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Our Lady of Pompeii of the Most Holy Rosary Church


“My fondest moments and memories are of my church and the people that I shared practically all of my life with …” –Ms. Concetta Berry (2008)

Fifteen Italian immigrant families arrived in Bethlehem at the turn of the twentieth Century. In 1901 the growing population of Italian Catholics in south Bethlehem established a parish of their own, with an Italian-speaking priest, Father Maggio. Initially the congregation met at the predominantly Irish Holy Infancy Church, but on April 26, 1902, they broke ground for their own church at 826 East Fourth Street.

The original church was “sacred and simple,” as Concetta Berry said, when relating the history in a 2008 interview. Due to growing attendance, the congregation built a new church building in April 1957. Importing marble and mosaic tile from Italy, the parish spared no expense. In addition, the parish erected a school, which educated students until its closure in 1968. Spaghetti dinners were held twice a year to raise money for the maintenance and upkeep of the church building. “The people, they raved about our spaghetti and meatballs,” recalled Rosaline Rinaldi (2010).

Our Lady of Pompeii was a center for Italian culture on the South Side. The annual Christopher Columbus Banquet, celebrating Columbus’ journeys and Catholic faith, drew hundreds people at its peak in the mid-twentieth century. Christmas and Easter were also very traditional and festive Italian celebrations at Our Lady of Pompeii. Beginning around 1980, the church held an annual live nativity to celebrate Christmas. “It was spectacular,” recalled parishioner Concetta Berry (2008). To hear more about traditions and holidays at Our Lady of Pompeii, be sure to view the video on the right hand side of this page.

Home to three sodalities, or task-oriented groups, members of Our Lady of Pompeii were active in church life and organization. Primarily prayer and spiritual groups, the sodalities also raised money for the church. According to one member, Frank Staffieri, “sometimes repairs [of the church building] were done by members of the society” (2008). These sodalities --Holy Name, for men, and Our Mother of Sorrows and Holy Rosary, for women-- continued to meet after the closure of the church.

Our Lady of Pompeii held its last mass on July 13, 2008. As a result of the consolidation of five parishes, including Our Lady of Pompeii, Incarnation of Our Lord Church opened on July 18, 2008 at the former Saints Cyril and Methodius Church. In September 2011, Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana, the First Hispanic Baptist Church of Bethlehem, purchased the buildings of the former Our Lady of Pompeii.

Do you remember spaghetti dinners and banquets at Our Lady of Pompeii? Do you have stories about holidays or social events that took place at the church? Whatever your memories of Our Lady of Pompeii are we want to hear them! Help us recreate the ethnic churches and community of the Southside by sharing your photographs and memories with us!

Photo Source: Express-Times File Photo