Get Out!

Yesterday my husband and I took advantage of the surprisingly warm weather and took a ride to an area of Sussex County we’ve been wanting to explore for quite awhile.

I can’t tell you how happy we did.

If you aren’t a fan of the winter (like us), it is easy to just hibernate and wait for the weather to get above your age. When we heard the weather would be above freezing, we decided to make the effort to actually step outside. What we discovered is an area of Sussex County almost frozen in time with open space and houses that predate the Revolutionary War.

1977 map of New Jersey (source: Rutgers Special Collections)

We met someone who was quite knowledgeable about the area and owned an amazing home built in 1791. He freely shared information about the area and his ongoing effort to preserve as much of his property and the town’s history buildings. The town’s historical society works hard to preserve and educate on the area, from the time of the Lenapehoking to present day.

So why am I telling you all this and why am I not saying where we went? Simple. I want you to GET OUT! Grab a map (yes, a printed map) and take a ride. Is there an area in the state you’ve always wanted to visit? Plan a ride into your unknown. Visit the local historical society and ask questions. Patron their locally-owned shops and restaurants. Even consider joining their historical society (or at least make a donation).

I promise you; you’ll be happy you did!

2022 New Jersey Goals

As the calendar turns and we move ahead to 2022, most people make resolutions for the new year. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of resolutions. They are usually all the same; lose weight, spend more time with the family, blah, blah, blah. While it may sound like semantics, I prefer to make goals.

According to Merriam-Webster, a goal is defined as, “the end toward which effort is directed.” A resolution (the third definition) is, “something that is resolved.” A goal is much more specific. A resolution is hardly exact.

Anyway…

My goal list here is specific to New Jersey. This is all about the effort I will direct to my own beloved state.

Search for Fossils

You may not realize it, but New Jersey offers a variety of opportunities to find fossils. Creatures that range from tiny cephalopods to huge wooly mammoths called New Jersey home. I have never found a fossil, but I will say I never really looked. My goal is to find one this year.

Hike the AT

No, I don’t expect to hide the entire Appalachian Trail, better known as the “AT.” I want to hike just the New Jersey portion of the Trail. The entire length of the AT traverses 14 states from Maine’s Mount Katahdin to Georgia’s Springer Mountain.

The New Jersey stretch of the Appalachian Trail is 74 miles long and begins at Abram S. Hewitt State Forest in the northern most point and runs west and south through Wawayanda State Park, High Point State Park, Stokes State Forest, ending at Worthington State Forest. Now, I do not expect, nor do I plan, to traverse the entire 74 miles in one clip. I will, however, develop a plan to break it down into several short single-day hikes. A great resource to help get started on this goal is the New York New Jersey Trail Conference. This special organization is powered by a great group of volunteers that build, maintain, and protect public trails.

Fish a New Stream for the Heritage Brook Trout

Long before I knew the brook trout was the state fish, it was always my favorite species. The colors are amazing and they put up a wonderful fight. I absolutely love to fly fish in a stream and listen to the water rush downstream as I stand in the river.

The downside, sadly, is the most popular rivers in New Jersey are very well known and generally over-fished. An added frustration for me is that I see plenty of anglers fishing aggressively without a proper license. I regularly encourage those anglers to purchase their license. I explain those license dollars are put right back into the resource. Unfortunately, those anglers usually walk away laughing. It is personally frustrating.

So I want to find a new stream for fishing. But not just any old stream. I want to find a stream that gives me the opportunity to fish for the Heritage Brook Trout. According a study on brook trout genetics, wild populations of brook trout have unique genetic identities. Some Garden State brook trout populations are descendants from the original brook trout colonizers present after the last glacial ice sheet receded more than 10,000 years ago. The existence of these ancestral populations, dubbed heritage brook trout, is important for conservation efforts of this native species (learn more about brook trout genetics by reviewing the original 2008 article).

Advocate for my State’s Open Spaces

Mount Hope Park, Morris County, New Jersey
Mount Hope Park, Morris County

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am an advocate for the ecology and preservation of the Garden State’s open spaces. Places like the water that the heritage brook trout have liked for thousands of years are threatened on a daily basis due to pollution, encroachment, and other modern-day challenges. From protecting the red knot to attending Environmental Commission meetings on the local level, we all have a responsibility to make sure our natural resources are protected. I plan to continue to advocate and take a more active role to protect those special spots.

