italian-American and new Chinese-American residents.  The church is building also used for activities in conjunction with outreach to the Asian community.  Masses are offered on Sunday in Italian and Chinese.

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The main altar as seen from the back of the church.  On the right hand side is a painting of the Virgin Mary in her aspect as Our Lady of China.

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Close-up of the painting of Our Lady of China.  When I studied the style of this painting I was reminded of artwork depicting Kwan-Yin.  In Buddhist teaching Kwan-Yin is a boddhisatva, a being who has such compassion that they willingly return to the world over and over to help suffering humanity.

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View of the pews on the left side of St. Rosalia as seen from the entrance to the church.  This photo was taken during Christmas Season 2015.

St. Rosalia is a small church but the simplicity and use of light colors on the walls, floor and the windows creates an impression of greater space than actually exists in the building.

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Statue of St. Rosalia at the back of the church.  Like many churches, electric candles are used instead of wax.

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The use of light colors continues in the stained glass windows.  The darker blues and deep, rich reds used in the stained glass windows of the Basilica of Regina Pacis were not used at St. Rosalia.  I think this was a very good decision since the use of light at St. Rosalia creates such a feeling of spaciousness.  Also, all the stained glass windows are like the one in this photo.  This keeps the focus on the altar and prevents the visitor from becoming distracted by a multiplicity of visual elements.

From our photo album:  The Basilica of Regina Pacis on December 20, 2015

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View of The Basilica of Regina Pacis as you walk up 65th Street from 13th Avenue.  When the bells ring they can be heard 4-5 blocks away.

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Main entrance of Regina Pacis as viewed from across the street.  The size of the building and the presence of the telephone wires make taking a photo a challenge.  There is also heavy traffic on the 4-lane street.

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The main altar decorated for Christmas 2015.  Above the altar is the depiction of Mary, Queen of Peace.

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Close-up of Our Lady, Queen of Peace.  The crown of diamonds is placed within the halo in the painting.

Discussion on Sunday, December 20th, 2015 with Uncle Sammy 2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.

The phrase “Mother Church” applies to St. Rosalia’s Roman Catholic Church on many levels.  As we reflected on the meaning of the phrase the following thoughts arose:

• As a mother nurtures her children, St. Rosalia’s parish nurtured the immigrant community of our ancestors as they transitioned to life in a new country.

• We have prayer cards from the times the missionary societies visited St. Rosalia during the Great Depression and WWII.  The prayers are written in Italian.  Other cards given by the societies instruct the parishioners on how to remain strong in their faith or cultivate a moral life.  This keepsake of the missionaries’ visit to the parish would hold great meaning for an immigrant far from home during a time of personal or historical troubles.

• By providing masses in the language the Italian immigrants understood they had a place of comfort and continuity in their lives.  The congregation also found fellowship with each other because of a common heritage and language.

• The Italian-American community, after 100 + years in Dyker Heights, has assimilated and dispersed throughout the U.S.  Now St. Rosalia begins a new chapter as Mother Church to the Chinese and Latino immigrants and Latino-American and Chinese-American communities in Dyker Heights.  St. Rosalia’s services the Chinese and Asian communities, Regina Pacis the Latino.

Contact Information

St. Rosalia Church
6301 14th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY  11219

Basilica of Regina Pacis
1230 65th Street
Brooklyn, NY  11219

All contact is made through Regina Pacis Rectory:
Phone:  718-236-0909
Fax:  718-236-5357
email:  reginarectory@aol.org

Resources

“The Rose without Thorns: Saint Rosalia, patron of Palermo”
Date posted: September 4, 2014
http://www.swide.com/art-culture/saint-rosalia-patron-of-palermo-history-legends-and-biography-of-the-rose-without-thorns/2014/09/04

“St. Rosalia”
Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Rosalia

St. Rosalia-Regina Pacis
Parish Website
http://reginaparish.com/page.aspx?id=History

“Basilica of Regina Pacis”
Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Regina_Pacis

“Regina Pacis:  One of NYC’s most magnificent churches”
The Bensonhurst Bean
By jteutonico on November 15, 2011
http://www.bensonhurstbean.com/2011/11/regina-pacis-one-of-nycs-most-magnificent-churches/#.VnXeal5Ig56

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12 thoughts on “49-Serrapede Family in America: The Little Church in Dyker Heights, 1930

    • Another big change I.see is that it is the immigrant communities teplacing the old time parishoners. The upper class professionals moving in as gentrification increases are not going to churches in large numbers. The dynamic also affects the financial support. Many churches are using their space for pre-K schools so the get funds and are able to keep that property going.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am not surprised. But I think church/synagogue membership is declining everywhere. When we moved to our community 30+ years ago, there were 8 synagogues. Now there are four, and all are struggling.

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      • Yes, you are correct. There are some that are really expanding services in terms of social justice issues, employment fairs–all the issues that are relevant when you need some guidance to make progress in training, language skills and job placement. I think it’s a challenge for the institutions like the church or the synoagogue to put their faith into action and make it relevant to the times and people now in the congregation.

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      • It certainly is. Millennials are way too focused on jobs and kids and not enough on the larger world around them. But I have hope that they will mature eventually!

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed it, Anita. I do have sad news to report. St. Rosalia has been closed down by the Brooklyn Archdiocese. There is not enough money to keep the building open. It will be put up for sale. I am happy that at least I have these photos to remember the church by.

      Je suis tellement content que vous l’ayez apprécié, Anita. J’ai de belles nouvelles à signaler. St. Rosalia a été fermée par l’archidiocèse de Brooklyn. Il n’y a pas assez d’argent pour garder l’immeuble ouvert. Ce sera mis en vente. Je suis heureux qu’au moins j’ai ces photos pour me souvenir de l’église.

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