The Celestial Messenger 1920s

In the 1920s Giuseppe Abbate led a renegade Catholic sect on the west side.

In the 1920s Giuseppe Abbate led a renegade Catholic sect on the west side.

Giuseppe Maria Abbate was a Neapolitan barber who was remanded to the Elgin State Hospital for the criminally insane in the 1930s, accused of statutory rape. In a bizarre chapter of Chicago history, this man attracted hundreds of Italians on the West Side to his pseudo-Catholic cult from 1919 to the early 1930s. Abbate dressed like the Pope. He claimed to have experienced a vision and to have been called by God to be his ” Messeggero Celeste” ( Celestial Messenger).
His basic “theological” teaching was that he and his followers were the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Photos in a rather slick magazine published by the cult in 1927 show him with a sword, cape, and helmet, protecting a child identified as “the Madonna Child Reincarnated at one year of age in the arms of the Celestial Messenger, her spiritual protector.” With his barber chair in the left foreground and a child identified as “the Virgin Mary at age 12” in the right foreground, Padre Celeste decked himself out in full regalia (including a Papal scull cap) and sat at his desk for yet another bizarre photo. (See the Author’s Images of America: Italians in Chicago for this photo).
The cult’s headquarters (reportedly at 548 W. DeKoven Street) was an old home that was decked out with banners and flags extolling “Il Messeggero Celeste.” Inside, the parlor (“Il Sacro Tempio”) was crammed with a Catholic-style altar, opulent chandeliers, candles, draperies and flowers. A charismatic figure, Abbate performed one known miracle: He was able to get his Italian followers to tithe themselves! For obvious financial and other reasons, his cult was not large or long-lived. Few today have a living memory of this Celestial phenomenon. Those who seek further information should consult the Italian American Collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Claudia Pontarelli-Hallissey Images and Reflections

To view 5 images of artwork with descriptions for the Loyola exhibit by Claudia Pontarelli-Hallissey, click on the link below. —. click Claudia Pontarelli-Hallissey images and reflections


The text without the images

Accursed Heart

My mother died of pancreatic cancer in 2001 quickly but beautifully. While I mourned her loss, ironically, right at that same time, I felt besieged by some other tragic events that seemed far worse than my mother’s death. The pain was unbearable, perhaps heightened by my loss of her. My heart screaming in pain turned to Psalm 6 in desperate prayer.
Lord, do not reprove me in your anger: punish me not in your rage. Have mercy on me, Lord, I have no strength; Lord, heal me, my body is racked; my soul is racked with pain. And you, Lord, how long? Return, Lord, rescue my soul. Save me in your merciful love, for in death no one remembers you; from the grave, who can give you praise? I am exhausted with my groaning; every night I drench my pillow with tears. My eye wastes away from grief; I have grown old surrounded by my foes. Leave me, all you who do evil; for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord will accept my prayer. All my foes will retire in confusion, foiled and suddenly confounded.


My father’s death came too soon for me, as we had unfinished business. It was right after St. Joseph’s feast day, and I brought him some goodies at the hospital. For a long time, though he was ill, I never expected him to die. But one day, as I visited him in the hospital room, even as we spoke, I suddenly realized he had very little time left. My senses were heightened, and my presence all-embracing.
I remembered my dad and I sitting on the stoop together passing the time, doing nothing but being with each other.

Vital Saints

All of my life I have prayed to the canonized saints who bequeathed to us the spiritual lessons of life. But I also know that my own deceased beloved friends and family have joined them, and I remember their good works and example too. And also, I have living saints, those who give me comfort, make me laugh, help me out and come on time. They are my own present family, friends and even acquaintances or strangers. They too show me God’s love every day.

The Beautiful, Beautiful St. Agatha

In 1993 I had breast cancer, and I had a mastectomy. An aunt sent me a gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret. I was so angry, I cried.
St. Agatha was a third century Sicilian martyr. Because she rejected the advances of a Roman senator, she was thrown into a brothel where she was beaten and then imprisoned. She then had her breast cuts off. Ancient art depicts her breasts, which were mistaken as buns, on a platter. Her execution at the stake was interrupted by a volcanic eruption.
Breasts are used commercially as advertising ploys. Agatha and all women are beautiful with or without their breasts.