Attend Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart

In all my life, I am sad to say I have only attended mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, better known as Newark Cathedral, only once. If you have never been, it is a true piece of art built by the immigrants of Newark; many from the First Ward, the original Italian section of the city. Construction began in January 1898. While the Cathedral began holding mass in 1928, that labor of love was not completed until October 19, 1954. In 1974, the Cathedral was added to the New Jersey Historical Society. Two years later, it gained national recognition when it was listed as a National Historic Site.

On Wednesday, October 4, 1995, Pope John Paul II visited the United States. During the visit, Pope John Paul II conferred the title of Minor Basilica to Sacred Heart Cathedral, giving it its current name, Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. I attended mass at the Cathedral the following Sunday.

This year I will attend mass at least once and sit in prayer and reflection, knowing the history and exceptional effort and craftsmanship that built that wonderfully artistic home of faith.

Head Back Down the Shore

The S. S. Atlantus, also known as the “concrete ship,” at Sunset Beach, Cape May

If you are from Jersey, you know that trek down the Garden State Parkway is known as “going down the shore.” It has been two years since my husband and I smelled the sea air or walked on a beach. It renews my soul and clears my mind. One of my favorite spots is Sunset Beach in Cape May. I love digging for Cape May diamonds and walking on the shoreline turning horseshoe crabs upright. After the last two years, I say it is important to head down the shore to replenish my soul.

Visit the Pine Barrens

The New Jersey Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands, is the largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem. It stretches across seven counties and is over 1.1 million acres. In 1978, Congress created the Pinelands National Reserve (PNR) through the passage of the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. The Pinelands National Reserve is the first National Reserve in the United States. It is also home to the elusive Jersey Devil.

I am ashamed to admit, but this is another part of the state I have yet to experience in a meaningful way. I would like to plan a hike in the Pine Barrens and maybe get some fly fishing in as well!

Shoot More Film

A large majority of my hobbies are quite analog. I fly fish and tie flies. I crochet, spin yarn, felt, and weave. I really enjoy Geocaching. I also enjoy film photography. I regularly listen to a podcast called the Film Photography Project hosted by two guys from Jersey. Their entire gang of regular guests and commentators offer great advice for photographers at every level. Over the last two years, I have developed a terrible case of GAS (otherwise known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and am now the proud owner of a variety of film cameras. I plan to get out more and use them. With all my planned outings, I should have some wonderful opportunities to shoot more film!

Be Happy

Most importantly, I want to be happy. The last two years have been hard on all of us. For the most part we have been stuck in our homes. Maybe you lost your job, or worse, even lost a loved one. I shared the story of someone very dear to my husband and me, Dr. Michael Giuliano, who lost his life to the Coronavirus early in the pandemic when he continued to treat patients despite the risks.

It is time for all of us to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and see our loved ones. New Jersey is a wonderful state and we are lucky to have so many different ways to enjoy it. So, get out and take a hike, go grab a ripper at Rutt’s Hut, or take a ride down the shore. Get back to living and be happy.

St. Lucy’s Loses a Giant

In the past I have written about a long-time giant at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, NJ, Monsignor Joseph Granato. He served the parishioners of St. Lucy’s for 54 years; his entire time of service. I am sad to report the Monsignor went home to the Lord a few days ago.

Monsignor Joseph J. Granato

Born in New York, then Joseph Granato, moved with his family to Newark in his infancy. He attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Grammar School in Newark and graduated in 1943. He then attended Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, also in Newark, and graduated in 1947. When he entered the seminary, he once again stayed local, attending Seton Hall University and Immaculate Conception Seminary.

Upon Ordination Father Granato was assigned as an assistant to Rev. Gaetano Ruggiero, Pastor of St. Lucy’s Church, Newark in June of 1955. Upon Father Ruggiero’s death, Father Granato was named Administrator to St. Lucy’s in 1971 and was named Pastor in 1977. In 1979, Pope John Paul II bestowed the sacred honor of being named Monsignor. Instead of taking credit for this great honor, he gave credit to the people of St. Lucy’s.

Monsignor Granato remained Pastor of St. Lucy’s until his retirement in 2009.

