Joining the Catholic Community
Italians came to Wooster to find an already-established Catholic community. Catholics had lived in Wooster as early as 1812, and the first recorded visit by a Catholic priest was in 1817, by Father Edward Fenwick O.P.1 St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception Church was first built in 1847. Italians quickly immersed themselves in the Catholic community, enrolling their children in the parochial school the church offered and joining the congregation. For a brief time the Italian community considered forming their own congregation, and they received permission to do so in 1907 from Bishop Horstman of Cleveland. However, the matter was dropped in 1909 after an investigation by Church officials determined that the church would not have enough parishioners.2
As they settled into the existing Catholic community, Italians also carried over their own traditions. The Feasts of Saints John and Anthony are celebrated jointly in the Abruzzi region, the birthplace of many of Wooster’s Italian families. The day is marked by a village procession to the church, a mass, games, tarantella dances, and much celebration. The Italian Society decided to introduce the tradition in Wooster in 1917, forming a committee to plan the festivities. On June 24, Italians paraded a statue of Saint John through town, starting at Town Hall and ending at St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception. The statue, carried on the committee’s shoulders, followed a uniformed Italian band and women and children singing “Evviva Maria” (Mary is Alive!). Today the statue stands in a permanent niche in St. Mary’s.3
1 “High Church Dignitaries, Former Pastors and Assistants Will Come to Wooster for St. Mary’s 100 Anniversary,” The Daily Record. 3 Oct, 1947
2 Dominic Iannarelli, “Scenes and Events: Through a Keyhole,” A Touch of Italy in Wooster. (Wooster: The Daily Record, 1968).
3 Ibid., “Saints John and Anthony.”