The Story Begins
Our Lady of Pompeii has it origins in the Saint Raphael Society for the Protection of Italian Immigrants. This Society was founded to care for the many Italian immigrants of the day, who, it was feared, would fall prey to those who would exploit their labor or overcharge them in the course of their travels. In 1890, Father Pietro Bandini came to New York City to organize a branch of the Society. Father Bandini purchased a building at 113 Waverly Place, which is still standing, and began his work ministering to immigrants. He helped them negotiate the legal hurdles of migration, contact relatives in the United States, to find work. He also provided spiritual assistance at a chapel, which he named Our Lady of Pompeii.
A Parish for Italians
Many migrants from Chiavari, a seacoast town near Genoa, in northwest Italy, had settled in Greenwich Village. When these Italians began frequenting the chapel, Father Bandini thought of creating a parish that could provide them with more services. In 1895, he rented a building at 214 Sullivan Street. The next year, he began a new mission, among Italian farmworkers at the Sunnyside Plantation in Arkansas, and eventually led his new flock in founding Tontitown in that state.
In 1897, Father Bandini's successor at Pompeii, Father Francesco Zaboglio, suffered terrible burns in an explosion while investigating a gas leak in the basement of the Sullivan Street church. Father Zaboglio had to retire from active ministry in Father of Father Antonio Demo.
Pastor and People
After the Sullivan Street church was destroyed by the fire, Pompeii moved to 210 Bleecker Street. The church there had been erected in 1836 for the Unitarian Universalists. They had sold the church in 1883 to the African American Roman Catholic congregation of Saint Benedict the Moor. The black community was moving uptown, and the church was sold to the Italian congregation of Pompeii, which took possession May 8, 1898.
Pompeii's parishioners have made many contributions to life in Greenwich Village. Father Demo comforted grief-stricken families after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which took place within walking distance of the church, across Washington Square Park. The restaurants and cafes where immigrant entrepreneurs served immigrant customers also attracted the artists and authors who made the Village a cultural center.
Part of a Larger History
The Church of Our Lady of Pompeii, the Saint Raphael Society, the Society of Saint Charles-Scalabrinians that staffs the church and the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that staffs the Our Lady of Pompeii School all have in common one person, Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini.
Scalabrini was born and educated in Fino Mornasco in the region of Lombardy on July 8, 1839 and ordained to the priesthood May 30, 1863. He became Bishop of the Diocese of Piacenza June 1, 1905. In 1997, Pope John Paul II recognized him as among the Blessed, the last step before canonization as a Saint.