based on an article by James F. Celestino
written for the 90th Anniversary
From the so-called “Italian Colony” that in 1901 settled in the hamlet of Tuckahoe, the Mission Church of the Assumption was born. At that time the faithful Italian immigrant population came from the Immaculate Conception Church in Tuckahoe.
The Assumption church saw the light of day more than 90 years ago and became an independent working parish under the leadership of its newly-designated pastor, the Rev. Vincent Lojacono. On March 5, 1911, Father Lojacono, celebrated the first Mass for some 250 natives of Tuckahoe in the Lyceum Building. On June 10th the parish was incorporated by the State of New York.
During 1912, Father Lojacono officiated at 109 baptisms, and 15 marriages in the Assumption Church. In January 1913 the parish property was enlarged by the acquisition of two lots southeast of the church, on Wallace Street.
On Sunday, August 12, 1928 a new pastor greeted his flock with an inspiring talk, dedicating himself to the work of the parish and stressing his particular interest in the younger elements. He was the Rev. Severino Focacci, who had completed eight years as assistant at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, the Bronx. During his pastorate, Father Focacci was responsible for extensions to both the church and the rectory. The sanctuary was designed in cupola fashion, and a new main altar of imported Italian marble, of Roman Byzantine architecture, was installed, as well as two side altars. Patrick Cardinal Hayes blessed these on Sunday, October 6, 1929.
In 1929 the Children of Mary Sodality, whose members also comprised the first church choir, was organized.
On Sunday, January 3, 1932 the Rev. Michael Maresca assumed the duties of pastor for an interim period of approximately 17 months. Father Maresca had served for 20 years in the priesthood in Italy before emigrating to the United States. On his arrival here he was assigned first to the Old St. Patrick’s Church, New York and then to Tuckahoe.
On May 20, 1933 the Rev. Denis Q. Blake, age 34 and of Irish ancestry, arrived as pastor of Assumption Church, a sizable group of whose parishioners spoke only the Italian language. This seemingly incongruity was dispelled forthwith for the new pastor was fluent in the language and well versed in the mores of the people of Italy. Father Blake, a native of New York City, had attended Fordham Preparatory School and Fordham College, receiving the B.A. Degree there in 1919. He studied for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome and at St. Joseph’s Seminary here. Following his ordination in 1925, he served eight years as assistant at the Church of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, New York, before coming to Tuckahoe. In the months that followed, a new surge of activity took place in the parish as the church societies sponsored a multitude of fund-raising affairs. There were dinner dances, card parties, minstrel shows and basketball games in the Assumption Hall and elsewhere in the community.
In 1936 the Assumption Church celebrated the completion of a quarter of a century. In preparation for the Silver Jubilee, the church had been repainted and redecorated, and on Sunday, December 6, 1938 for the first time the parishioners saw the church in its new splendor. On that day Father Blake was celebrant of the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving. In the evening a reception for parishioners was held in the Assumption Hall. On Tuesday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Solemn Mass was sung by a choir of 75 girls from the elementary and junior high public schools.
In 1939 a custom was revived which had had its origins in the first years of the parish. This was the procession during the Feast of the Assumption the Rosary was recited in a public display of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Highlighting the procession was ornately decorated floats depicting religious scenes. Ten years later, for the first time, the statue of the Blessed Virgin was borne on a flower-bedecked float through the village.
The United States prepared for the worst and held a National Draft Lottery in 1940 to which the Assumption men responded in force. On December 7, 1941 the United States necessarily became a participant in World War II and it was the beginning of a sad era for the parish. The first casualty from this area in World War II focused the sorrowful attention of the village and town on the Assumption Parish. This was the death of Joseph C. LaManna on September 10, 1942 in the crash of an Air Force training plane in Ocilla, Georgia. A scant two months later, on November 8, the second Assumption boy, Joseph Stasionis, died in action in North Africa.
