Our Lady of Pity Church in Melrose is Slowly Being Demolished
The statue of San Silverio, the patron saint of Ponza, stood here for decades even as the local Italian population dwindled. The fact that the church was built by the Ponza immigrant community of Italy was ever present even if only a handful of Italian parishioners were left.
Our Lady of Pity Church, which was deconsecrated by the Archdiocese of New York last November, is being demolished. Not even its former school and rectory will be spared.
The parish of Madonna del Suffragio was founded in 1908 by Italian immigrants from Ponza, an island off the coast of Italy halfway between Rome and Naples.
In 1929, the current church was built to serve the fast-growing community of Ponzese living in the neighborhood.
For decades, Our Lady of Pity Church and School served the Italian community even as the fires roared through the South Bronx.
Even after the parish was merged with nearby Immaculate Conception in 2007, the faithful Ponzese congregated each June 20th on the feast day of Ponza’s patron saint, San Silverio.
I can easily recall the first time I heard the sounds of trumpets along Morris Avenue. I must have been 8 when we first moved to Christopher Court and I ran down to the street to see what it was all about.
There were hundreds of Italians marching proudly in the middle of the South Bronx on Morris Avenue and across 149th street making their way around the neighborhood as they carried the statue of San Silverio.
Eventually, through the years, I would march with them and even helped out several years.
I attended Sunday mass with my mother for almost 10 years until we began to go to mass over at nearby Immaculate Conception.
It was here at Our Lady of Pity that I began my passion for learning foreign languages.
Each Sunday I would look through the Italian missalette reading this foreign language that was so similar to Spanish yet different enough to get my curiosity going.
I went on to learn Italian and took 3 years in high school over at Cardinal Spellman and 2 years at Iona College becoming fully fluent in the language.
During the summers of ’92 and ’93 I was a camp counselor for the Mark Bavaro Children’s Camp that was founded by the church along with the football superstar.
Each summer we’d take the local kids up to Andover, MA to get them out of the South Bronx and into the country just to get away from the tumultuous streets. It was those years that crime was at its highest and gunshots rang through the neighborhood on a daily basis.
Taking the kids out even if for 1 week was 1 week we could keep them safer.
The Past and an Uncertain Future
Walking through the church today, or the shell of a building, was an emotional journey through my childhood. I never thought I’d cry over a church.
I’m no longer a practicing Catholic or Christian but something about entering a building from your childhood that’s being demolished that makes your life flash before your eyes.
I was that little kid, once again, attending mass with my mom as Father Peter Nuzzo gave the homily or when we attended Christmas mass which was in Italian, Spanish, and English.
The fate that has befallen Our Lady of Pity is the fate of many houses of worship across The Bronx (and New York City for that matter). As populations shift, so do worshipers.
The Bronx once was the most Jewish of boroughs in NYC. To this day not even Brooklyn has the percentage of Jews that The Bronx once had. Those synagogues fell into disrepair and were eventually abandoned and demolished or converted into Christian houses of worship.
In Morrisania we saw St Augustine Roman Catholic Church demolished and an affordable housing development rise in its place.
Perhaps this is what’s going to happen here at Our Lady of Pity given that the lot is of considerable size. Mayor Bill de Blasio is rushing to fulfill his promise of “affordable” housing for all so it’s the most probable scenario.
This church was the last and most visible monument that the Ponzese community left behind.
Today was a sad farewell to the past.
To those of you who had memories here too, cherish them close to your hearts forevermore.
In the end, that’s all were’ left with; memories and a pile of dust and eventually those too shall fade.