Mary is an ever-present companion in my life, as she was for my own mother. I collect icons of her because her multifaceted life-callings so represent the various roles of women today and throughout time. But, she is more than a pretty icon. She is not a static symbol, but is a dynamic personality ready to help, comfort, listen …

The Little Church Around the Mart – Celebrating 100 Years of Service

Take a look at this partial scanning of the Centennial booklet produced in 1981 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Chicago”s first Italian Catholic Church – Assumption  It was edited by Perter Pero who will do a presentation at the conference that revisits  the story of Assumption Church on Illinois Steet, in the shadow of the Merchandise Mart. Assumption Centennial Complete

Mother Cabrini depicted in a stained glass image at Assumption Church


Mother Cabrini depicted in a stained glass image at Assumption Church

Recent color photo of Assumption Church

Recent color photo of Assumption Church


“And They Came to Chicago: The Italian Legacy”—a film by Gia Amella is available on You Tube

The complete 80 minute version of ATCTC is available on You Tube at .

And They Came to Chicago traces the 150-year history of Italians settlement in Chicago, from early arrivals who laid the foundation for burgeoning Italian enclaves to the Italian American contribution to politics and labor, the arts and culture. Combining rare historical footage and photographs, interviews with prominent Italian Americans, authors, historians, and individuals who came of age in Chicago’s Little Italies, And They Came To Chicago journeys to the heart of one of the city’s most vibrant, and misunderstood, communities for an unforgettable look at Chicago’s Italian American legacy.

Though a handful of Northern Italian adventurers settled in the Midwest before the Revolutionary War, the first notable Italian presence in Illinois dates back to the 1850s, when Italian enclaves gradually formed around the state where there was promise of steady work. It was rough-and-tumble spirit of a growing metropolis that brought the majority of new arrivals to Chicago, the Midwest’s leading center of industry and commerce and home to one of the fastest growing Italian communites in the nation. While the city’s first Italian settlers hailed primarily from the North, the majority of Chicago’s Italians trace their ancestry to Southern Italy and Sicily, the Mezzogiorno. Mass immigration in the late 19th century pushed their numbers into the thousands and by 1920–just a few years before restrictive immigration laws were enacted–60,000 Italians called the city home, the third largest Italian population after New York and Philadelphia. Today, more than half a million Italian Americans live in greater Chicago, with Illinois ranking seventh among states with the largest Italian Americans populations.

The extraordinary accomplishments of Chicago’s Italian Americans have long overshadowed the hardships their ancestors endured early on. Among famous and unsung figures profiled include popular radio broadcaster Amabile Peguri Santacaterina; Frank Annunzio, Chicago’s leading Italian American congressman who helped make Columbus Day a national holiday; labor leader James Petrillo, a sewer digger’s son who became most powerful figures in the entertainment industry; Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, who found a new home at the University of Chicago after fleeing Fascist Italy; Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American to achieve sainthood; and Ron Turano, the first American elected to the Italian Senate.

Success, though, had its price. The sting of deep-seated prejudices lingered for generations even as thousands of Italian Americans marched off to war. And while they gradually attained visibility at every level of society, perhaps more than any other ethnic group, Italian Americans continue to combat a negative public image. In Chicago especially, Italian identity, criminality and violence were synonymous in the public’s imagination a generation before gangster life became the media’s cash cow.

Through it all—the anti-immigrant backlash, the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the Great Depression and global conflict—Chicago’s Italian enclaves remained the bedrock of social life for several generations of Italian Americans. More than a dozen of Little Italies formed across Chicagoland as successive waves of immigrants followed their compatriots to America. Taylor Street on the Near West Side, the city’s largest enclave of mostly Southern Italians before the University of Illinois claimed much of the neighborhood. 24th & Oakley, first settled by Tuscan immigrants before 1920 and possibly the best-preserved Italian neighborhood. Little Sicily on the Near North Side, once home to 20,000 Sicilians, and the western suburb of Melrose Park, where the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was born in 1894. Chicago Heights and Roseland to the South, Highwood and Highland Park to the North. Elmwood Park and Grand & Harlem, where Italian Americans put down deep roots. And finally, Grand & Ogden, Bridgeport and Chinatown, once-thriving Italian neighborhoods that yielded to newcomers as Italian Americans gained greater economic mobility.

2007 documentary on the history of Italians in Chicago by Gia Amella appeared in WTTW and WMAQ-TV.  Italic Institue President, Bill Dal Cerro originated the project  when he persuaded WTTW to back the production of the documentary.

2007 documentary on the history of Italians in Chicago by Gia Amella appeared in WTTW and WMAQ-TV. Italic Institue President, Bill Dal Cerro originated the project when he persuaded WTTW to back the production of the documentary.