A score of Assumption servicemen were to pay the supreme sacrifice in the four corners of the world. The Assumption Parish today reveres the sainted memory of these young men:
In June 1945 the parish celebrated with Father Blake in observing the twentieth anniversary of his ordination. In January 1946 the church was redecorated and in 1947 the parish acquired two lots adjacent to the church, due north on Pleasant Avenue.
After 14 years as pastor of the Assumption Church, the time had come on Sunday, August 24, 1947 for Father Blake to bid farewell to his flock. The following day he took leave of the parish and the village that he averred would always be to him “the garden spot of the universe” and took up his new pastoral duties at the Church of St. Martin of Tours, the Bronx. There on December 13, 1954, he was to be elevated by Pope Pius XII to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor.
Father Blake’s successor at the Church of the Assumption was the Rev. Joseph A. Vitanza. A native of New York City, Father Vitanza studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph’s Seminary and after his ordination in 1930 was assigned to the Church of St. Joseph, New Rochelle. He served as assistant in various parishes from New York to Beacon to Staten Island. On October 27, 1945 he was appointed to the Church of St. Ann on Staten Island, serving as assistant there until he was promoted to the pastorate of the Assumption Church in Tuckahoe.
Under Father Vitanza’s leadership a host of improvements and modernization projects were undertaken in the church, in the parish hall and in the outdoor area. The Assumption Hall underwent a major renovation with a new, lower ceiling and knotty pine walls installed. Outdoors a garage was built adjacent to the rectory, the parking plaza was resurfaced, buttresses added to the hall to fortify its south wall, and a reinforcing and retaining wall built along Pleasant Avenue. The wall was built entirely of stone by the men of the Assumption Parish.
In May of 1952 the Rev. Nicholas F. Milazzo joined the Assumption parish as an associate priest to Father Vitanza. Father Milazzo was ordained on May 14, 1952 and his first assignment was the Assumption Church in Tuckahoe. He had studied at Cathedral College and St. Joseph’s Seminary. His tenure at Assumption was from May 1952 to February 1954 at which time he was transferred to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in the Bronx and then on to St. Anne’s in Ossining until his present assignment at St. Anthony’s in the Bronx.
On May 30, 1953 the first native son of the Assumption Parish to enter the Priesthood was ordained by Cardinal Spellman at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He is the Rev. Joseph S. Cusma, son of the late Mr. & Mrs. Salvatore Cusma. The parish rejoiced for the second year in a row with the ordination on May 14, 1954 of the second Assumption parishioner, the Rev. John T. Servodidio, son of the late Mr. & Mrs. Pasquale Servodidio. Also ordained on May 14, 1954 was the Rev. Anthony L. Maltese who was assigned to the Church of the Assumption, Tuckahoe on May 29th.
In June 1955, Father Vitanza observed the Silver Jubilee of his ordination. Following a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving, the parish honored the Assumption pastor at a testimonial dinner at the Parkway Casino, Tuckahoe, at which the Most Rev. Joseph M. Pernicone, Auxiliary Bishop of New York, was guest of honor.
After more than eight years as pastor of the Assumption Church, Father Vitanza, as did his predecessors, bade a sad farewell to his flock, leaving with a multitude of good works, both spiritual and material. On that same day, after six years as first administrator and later pastor of Our Lady of Pity Church, Staten Island, the Rev. Charles Rosselli received a birthday present - the pastorate of the Church of the Assumption, Tuckahoe.
An intensified schedule of fund-raising affairs was begun almost immediately to liquidate the church debt, an endeavor in which the parishioners were to give unstintingly of their time and talents. In less than two years the debt of $45,000 was removed and for the first time in its history, the Church of the Assumption was financially in the clear. At the same time the Rosary Altar Society was established and the Sodality branches were reorganized to meet the arising needs of the parish.
During the months that followed, an extensive renovation and beautification program was undertaken which was to affect in the church a virtually new interior. The old wooden floors were replaced with terrazzo throughout the church, sacristies and the first floor of the rectory. Parishioners donated new pews as memorials. The old church bell (currently undergoing extensive renovations), rung by two generations of parishioners, was replaced by an electrically operated system of carillon bells. These new bells were by Mrs. Michelina Orlandi in memory of her husband Alfred Orlandi.