As I have said in the past, the Monsignor bordered on rock star status at St. Lucy’s. He was a kind man who kept his flock always in the forefront of his mind. But he was far more than a simple parish priest. He was a civic leader and advocate for the First Ward his entire life. He fought back when the First Ward was labeled a “slum” and attempted, sadly to no avail, to prevent the bulldozing of almost the entire original First Ward and replace it with low-income housing, displacing tens of thousands of Italian immigrants. This project of the city resulted in Italian immigrants leaving Newark and turning the area into a level of urban blight, the likes had never been seen before. Suddenly going to St. Lucy’s was a dangerous gamble. Still, Monsignor Granato persevered.

In 1994, the housing projects were imploded. Monsignor Granato led the charge to acquire the land across from St. Lucy’s in order to develop an Italianate Plaza. Additionally, he supported the construction of Villa Victoria Senior Citizens Residence and the subsidized low-rise family housing across from the rectory.

Monsignor Granato championed the continued century old devotion of the Italian immigrant population to St. Gerard, Patron of Motherhood, with the declaration of St. Gerard’s Chapel a National Shrine in 1977.

Thank you Monsignor Granato for your unwavering dedication to St. Lucy’s, her parishioners, the First Ward, and the tens of thousands of Italian immigrants, and their families, your have counseled over the decades. God has certainly gained a loyal servant.

Giving Tuesday in New Jersey

It is no surprise to anyone that COVID-19 has affected everyone in the Garden State. Some people lost their jobs. Some people lost their businesses. Some lost their lives.

Many non-profits in the state lost important funding from private donors, as so many were barely able to feed their families and keep a roof over their head.

Enter Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to help those who have helped so many throughout our state. I’ve highlighted a few of the great organizations I have supported and will continue to support to the best of my ability. They represent a cross-section of areas, from the arts, to food insecurity, to cultural support, and more.

Museum of Early Trades & Crafts

The Museum of Early Trades & Crafts is one of my favorite museums in the state. It was founded in 1970 by Agnes and Edgar Law Land and is located inside the building that was the first public library in Madison. The museum began with a display of the Land’s personal collection of 18th and 19th century artifacts representing the lives of the early immigrants to New Jersey. Since then, it has grown to an amazing permanent collection as well as special displays that are presented on a rotating basis. The best part is everything presented in the museum is associated with life and work in New Jersey.

Italian American One Voice Coalition

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am very proud of my Italian heritage. So is the Italian American One Voice Coalition. They work to protect and preserve the Italian-American culture. You see, our culture has made a major mistake over the years. We let the mob jokes roll off our back. In an effort to prove our allegiance to our new homeland, we Americanized our names and did not teach our language to our children. We were proud to be Americans. Those very values we have held for generations are no longer valued by many. As a result, people are looking to eliminate what is left of our heritage. The Italian American One Voice Coalition is fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen. That we won’t be cast aside or ignored.

Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter

Sadly, over the last 18-plus months, victims of domestic violence have been victimized twice; once by their abuser and again by the system that is in place to protect them, as these victims have been kept hidden from the eyes of those agencies. With rumor of a new variant on the way and worries of another lockdown loom large, women may be desperate to escape their situation. The Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter has been on the front lines of aiding victims of domestic violence since 1978. JBWS is all about empowering victims to end the cycle of violence and gain control over their lives. The services include 24-hour helpline; safe house; counseling for adults, adolescents and children impacted by abuse; transitional living, including life skills education and more.

Salvation Army of New Jersey

Another issue the COVID pandemic brought to light is how many of our fellow New Jerseyans suffer from food insecurity; especially children and the aged. The Salvation Army of New Jersey offers food pantries, mobile feeding programs, and soup kitchens throughout the state to those in need.

Peters Valley School of Craft

Another organization I regularly highlight and support is Peters Valley School of Craft. For the last fifty-plus years, Peters Valley has enriched lives through the learning, practice, and appreciation of fine crafts, all nestled in the heart of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. If you have ever wanted to experience blacksmithing, weaving, or anything else, Peters Valley is the finest place in New Jersey to learn. They also have a wonderful gallery and gift area and present an amazing collection of artists every fall at a two-day event.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey

While most people think New Jersey is nothing more than Newark Airport and the Turnpike, we all know better. Three of my favorite species, the heritage brook trout, the red knot, and the horseshoe crab, are all important parts of the biodiversity of New Jersey. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey works to protect that rich biodiversity. There are over 70 endangered and threatened species in New Jersey. Supporting the Conserve Wildlife Foundation helps protect all the different animals and mammals that swim, walk, and fly in the Garden State.

