And In Italy, in the province of Caserta, which is not been forgotten here in Rhode Island. In fact, many who trace the roots back to the area called Prata Sannit are keeping the spirit of the town’s Patron saint alive even across the ocean.
The Santa Maria Di Prata Society and organization numbering well over 200 men (Plus an auxiliary of approximately 80 women), is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to the renewal of religious beliefs and heritage, according to Albert Ricci, secretary.
It is also a place for bringing people together in an effort to renew old acquaintances and create new friendships. “I came to this country 31 years ago and I have found that over here you don’t see people every day like you do in Italy…maybe once in a while at a wedding or funeral, ”Americo Testa, Society vice president explained. “I want to get people together; Get their kids together so that they will now where they have come from.”
The society is actually a revitalization of the group formed before the war, Ricci explained. A wave of immigrants from Prada Santana settled in Rhode Island bringing the traditions of their faith with them. Membership, However, declined during the war and the society eventually dissolved. It was the dream of Americo Testa to reorganize the group in order to help refurbish the mother church in Italy.
In the late 70s meetings were held at the home of Frank Graziano, president of this Santa Maria Di Prata Society annual fundraisers were then organized to raise money to rejuvenate the church in Italy.
To see the dream through though, Graziano and Testa travel to Italy, bought materials with money raised, and renovated the church themselves. ”We built a new alter to face the people, put in new floor, and engage people to help paint.” Testa said. Money was also donated for the new confessional for the convent in Prata Sannitia; And the new floor for the second church in town.
Locally, a second dream has finally been realized. Members of the Santa Maria Di Prata Society now have a place to call their own. It is a spacious brick building in Johnston which will be used as ”A gathering place for people and the community,” said Richie.” Everyone is welcome here.”
The building Chapel now houses the Santa Maria Di Prata statue, which was kept for a time at St. Rocco’s church, Johnston. Other building features include a lounge for friends to ge together; an and indoor and outdoor bocce court, and a large hall on the second floor for parties, meetings, weddings, etc.
An overwhelming number of donations in the form of labor and materials help to build the structure. And the door to door fund raiser effort completed the task. No bank loans were used to finance the $250,000 edifice; instead many members gave loans to enhance the buildings effort; loans which were paid in full, Ricci remarked.
The bills are paid through dues pledges, and fundraisers, the society’s goal is to help out where they see in need. Money raised, first and foremost, to be used for student scholarships, and senior citizen needs at Scalabrini Villa. Members stress the organization is here to benefit the community and will be here for future generations.
Labor day was the date of the procession of the statue of Santa Maria Di Prata from St. Rocco’s church to society headquarters. Over 3000 people including Bishop Gelineau attended a social gathering held following the procession. Many more donations were made on that date. And as Italian custom would have it, the tarantella was danced into the wee hours.
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The new Santa Maria DiPrata Society on Walnut Grove Avenue in Cranston is truly a labor of love.
The two-story building, the landscaping, and the interior furnishings were payed for through donations, and the labor was completed by people volunteering their time.
The new society building was the dream of a Americo Testa of Cranston. While in his hometown of Prata Sannita, Italy, he went house to house collecting money for the Santa Maria Di Prata Church. But when he came to America 31 years ago, and became a parishioner of St. Rocco’s church in Johnston, he never forgot his church in Italy.
In 1979, he started a charity here, And in two years he collected enough funds to renovate the church in Italy, And generated enough interest to build a society here in the states.
“I chased money all over the state and we came up with this building in two years,” said Testa, with his Italian accent still strongly evident. ”Everybody worked together as paesans, all volunteers.”
There is still some odds and ends to tie up before the billing is actually completed. But the major work is done and ready for the grand opening Monday, September 1, 1986.
To the left of the entrance is a chapel where the Madonna will be placed. ”Right now, the statue is in the back of St. Rocco’s church. They don’t have the room to show it. So on September 1, the statue be placed here in this chapel so anyone can come in here and pray.” said Testa.
Continuing straight from the entrance is a general meeting room, equipped with the full service bar, a kitchen in the back, tables and chairs for playing cards orCalm up and I’ll talk to you but I don’t know if though give me just socializing, a pool table, a television set, and a cassette recorder.
Off to the side is an inside bocce court and through the side door, assuming to be outside bocce court as well. Upstairs is a large room not finished but will soon be used for weddings banquets etc.
“The purposes of the society is to have a place where all the pythons can get together,” said Tesla “my aunt and cousins are here in the area, but they don’t know each other.”.
“It seems like the family don’t see each other except for weddings or funerals. That’s why we started this feast society. Here we meet, play cards, bocce, have a cappuccino. Even kids, they go elsewhere to meet but now they can get together here.”
The money generated from the society beyond operating expenses will be placed in the trust fund in order to keep the society as a nonprofit organization. The interest, said Testa, will be split between the church in Italy and the Calabrini Villa in North Kingstown.
Testa to hopes the success of the Santa Maria Di Prata Society will eventually lead to the return of an annual feasts. "The first Santa Maria Di Prata feast was held in this country in the 1900s at the old St. Rocco's church. But after World War II, they didn’t hold them anymore. I hope to bring the big feast back.”
Men and women are welcome to join the society. For women, it cost $25 to join and then an annual $10 fee. From then the cost is all $140.00 the first year and $25.00 to renew every year.
Everyone is invited to attend the grand opening on Monday, September 1. The day will begin at 11 AM at St. Rocco’s Church, Johnston. A procession with the statue of Santa Maria Di Prata from St. Rocco’s to the Society’s Chapel will follow.