In addition, new heating, plumbing, electrical and lighting systems were installed for the benefit and comfort of the parishioners. The complete modernization project, in the church, rectory and outdoor area, undertaken between 1958 and 1959 at a total cost of $225,000, was accomplished with current revenues and without incurring a new debt. During this period of renovation all services were conducted in the Assumption Hall. A dream of almost a half-century germinated in the Summer of 1958 when negotiations were concluded for the purchase by the Assumption Parish of the former Main Street School at a price of $110,000. In March of the following year, over one hundred men participated in a fund-raising campaign that realized a fifth of a million dollars in pledges for the newly created Assumption School and Convent. The school was administered by the Religious Teachers Filippini.
Sister Ester D’Allessio was its first principal. On September 14, 1959 the school began operations with a kindergarten, first and second grades in temporary quarters. At the same time, the school building and convent were reconstructed from the shell of the former Main Street School, and on November 6, 1960 were blessed and dedicated by Francis Cardinal Spellman.
In 1961, The Rev. Anthony L. Maltese observed the seventh anniversary of his assignment as assistant at the Church of the Assumption. Father Maltese had been educated in the public schools of New York City and at St. Ann’s School, which is staffed by the Religious Teachers Filippini, where he graduated in 1942. He attended Cathedral College and upon his graduation in 1948 entered St. Joseph’s Seminary. Following his ordination by Cardinal Spellman at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on May 14, 1954, he was appointed as assistant at the Assumption Church, Tuckahoe.
On November 5, 1961, the golden jubilee of the Assumption Parish was celebrated with a Solemn Pontifical Mass offered by Archbishop Maguire. On that afternoon the 50th anniversary celebration was climaxed with the Golden Jubilee Banquet at Westchester Town House, Yonkers, at which Bishop Maguire was guest of honor. Alfred Cavuoto narrated episodes and anecdotes of interest in the history of the parish. The St. Cecilia Choral Society rendered an interesting musical program for the occasion. Church trustees at the time were Joseph Ciricleo and Joseph Amato. Two years later the parish and the community marveled at the magnificent new pipe organ installed in the church at a cost of $25,000 donated as memorials by parishioners.
The Assumption School added a new grade each year until the full kindergarten through 8th grade complement was reached in September 1965. On June 26, 1966, 21 graduates received the first Assumption School diplomas. In September of that year, Sister Anne Amato succeeded Sister Ester as principal. Sister Helen Rado, became principal in September 1969 and was followed in September 1975 by Sister Tomasina Moffo. Regretfully the Assumption School closed in the late 1970’s due to declining enrollment.
Assumption girls who joined the Religious Teachers Filippini are Sister Carolyn Houck and Sister Joan DiRienzo. They had been preceded into the religious life by Carmela Russo (Sister Maria San Giovanni, Helpers of the Holy Souls), Eleanor Volpe (Sister Joseph Corde, Maryknoll Society) and Sister Josephine Scrima (Daughters of the Heart of Mary).
On March 26,1969, the Rev. Francis Esposito became pastor of the Assumption Church; his canonical installation was conducted on April 20th by Bishop Pernicone. Under his leadership the school debt was liquidated in a few years. The main altar in the church underwent a major reconstruction to conform to the new liturgy, the existing marble utilized expertly to fashion the present altar. The sanctuary as well was given a new look. During the eight years of his pastorate the Rev. Monsignor Francis Fata assisted him. Father Fata was instrumental in serving the large number of Italian speaking parishioners by offering mass every Sunday at 8:30am in their native language. He was appointed associate pastor during Fr. Esposito’s tenure.
Father Fata is especially remembered for his piety, humility and his love of the parishioners of the Assumption. His humility was demonstrated when he was named “Monsignor” while in Italy but retained the title of Father when he arrived in America. He was truly a priest’s priest. In the months that followed the church sponsored a number of additional fund-raising affairs in support of the Assumption School. Father (Monsignor) Fata took the lead in running the weekly BINGO Fund Raisers. He devoted many hours in support of this program that generated additional revenues to finance the ongoing expenditures of the school.