And Many, Many More

These are just a few of the many different non-profits that need help in New Jersey. They all do important work and it requires money for them to continue to do their important work. Everyone has something they are passionate about. My two passions are protection of open spaces and access to fine and performing arts, especially in public education. Find what fuels you and become an ally. If you aren’t in a position to donate funds, consider donating food to your local food pantry, clothes to a local shelter, or volunteer with an organization that feeds your soul and does good in your community. If you aren’t sure about the history of a specific organization, check them out on Charity Navigator. You’ll be able to see how they spend their donations as well as their history. You can also look at Community Foundation of New Jersey. This is a well-regarded organization that helps to manage the financial aspect of many different funds, scholarships, and organizations in a legal and ethical manner.

So get ready to give!

Learning the History of the Lenni Lenape

When I was in fourth grade the entire year focused on New Jersey history. As much as I disliked Mrs. Stackfleth, I will say she was great at teaching the history of the Garden State.

We spent a great deal of time learning about the Lenni Lenape, whose traditional territory spanned what is now eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Lower New York, and eastern Delaware. “Lenni-Lenape,” literally means “Men of Men”, but is translated to mean “Original People.” The two tribes we focused on the most were the Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation and the Ramapough Lenape Nation; both from New Jersey. Just like most things in Jersey today, one was in what is now considered South Jersey and one was in what is now considered North Jersey.

Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation is made up of descendants of Algonquian-speaking Nanticoke and Lenape peoples who remained in, or returned to, their ancient homeland at the Delaware Bay. Within the larger South Jersey tribe, there were three main groups; the Munsee (People of the Stony Country) lived in the north. The Unami (People Down River) and Unalachtigo (People Who Live Near the Ocean) lived in the central and southern part of the homeland.

The Ramapough Lenape Nation were a Munsee-speaking band, an Algonquian language-speaking people. Although the Ramapough Lenape Indian ancestors have resided in the Ramapough Mountains for thousands of years, there is little documentation in New York or New Jersey that refers to the nation. This is most commonly believed to be due to a lack of written language by the Ramapough people. As a result, most information has been passed orally from generation to generation, much of which has been lost to the ages.

The Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation and the Ramapough Lenape Nation are both recognized by the New Jersey Commission on American Indian Affairs.

Throughout the year all the Tribal Nations in New Jersey as well as the New Jersey Commission on American Indian Affairs offer programs on their histories and original ways of life. It is a great way to learn about the original residents of Jersey.

Hoffa & Jersey: Perfect Together

“New Jersey and you… perfect together.” ~Governor Tom Kean

I remember seeing that commercial often growing up. It was a wonderful sentiment. Unfortunately, it turned into the tail end of a lot of jokes. From taxes to traffic, Jersey was perfect with a lot of things. Includes Jimmy Hoffa.

I grew up hearing the rumor he was a speed bump at Giants Stadium. That he had to be moved when the original stadium started to be built. Then, according to the book “I hear you paint houses,” Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran claimed to be the bagman who rubbed Hoffa out. However, when the house where he claimed the murder took place was searched, the DNA found did not match that of Hoffa.

Most recently, Phillip Moscato, Jr. said hitman Salvatore “Sally Bugs” Briguglio was the one who killed Hoffa. Moscato Jr. is the son of Phillip “Brother” Moscato, Sr., a Genovese crime family powerhouse in New Jersey who died of liver cancer in 2014 at the age of 79. Moscato, Sr. took the Fifth while testifying before the federal grand jury after Hoffa’s disappearance. A 1972 FBI Report described Moscaro Sr. as “one of the top loan sharks in Hudson and Bergen counties.”

A 1964 photo of Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa outside the federal courthouse in Chattanooga. (Credit: Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP, File)

Federal investigators have long stated that Hoffa was murdered in Detroit when he disappeared on July 30th, 1975, and was reportedly transported to New Jersey by the Genovese crime family. It is believed that he was buried in the large dump that Moscato’s father owned in Jersey City, the PJP Landfill, known as “Moscato’s dump.” But Phil says that after one of his father’s mafia cohorts flipped and cooperated with the FBI in November of 1975, four months after Hoffa vanished, the body was moved so that authorities would not discover it.

