Newark's Earliest Italians

by Jule Spohn


The following information is taken from two sources: (1) History of Newark, New Jersey, Vol II 1913, and (2) History of St. John's Church by Paul V. Flynn, 1908.

First of all, St. John's Church on Mulberry Street was the very first Catholic Church here in Newark and was founded in 1826 by the Irish. St. John's most famous pastor, it's Fourth Pastor, was Rev. Patrick Moran who was appointed on November 3, 1833 and served in that position until he died on May 26, 1893 in St. Michael's Hospital. Over 20,000 people attended his funeral services - people of all religious backgrounds.

From (1): In the 1860's the Italians began to appear, the first little group arriving as early as 1866 and probably earlier. They did the work of laborers the Germans and Irish had done before them, although now forced to share it with the Russians, Poles, Romanians, and other more or less kindred races; the Hungarians, and latterly, the Greeks.

History is forever repeating herself. When the Irish and then the Germans first came to Newark they were looked upon with something akin to distrust by the descendants of the Puritan founders. As had been said before (in the book) neither the native born nor the Irish and German newcomers understood each other. The Italians were received in much the same way by those already on the ground, and much the same process of amalgamation was begun all over again. The Italians have much to learn, and the born-and-bred Newarkers have come gradually to change their view concerning the Italians. The later often come from sections of Italy where they and their people for generations have been forced to live lives almost diametrically opposed to all that we of these United States consider essential to good citizenship. They have had much to unlearn, and the native-born have not always exercised the proper forbearance.

Today (1913), however, Newark has many Italian citizens of sterling respectability, who in the passing of the years are growing to understand true Americanism, and who in turn are coming to be better understood. The Public Schools are now a powerful factor in the Americanization of the children of the Italian immigrants. Another force, whose breadth and potency is as yet but indifferently appreciated is that of the city playgrounds. In the schools and playgrounds many young Italian-Americans are rapidly grasping the true essentials of good citizenship. Newark now has many Italian residents of means, and many who are destined to take an active and praiseworthy part in the advancement of the city in the immediate future.

It is impossible to tell when the first Italian immigrants took up their abode in Newark. Some who came here as early as 1870 and 1871 tell of a family of the name of Catalana that had been residents of Newark for some time before. The Newark Directory for the year 1864-1865 contains the name of one Angelo Cattaneo, a hatter, who lived at 282 Mulberry Street. When a family of the name of Genelle came to Newark in 1870 it found a number of Italian peanut vendors and others, and one or more families whose members spoke English frequently indicating that they had been residents of this country for years. The oldest living Italian-born resident of Newark in 1913 was believed to be Angelo Maria Mattia, who came to this city in 1871. It was late in the 1870's before Italian immigration found its way to Newark in any volume, and it was not until nearly a decade later that it assumed anything like its present proportions.


Converting St. John's School Hall in Mulberry Street into a temporary Chapel in March, 1882, was a timely measure inaugurated by Bishop Wigger (Rt. Rev. Winand Michael Wigger,Third Bishop of Newark - 1841 to 1901) to provide for the spiritual wants of the Italian people. The Rev. Albergio Vitali, D. D., a zealous young Priest, was placed in charge. He labored earnestly. Referring to the opening of "The Italian Mission in Newark" the Newark correspondent of the New York Freeman's Journal, under the date of July 2nd, 1882, writes: "The Italians are a peculiar people, and the habits and customs of their native land they would transplant in this country; but in time they will learn better. They are not proverbial for generously supporting the Church; and some seem to think that they may at will discharge the Priest whom the Bishop has sent to them and supplant him with another of their own selection. Shortly after the Mission was opened, no less than three Italian Priests were invited by their countrymen to come to Newark. These people would like to own a Church edifice, to do with as they please, but they, some of them, will hesitate long before undertaking a proper share of the financial burden." Eighteen years ago there were in the Diocese of Newark between 1,500 and 1,600 Italians, as the author recalls from the Census of the Catholic Church which he complied for the United States Government. What is the Italian population now in the City of Newark? (1908). It is over 40,000. Italian Parishes have been established, not only in Newark but elsewhere as the necessities require. In these Parishes there are Parochial Schools. Rev. Father Zuccarelli, Rector of St. Rocco's; Rev. Father Brown, Rector of St. Philip Neri; Rev, Father D'Aquilla, Rector of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (see my previous write up about him); and Rev. Joseph Perotti, Rector of St. Lucy's; have placed their schools in charge of the Sisters of Charity and these are the only Italian Parishes in which the Sisters teach. The Italian population is becoming more and more Americanized. Many of them are prosperous business men who are respected by their fellow citizens. It is unfortunate, however, that so many of the men are so lukewarm, indifferent to the practice of their religion, and are seemingly contented to have their wives and daughters do all the praying. Let us hope for better things.

"Chronicler of Old Newark"


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