On September 23, 1978, the Rev. Ronald Ciaravolo, arrived as Administrator of the Church of the Assumption and was named pastor in June 1981, succeeding the Rev. Francis Esposito. Following his ordination on May 31, 1958 Father Ciaravolo attended the University of Puerto Rico for four months and in September of that year received his first assignment as associate pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in the Bronx. In 1963, he became associate pastor of St. Patrick’s’ Old Cathedral on Mulberry Street in Manhattan. During that assignment, he also served as professor of Christian History in the Department of History and Literature of Religions at the Washington Square College of Arts and Science of New York University. Additionally, he served as director of the PAL Mulberry Youth Center and director of the CETA Summer Youth Employment program. In 1976, Father Ciaravolo was named by Cardinal Cooke as pastor of Holy Rosary Church in East Harlem, before coming to Tuckahoe.
In the months that followed with his background as a former theology teacher at NYU Father Ciaravolo instituted an adult theology and scripture class. The sessions met every Thursday evening and attracted a large group of parishioners from several Westchester parishes. During his tenure at the Assumption Church Father Ciaravolo served as a member of the Tuckahoe Village Board of Ethics and as Chaplain of the Eastchester Fire Department and the Rev. John A. Keogh Council, Knights of Columbus.
On May 31, 1983 Father Ciaravolo observed the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood at a concelebrated Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving. The Most Rev. Joseph M. Pernicone, Auxiliary Bishop of New York presided and the homilist was the Rev. Neil A. Conolly, Episcopal Vicar of the South Bronx. Following the Jubilee Mass, the parish honored Father Ciaravolo at a dinner-dance at the San-Roc Restaurant, Hastings-on-Hudson.
The spirit of the early parishioners was still apparent on May 17, 1986 when Cardinal O’Connor went to the Assumption Church to celebrate it’s 75th Anniversary. More than 400 enthusiastic parishioners gathered for the afternoon Mass at which 40 children were either confirmed or received their First Communion. In addition, four adult converts also received their First Communion and were confirmed.
Father Ciaravolo, the pastor, and Father (Monsignor) Francis Fata, associate pastor, concelebrated the Mass with Cardinal O’Connor. Father Ciaravolo welcomed the Cardinal and recapped the history of the parish stressing that the Assumption Church was built because there was a need for the Italian immigrants to hear the Word of God in their own language. He stated the church was built by mothers and fathers, rock by rock. Father Ciaravolo turned to the crowd and congratulated all the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for their support of the Assumption Church and stated: “What you are shows what they did”.
The Cardinal received two gifts. The children of the parish presented him with a statue of the Blessed Virgin. The vestments the Cardinal wore were made in Belgium for the occasion of the Anniversary Mass and carried an inscription from Assumption Parishioners. The Cardinal was extremely grateful for these gifts and expressed a special unity with the parish because both the Assumption and St. Patrick’s Cathedral were built with the same kind of stone. Before he left for the day, the Cardinal told the crowd that he sometimes misses the intimacy of a small parish. He said that while he has attended Confirmations all over the world, never had the children been prepared better. “The people here have a sense of the presence of God.” he said.
In June 1992 after almost 14 years as pastor of the Assumption Church Father Ciaravolo bid farewell to his congregation. A reception was held at the Greek Orthodox Recreation Center in New Rochelle to honor him in recognition of his good works both spiritual and material. The Assumption Choir under the direction of Mr. Alex Perlov entertained the guests with a musical program.
