Casa Italiana’s New Building Named After “Father of Migrants,” New Initiative Announced

By Nancy DeSanti

In an impressive ceremony held on Sunday, June 11, 2023, the new Casa Italiana building housing the Holy Rosary rectory and the Italian-American Museum of Washington, D.C., was named Centro Scalabrini in honor of San Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, known as the “Father of Migrants.”

The new building in the Casa Italiana complex was officially named for San Giovanni Battista Scalabrini at a June 11 ceremony.
Credit: Nancy DeSanti

The naming ceremony, held in front of the museum entrance at 229 F Street, N.W., was attended by Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre, six priests of the Scalabrinian order including Holy Rosary Pastor Sergio Dall’Agnese, Father Diego Puricelli, Father Andrei Zanon, and representatives of the Embassy of Italy, along with many parishioners.

Afterwards, a luncheon was held in the newly renovated Casa Italiana. Many AMHS members attended. The new Scalabrini Outreach of D.C. initiative was announced, and among those organizing the initiative are AMHS members Maria Marigliano and Lourdes Tinajero. The goal of the initiative is to coordinate with other parishes and organizations in the region, and increase assistance to migrants in our area. With the inspiration of Pope Francis’ words, they will emphasize four verbs: welcome, promote, protect, and integrate. 

The inspiring keynote address was given by AMHS member Francesco Isgrò, the president of the Casa Italiana Sociocultural Center. Excerpts of his remarks follow:

“Three years ago, our community celebrated an historic day, when we opened our Italian-American Museum that tells the stories, memories of our Italian immigrant community, and the contributions which they have made to our nation’s capital. Holy Rosary Church was founded for Italian immigrants, and for more than a century has served the Italian and Italian-American community, not only by offering Mass in Italian every Sunday but also by serving as a cultural center for the community, offering Italian language classes, Italian cultural events, and publishing Voce Italiana, a bilingual newspaper.

“Today is equally an historic day because we are blessed to have the privilege to dedicate our new building to Saint John Baptist Scalabrini, the Father of Migrants. The mission and the work that St. Scalabrini carried out in serving migrants who were emigrating from Italy to North and South America are as important today as it was during his lifetime. The United Nations estimates that at least 103 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes and among them are nearly 32.5 million refugees. These are the migrants who are the most vulnerable and in need of the most protection. They are the ones who risk their lives traveling hundreds of miles, crossing multiple national borders, to find a haven; they are the ones who sail across the Mediterranean Sea in rickety boats to find refuge in a European country. 

“I often inform our visitors to the museum that, when St. Scalabrini visited the White House in 1901, during the time of massive Italian immigration to the United States, he reminded President Theodore Roosevelt that immigration should be seen as ‘an extraordinary resource, a great gift for a country.’ That message is equally as important today to be told to our political leaders in Washington as it was in 1901. If St. Scalabrini were here today, he would have given the same advice to the political leaders in Europe, including Italy. 

“Our Italian-American Museum shows how Italian immigrants in Washington, although smaller in number than in other cities in the United States, became an ‘extraordinary resource.’ Many of them were parishioners of Holy Rosary Church. They beautified our Nation’s Capital, and they rose to prominence in all fields of endeavors. We became, in the words of St. Scalabrini, ‘a gift to this country.’

“Today, by the dedication of our new church building to St. Scalabrini, a building that is located just blocks away from the U.S. Congress and the White House, it will become a constant reminder that the work that St. Scalabrini started is unfinished, that human migration will continue, and that our political leaders in Washington and across state houses, should not use migrants as a political football.  

“We, as Italian Americans who made this country successful, and at the same time became successful, must not blind ourselves into thinking that the new migrants are different from our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who crossed the Atlantic Ocean. 

“They too seek a better future for their children and families, they too are people of faith, the majority being Catholics, they too bring their own traditions and cultures, and they too will help build a better, more inclusive America.”

Since June 2023 was proclaimed National Immigrant Heritage Month, it was fitting that AMHS member Maria Marigliano provided the following announcement:

“We are pleased to announce the formation of Scalabrini Outreach of D.C., a new ministry at Holy Rosary Church in Washington, D.C. Devoted to improving the lives of migrants and refugees in the greater Washington, D.C., area, Scalabrini Outreach of D.C. is committed to following in the footsteps of Saint John Baptist Scalabrini, who founded three institutions tending to migrants: the Congregation of the Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo in 1887 for their religious, moral, social, and legal care; the lay people association named the Society of Saint Raphael in 1889; and the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles in 1895. This spirituality and love for migrants also inspired the Scalabrinian Lay Missionary Women.

“The formation of this new ministry is the culmination of extensive dialogue with the Scalabrinian Superior General, Father Leonir Chiarello; with our former pastors, Father Ezio Marchetto and Father Andrei Zanon; and with current pastor, Father Sergio Dall’Agnese. These discussions also included the Scalabrini International Migration Network, known as SIMN, based in New York City. SIMN was established in 2007 to continue the work of the newly canonized Saint John Baptist Scalabrini and is dedicated to promoting the rights of migrants, refugees, seafarers, people on the move, and displaced people in need. The organization encompasses more than 250 entities operating throughout the world. 

“The Holy Rosary Church ministry will join a network of ten other Scalabrini parish pastoral centers in our province already at work assisting migrant and refugee communities throughout the East Coast. With Holy Rosary’s strategic location in the nation’s capital, the new ministry is uniquely positioned to serve as a liaison and resource for the larger Scalabrini network. As a first step, Scalabrini Outreach of D.C. will focus on exploring advocacy opportunities and on building awareness about the Scalabrinian’s extensive humanitarian efforts currently in 35 countries on five continents worldwide. At a more local level, our new ministry will honor the Italian immigrant heritage of Holy Rosary Church by developing programs that respond to the needs of migrants and refugees in our community. We will work hand in hand with other parish organizations whose missions include activities dedicated to caring for the most vulnerable.

“Scalabrini Outreach of D.C. looks forward to building on the rich traditions of service at Holy Rosary Church as we all seek to live out our calling as Catholics and welcome the strangers in our midst. Lastly, we share a few words from Saint John Baptist Scalabrini, who wrote poetically about migration. He said:

‘Emigration is almost always good for humanity because it opens new channels for trade, facilitates the propagation of industry and of scientific discoveries, blends and perfects civilizations, and widens the concept of one’s homeland beyond the borders, making the whole world a homeland.’”

July/August 2023

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