That claim seems to have new life as the FBI has recently searched the PJP Landfill below the Pulaski Skyway. This search is related to interviews given by Frank Cappola, who was a teenager in the 1970s and worked at the old PJP Landfill in Jersey City with his father, Paul Cappola. Cappola said his dying father explained in 2008 how Hoffa’s body was delivered to the landfill in 1975, placed in a steel drum and buried with other barrels, bricks and dirt, according to reports from The New York Times and Fox News.

Frank Cappola spoke to Fox Nation and journalist Dan Moldea before he died in 2020 and signed a document with his father’s detailed story. So, out went the FBI… again. In late October of this year, the FBI searched the landfill. There’s no confirmation whether or not the FBI removed anything from the location.

So it seems Hoffa and Jersey will be perfect together for a little bit longer.

World War I Ended 100 Years ago… In New Jersey?

While many believe “the war to end all wars” ended in 1918 when the Armistice took place, technically the United States did not formally end World War I until 1921. Where did it end you might ask? You guessed it, New Jersey.

Allow me to explain.

The United States entered the Great War in April of 1917, almost three years after the War began. New Jersey would send 72,946 conscripts and 46,960 volunteers to fight. Camp Dix, later Ford Dix, opened in July of 1917, and the 78th “Lightning” Division was activated there one month later. Many New Jersey-born African Americans joined the 369th Infantry Regiment, a unit organized in nearby New York that went onto become the first black regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Force.

The women of New Jersey also made significant contributions to the war effort. New Jersey was the training site for approximately 300 women who served in the Army Signal Corps as bilingual long-distance operators. Jersey ladies campaigned in Liberty Bond efforts as well as volunteering to serve with aid organizations such as the Red Cross. Dupont hired countless women to work as munition makers at plants in Carney’s Point, Salem County.

From Salem County to Morris County, manufacturing was everywhere. In 1915, Hercules Powder produced 150,000 pounds of cordite per day at the company’s Kenvil plant (not far from where I live currently in Ledgewood). Even Singer Sewing Machine in Elizabeth converted their normal production to wartime materials. By 1918, New Jersey was the largest supplier of munitions in America.

Ultimately, New Jersey paid a heavy toll. Our beloved state lost 3,836 New Jerseyans to combat, accident and disease. You can find over 160 monuments dedicated to our brave fighters. A total of nine New Jerseyans were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, including Marine Gunnery Sgt. Fred William Stockham of Belleville, my hometown, better known to those of us as The Motherland.

So, how did the United States officially end involvement in WWI?

On November 11, 1918, Germany signed the Armistice at Compiègne, ending World War I. In January of 1919, the Paris Peace Conference began. In June of 1919, Allied and German representatives signed Treaty of Versailles. The United States signs a treaty of guaranty, pledging to defend France in case of an unprovoked attack by Germany. However, the first time the Treaty of Versailles was presented to Congress in November of 1919, it failed. Yes, I’m serious.

The marker where the American involvement of World War I ended. Credit: atlasobscura.com

The Treaty of Versailles was presented to Congress for a vote again in March of 1920 and failed… again. No, I’m not kidding.

Ultimately, the Knox-Porter Resolution was signed by President Warren Harding to officially end American wartime involvement in July 1921. It was signed in Raritan, New Jersey on July 2, 1921.

I would love to tell you President Harding picked New Jersey to sign the Resolution as a thank you for all the contributions our great state made to the success of the war effort, but I would be lying. The President was visiting Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen of New Jersey to play golf. The papers were delivered to the Raritan Country Club, where the President signed the resolution and officially ended World War I… during a break from his golf game.

Now all that remains from that famous spot is a marker just off the Somerville Circle, not far from (you guessed it) a shopping mall. It’s funny and sad at the same time.

So what have we learned?

First, as I have always known, we are an awesome state. Our ancestors played a key role in the success of War.

Second, as I have mentioned in previous posts, it is important we protect our historic landmarks. A marker on the side of a busy traffic circle is undignified. Protect our Jersey history. Our future generations are depending on us.