Fr. Armando Pierini—THE Most Accomplished Scalabrinian

This is the Chapter on Armando Pierini who played crucial roles in the establishment of the the Sacred Heart Seminary, the Villa Scalabrini, and the Fra Noi newspaper. For 60 years he was at the very center of Chicago Italian Catholicsm
Click below to access a scanned version of Candeloro’s edited interview with Pierini
Pierini ChapterB

Click Here to link to a variety of interviews

Rev. Armando Pierini, 90, Villa Scalabrini Founder

October 15, 1998|By Meg McSherry Breslin, Tribune Staff Writer.

In the 1940s, Italian-Americans weren’t likely to send their elders to nursing homes. In the Italian tradition, families cared for their aging mothers and fathers at home.

But Rev. Armando Pierini saw a growing need for a new form of care for the aging at that time, and he had the gumption and personality to make his vision a reality.

After years of fundraising and planning, Father Pierini opened the Villa Scalabrini nursing home in Northlake, serving primarily Italian-Americans, in 1951. The home focused on the spiritual and physical care of the elderly and became a popular residence.

Father Pierini was director of the Villa for 30 years and remained a resident there until his death Tuesday at age 90 in West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park.

Also the founder of the Fra Noi newspaper and a leader behind the formation of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, Father Pierini was a key figure in his community.

“He was one of those rare individuals who had such total selflessness and total devotion to whatever it was he was involved in, and that was mostly the care of these (elderly) people,” said Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.

Father Pierini was born in Perugia, Italy, and was ordained into the Missionaries of St. Charles, Scalabrinians, in 1932.

As the director of Villa Scalabrini, Father Pierini took a creative and aggressive approach toward keeping the home alive by soliciting donations from churches and prominent community leaders. He started the Fra Noi newspaper in part to promote the home and had a weekly radio program on which he often discussed the virtues of the home.

In 1972, Father Pierini didn’t hesitate to write a letter with U.S. Rep. Frank Annunzio that they sent directly to Frank Sinatra, asking whether he would perform at a benefit to raise funds for Villa Scalabrini. Sinatra responded almost immediately to Father Pierini’s passionate request. “You print the tickets and I’ll be happy to pay for the rest,” he said.

“Father Pierini was not at all shocked by Sinatra’s presence,” DiFrisco said. “He just believed it was divine intervention which led to Sinatra accepting the offer.”

At the home, Father Pierini was tireless in his efforts to beautify the surroundings and to make people feel comfortable. Residents were invited to plant gardens in a big courtyard in the center of the complex and to decorate their rooms.

Dedicated to his own vow of poverty, Father Pierini slept on the floor or in a recliner in the basement of the home for years because he didn’t want to take away a potential room for a resident.

“Besides being a builder, he was a very spiritual and prayerful man,” said Rev. John Di Vito, chaplain at Villa Scalabrini. “He was known for his prayers and his ascetic life.”

On his 50th anniversary in the priesthood in 1982, the Fra Noi newspaper tried to sum up Father Pierini’s contributions to the community.

“Father Pierini may be reluctant to accept any credit or merit for the work he has done in the name of Christ,” the paper wrote, “but the Italian-American community will always be grateful to him for his leadership, his inspiration and his perseverance in successfully giving the community an institution of which all can be justly proud.”

Father Pierini is survived by a sister, Leopolda Pittola. Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Villa Scalabrini, 480 N. Wolf Rd., Northlake. A funeral service will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at Villa Scalabrini.

The Reopening of the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Lincoln Park

Chicago’s Lincoln Park is one of the priciest neighborhoods in the city. But it’s also home to a sacred place honoring a champion of the poor. The shrine and chapel dedicated to Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini had been shuttered for a decade, and there were concerns that it might never reopen. But it has. The site was rededicated on Sunday with a mass celebrated by Cardinal Francis George. The struggle to save the shrine to the sainted Catholic nun was tough, but with a lot of faith, the mission was accomplished…

Click here for the full story – and video! – from WTTW

Italian American Heritage with Tom Dreesen

Tom Dreesen explains the need for including Italian American studies in the university curriculum. Memory of the Italian immigrant experience is fading fast and the only way to capture that slice of Italian and American history is serious study and teaching university level teaching, research and writing about the epic struggles and the remarkable success of Italians in America in the 20th Century. Dreesen explains Loyola Pres. Fr. Michael Garanzini ‘s generous offer of a $500,000 match to create a permanent, endowed position at Loyola devoted to Italian Americana. As Dreesen concludes, “once the money is raised, it will stay raised, providing a permanent seat of learning at a major university that will preserve OUR story.”

Click Here for YouTube Video of Tom Dreesen