As various Italian immigrants settled in Lawrence at the turn of the century, they brought with them the dialects, culture and traditions of the many regions and villages from which they came. Many of the Sicilian immigrants from the towns in the Province of Catania, especially from the area around Trecastagni, maintained their particular devotion to the three martyred brothers, Saint Alfio, Saint Filadelfo and Saint Cirino. As their numbers increased, they set about the task of organizing an association, the primary purpose of which was to establish the tradition of honoring these patron Saints in this new community.
The first meeting of the incorporators was held on December 16, 1921 at 82 Jackson St. in Lawrence. The incorporators were: Alfio Bonaccorsi, Antonio Coco, Antonino Murabito, Salvatore Pulvirenti, Giovanni Santuccio, Ignazio Scuderi, and Gaetano Torrisi. These men also became the first officers of the Society, with Murabito serving as the first President, and Bonaccorsi elected as both Treasurer and Chairman of the first Festa Committee. The latter was a very important position, because the By-Laws included a mandate to hold an annual celebration in honor of the three martyred brothers.
The membership of the Society was not only primarily Sicilian, but also heavily represented by those Sicilians from Trecastagni. The issue of ethnicity soon led to controversy. Some members argued that only those who traced their roots back to the area around Trecastagni should be included. Others argued for the much broader membership criteria of Italian parentage. Within months, there were two societies. The Society of St. Alfio di Trecastagni was incorporated in July, 1922. However, its highly restrictive membership policies led to its eventual demise, and the members of the "Trecastagnese Club" were reincorporated into the original Society.
Because of the difficulties faced by the immigrant community, an important purpose of the Society was mutual aid. This need grew out of an era when there was no help from public sources. Members who were in good standing and paid their annual dues were entitled to a death benefit — for some, the only life insurance they possessed. The members also paid twenty-five cents per month, which entitled them to free medical care if they became ill. They were always sent to Italian doctors, including Dr. Zannini, Dr. D'Urso, and Dr. Tiani. In 1932, at the height of the Depression, the Society voted to give any member facing financial difficulties up to $25.00. Later that year the Society also voted a one time gift of $5.00 worth of food for any member in need; with the stipulation that any member found to be taking advantage of this benefit under false pretenses would be automatically expelled from the association.
Minutes from the 1920's reveal that dues were prorated by age, with younger members paying as little as $2.00/yr., and older members paying as much as $12.00/yr. This higher rate was equal to, if not more than, a week's pay for most workers in Lawrence at that time. Members were often called upon to make extra donations in order to help with expenses. For example, in 1930 every member was obligated to purchase ten raffle tickets at 10 cents each to help cover the expenses of the Feast. Each member was given four months to meet this obligation!
The Society was also a social hub for the community. Its headquarters moved from various sites on Newbury Street and Union Street until the present building on Common Street was built in 1961. Holiday parties and dinner dances were attended by the members and their families. Mary Sciuto Privitera remembers that her father, Giuseppe Sciuto, who served twice as president, would hold a weekly card game with other members at the headquarters.
They never played for money but only for chocolate bars. The next morning we kids would wait to see how much candy our Dad had won. The "Friday night gang" continued to be a fixture, and members still gather when they can for a friendly game of cards and perhaps a late night snack.
The members of the St. Alfio Society continue to worship together, to work together and to walk together in the footsteps of their founders. The Society's banner leads them in procession each year, and stands vigil at their coffins when they are laid to their final rest. After ninety-nine years, this tenacious commitment to preserving a culture and a tradition continues to inspire and to energize the grandsons of those first members, and makes it possible for us to celebrate with the Society as they honor both the Three Saints and the memory of their forefathers.
CARL RUSSO/Staff photo: Officers standing in front are, clockwise from left: President, Tony Palmisano, Vice President, Joe Mariano, Secretary, Alfred LaSpina and Financial Secretary, Richard Guilmette. Missing from photo is Treasurer Bill Schofield. Council members are, front row: Anthony Fiorante, Orazio Garozzo, Glenn Gary and John Capriole. Back row: Jim Piemonte, Mark Battle, David Cocchiaro and Chuck Fucca.
2022-2023 Executive Board
President - Anthony Palmisano
Vice President - Joseph Mariano
Treasurer - William Schofield
Secretary - Alfred LaSpina
Financial Secretary - Richard Guilmette