Finally, and most importantly, our state paid a heavy price. We owe our vets a debt that can never be repaid. So make sure this Veteran’s Day to thank a vet. Shake their hand, pick up their check at the diner, or buy them a cup of coffee while on line to pay at Dunkin Donuts. We owe them far more, especially those who gave their last full measure of devotion. May God bless them and their families.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: You!

For my last post for Italian Heritage Month, I felt I needed to highlight a very important person that is part of Italian heritage in New Jersey: you!

And when I say you, I mean the collective you; the Italian-American community in New Jersey.

All month I’ve shared stories of amazing New Jerseyans of our past and those who represent our future. Well, you represent that future as well!

There is a very specific reason I decided to make this post about our community. Not too long while scrolling through Twitter (yeah, I know), I came across a post from a woman who is a journalist and of Italian descent. She wrote an opinion piece about Columbus and how the holiday should be eliminated. I was curious as to what she had to say, so I clicked through to her article and read her piece. I disagreed with her premise, but hey, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. At the end of the piece, there were links to her other articles. I checked out some of her other articles and I quickly noted a pattern. First, I don’t think she has written anything happy. From Mother’s Day to Thanksgiving, she hates it all. Second, just about every article painted her heritage in a very poor light. I really felt like she is a self-hating Italian-American. It made me sad.

You’ve read my laments about the continued stereotyping of Americans of Italian descent in the media, the disrespect we face from individuals who look to demean our heritage, and just through the simple passing of time, all that makes our community special is starting to drift away. Very few actually care what past generations have contributed to our great state of the meaning of what it means to be of Italian descent. Ask five people tomorrow if they know when Italian Heritage Month is. Maybe you’ll get one correct answer, if you’re lucky. Therefore, it is up to us to make sure we pick up the flag that was handed to us by the generations before us and lift it high.

As a Gen-Xer, I usually just embrace my inner eyeroll when someone says something stupid about Italian-Americans because I know better. However, that is no longer the case. And it shouldn’t be the case for any of us.

My Uncle Chubby used to tell us to never forget where we came from. While I have always tried to heed his advice, it has brought new meaning to me over the last year. As I mentioned in my previous post, this year I joined two Italian American associations: the Italian American Once Voice Coalition and the Italian Sons and Daughters of America. I started listening to the Italian American Podcast, which provides fascinating stories and information about Americans of Italian descent. I am working on leaning Italian. Most of all, I make sure people are laughing with me, not at me.

As I have said, those of Italian descent is the last ethnic group that people not only make fun of openly, they are encouraged through negative stereotyping. Just as I started this blog to increase awareness to the wonders of New Jersey, I also am going to take a more active role in reminding people that our heritage is more than The Godfather and Goodfellas. And for the record, those idiots from Jersey Shore were from Staten Island.

So as this Italian Heritage Month comes to a close, I encourage all of us that are of Italian descent to make sure you preserve the history of your family and our collective heritage. Our future as a community depends on it.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Patrick O’Boyle

Now, I know what you are thinking. This is Italian Heritage Month. Why am I highlighting a guy with an Irish name? Stick with me and you will quickly see why.

So far this month, I have highlighted important figures who have been important parts of the foundation of Italian heritage and culture in New Jersey. But I worry about the future of what it means to be of Italian descent. It is up to us as a community to make sure we take what we have learned from the generations before us and carry it forward.

Enter Patrick O’Boyle. Yeah, I know. The name. Like I said, stick with me.

He may have an Irish last name, but he is exactly what we as a community need to make sure our history is not cast aside. To make sure our proud heritage is not forgotten or nothing more than a stereotype in movies. Even better, he is a true Jersey guy.

Originally from North Arlington, he has a strong Catholic faith. He attended Queen of Peace High School. He completed his undergraduate studies at Seton Hall University (another reason I like this guy) and received his J.D. from Seton Hall Law School. He has his own private law practice in New Jersey and is a professor of law at Montclair State University.

He may be an attorney, but I am convinced he is a teacher at heart.

As part of the ensemble that makes up The Italian American Podcast, his knowledge of Catholic history and canon law is simply impressive. His knowledge of Italian history is equally impressive; from food to culture to all that is Italian. Listening to him and the ensemble of the podcast is like sitting back and enjoying a cross between a lecture on Italian culture and eating Sunday dinner.