By 1993, recognizing no great need for a separate Italian parish in the area, the Church of the Assumption became united under the one pastor of Immaculate Conception, under the leadership of Rev. Monsignor Anthony Maltese. Ironically the Assumption Church was Monsignor Maltese’s first assignment as assistant and he held a special place in his heart for the family of the Assumption. In 1954 Monsignor Maltese got his first assignment as associate pastor of the Assumption Church. He stayed at Assumption for eight years and at Immaculate Conception Church in nearby Irvington for another five. In 1967 it marked a turning point, he was elected to Senate of Priests, and he spent the next eight years serving as a teacher and an administrator in various locations. At one point, he was a director of Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale. He became pastor of the Church of St. Lucy in the Bronx in 1975, where he stayed for 10 years. In 1983, he was named an honorary prelate to Pope John Paul II. Cardinal O’Connor appointed Monsignor Maltese pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church in Tuckahoe in 1983. Ten years later, Monsignor Maltese became pastor of the Assumption Church as well.
In the months and years that followed Monsignor Maltese was instrumental in providing the needed guidance to make the Assumption Church a self-sufficient working parish. He was responsible for the creation of the Assumption Parish Council whose present members are: Peter Borducci, Bruce Calby, Robert D’Agostino, Mary Liucci, Pamela Carneiro, Mary Tortolani, Angelina Buzzurro, Jim Celestino, Deborah Goldman, Nicholas Ruffalo, Robert Sticca and Georgiene Walsh. Monsignor Maltese recognizing the need to monitor the finances of the church appointed the Assumption Parish Finance Committee whose current members are: Jim Celestino, Robert Sticca and Pamela Carneiro. As the months passed Monsignor Maltese recognized the need to improve the liturgy at the 8:30 Mass on Sunday which lacked music. He contracted a cantor and organist who greatly enhanced the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Monsignor Maltese was also responsible for encouraging parishioners to get involved in the spiritual aspect of the church by participating in any of the following ministries: Lectors, Eucharist Ministers, Ushers Committee, Liturgy Committee, and Facilities Committee.
Monsignor Maltese was responsible for the Hospitality Sunday Program that currently exists at the Assumption Church on the first Sunday of each month. After the Sunday morning Masses a reception is held in the Father Fata Memorial Hall. The Hospitality Committee headed by Mary Tortolani graciously serve coffee and cake to the parish family of the Assumption along with the best of conversation. This has been an extremely successful program and has helped us fill the church pews once again. At the suggestion of Monsignor Maltese to the Parish Council the Assumption Hall was renamed the Father Fata Memorial Hall in memory of Father (Monsignor) Francis Fata for his many years of dedication to the church especially as the coordinator of the BINGO program.
In 1995 Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Ciricleo generously donated $75,000 to the Church of the Assumption and an additional $75,000 to the Immaculate Conception Church. Monsignor Maltese recognized the need to beautify the interior of the Assumption Church and with the generosity of the Ciricleo’s he planned the renovation project. The interior of the church was painted, pews refurbished, altar renovated, and air-conditioning installed. The renovation took approximately 2 months and services were conducted in the Father Fata Hall until the project was completed. A plaque is in the rear of the church recognizing Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Ciricleo for their generous donation toward the restoration of the Assumption Church.
The Assumption Parishioners are especially grateful to Monsignor Maltese for his love and devotion to our parish family. It was through his efforts and perseverance that the doors of the Assumption Church were to remain open. We the family of the Assumption shall never forget his loyalty to us and especially to all the faithful Italians who immigrated to Tuckahoe who brought this once mission church to its great heights.
On June 15, 1997 the parish families of the Assumption and Immaculate Conception Churches mourned the passing of our beloved Monsignor Anthony Maltese. In recognition for his accomplishments a plaque has been placed on the altar in grateful appreciation for his years of service as Pastor and as Associate Pastor, specifically recognizing him for renovating the interior of the Assumption Church.
Based on an article prepared by: James F. Celestino - Chairperson, Church of the Assumption Finance Committee
References: 1911-1961 - Golden Jubilee Journal prepared by the late Alfred Cavuoto and 1961-1976 - 65th Anniversary Journal.
1976-1993 - Sr. Margurita - Archives at Dunwoodie
1993-2000 - Priests at
Assumption and Immaculate Conception