Patrick is working hard to protect our heritage and has been recognized for his efforts. He is the Vice-President for New Jersey of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA) and President and Prior of the Congregazione Maria Ss. Del Sacro Monte di Novi Velia Salerno di Jersey City, NJ, a member of the Boards of the Italian Cultural Foundation at Casa Belvedere and the Coccia Foundation for the Italian Experience in America, a Founding Board Member of the Sandumanghesi Del Cilento Society, the former New Jersey Area Coordinator and Member of the Youth Activities Board and Young Professionals Council of NIAF, and the Past National Youth Committee Chairman of Unico National, the nation’s largest Italian American service organization. He is also a Knight of the Order of Merit of Savoy, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and a Knight Official of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George and the Order’s Vice-Delegate for the United States.

Patrick has inspired me to take a more active role in cherishing my heritage. I’ll be honest, when my Grandmother passed away, I felt like a lot of my connection with what makes me Italian was lost. A part of me died with her. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. Every few years I made a half-hearted attempt to learn Italian. Needless to say, it hasn’t gone well. I just started up again.

I recently joined the Italian Sons and Daughters of America. As I mentioned, I am working on learning Italian. I’ve picked up on my family history documentation in Ancestry. Years ago I made a family recipe book with all the recipes written out by hand. I’ve been adding to it with recipes that weren’t documented anywhere at the time. I joined the Italian American One Voice Coalition. I am making a conscious attempt at rediscovering and preserving my family heritage as well as my ancestral heritage.

So my lesson to you is this; regardless of your heritage, take a page from Patrick’s playbook. Embrace and celebrate it.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: St. Lucy’s Church

If someone asked me what is the most important location associated with Italian heritage in New Jersey, I would say without hesitation St. Lucy’s Church.

Since its cornerstone was placed in 1891, St. Lucy’s Church in Newark has been a source of pride and devotion for the millions of Italian immigrants and the generations that followed. In 1998, St. Lucy’s Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The parish namesake, Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia), martyred in Sicily in third-century is the patroness of those afflicted with diseases of the eyes.

St. Lucy’s Church is the home of the National Shrine of St. Gerard. Every October, tens of thousands of the faithful flock to pay homage to St. Gerard. St. Gerard Maiella of Avellino was born on April 6, 1726. He was the only son of Benedetta and Comenico Maiella. Because of his frail health he was not immediately accepted into the Order but, due to his insistence and persistence he was finally accepted in May of 1749 and became a lay brother of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. St. Gerard passed away on October 16, 1755. In 1977, St. Gerard’s chapel in St. Lucy’s Church was dedicated as a national shrine. While it was never made official, he is considered by many to be the Patron Saint of Mothers.

The third pastor, Msgr. Joseph Granato, served the parish with dedication and faith in God’s providence for 54 years, until June 2009. For those of us who have met Msgr. Granato, he borders on rock star status. His dedication to St. Lucy’s and the community has earned him a spot on many prayer lists of families of the parish.

At its height, over 30,000 Italian immigrants lived in the one square mile around the church, known as the First Ward. For over 80 years, that neighborhood thrived and supported their beloved church. Sadly, the neighborhood came to its end in the post-World War II period. The main factor causing the disintegration of the neighborhood came in 1953 thanks to developers and the city government. They forced people give up their homes and move against their will, bulldozing in days what took over eight decades to build. City officials often referred to the First Ward as a “slum.” The Newark Housing Authority claimed its rebuilding efforts would slow or reverse the population shift to the suburbs, however, they couldn’t have been more wrong. Approximately 15 percent of First Ward residents left the city for good (including my family) the moment they were displaced. More than half the businesses in the clearance zone ceased to exist. Those homes were replaced with large buildings providing low-income housing. As the years continued, they were a great source of crime and an example of all that was wrong with Newark. Unfortunately, the damage was done at the point. The First Ward was destroyed and one of the most vibrant Italian communities in the country was history. All in the name of progress.

People with a connection to the area, and St. Lucy’s specifically, still return regularly for church. I am the fourth generation of my family that returns to St. Lucy’s every October for the Feast of St. Gerard. It is one of only two churches in the entire state where I feel truly at peace and able to prayerfully reflect and enjoy the silence.

I tell everyone I know, if you have never visited St. Lucy’s, take the time to visit this amazing church full of beautiful art and history, as well as a strong connection to the Italian community of New Jersey.