Frances Aiello, “Zia Francisca” came to visit my mother, Mary Frontiero, one afternoon, shortly after World War II began. She was frantic. “Mary,” she stated, “What can we do? My son and relatives have been called away to fight in the war. I am so worried.” My mother had three brothers and many relatives in military service. After much discussion they agreed. “We can pray.” She invited people to her home to pray the rosary. Soon her home was not large enough for the large crowds of people attending.
She went to Mayor Weston U. Friend. “There is an abandoned little building on 48 Washington St.,” she stated. “We need a place to pray for the safe return of our loved ones.”
After much persuasion Mayor Friend agreed to give her a 100-year lease on the building for $1 on Aug. 15, 1944. But no money would be available for repairs.
This building had been used by the city as “The Continuation School.” Students not interested in furthering their education were sent there after grammar school. The boys learned basic skills of carpentry, electrical repairs and plumbing. The girls learned homemaking skills.
The club was chartered May 26, 1953, as the Mother of Grace Society.
This dedicated little group of mostly Italian women had bake sales, pizza sales, raffles and recruited more members. Working diligently, one project at a time, they soon raised enough money for a new foundation, roof, bathroom, windows, siding, wiring and plumbing.
One of the founding members, Dominia Cianciola, ordered a statue of Our Blessed Mother of Grace from Italy, donating this in honor of her son, Ben, serving in the Navy in Pacific Theater. Sewing committees decorated the altar with beautiful ornate trimmings, curtains for the windows and a beautiful banner. Soon the members had a very comfortable, spiritual place to pray.
Daily they gathered, praying the rosary fervently for the safe return of their loved ones. Their motto was and always will be: “Pray for Peace.“ “When you sing you pray twice.” Very beautiful Italian hymns were sung.
Every one of the member’s loved ones came safely home from the war. They were all spared, I believe, thanks to the power of prayer.
After the war, the club celebrated a fiesta in thanksgiving to our Blessed Mother of Grace for her prayerful intercession in the miracle of all the members loved ones in the military service, returning safely from the war. At our first fiesta program I introduced Mayor Friend and Pastor Maurice O’Brien, who commended the ladies on their extraordinary accomplishments, their faith and dedication.
Every year on Sept. 8, our Blessed Mother’s birthday, the day begins with a High Mass at Holy Family Parish, St. Ann’s Church, followed by a continental breakfast upstairs in the club house. In the afternoon the benediction ceremony is celebrated by the Holy Family Parish, St. Ann’s pastor. A religious procession follows with a marching band, the statue of Our Blessed Mother of Grace carried by four men, children and club members chanting “Viva Beda Madre di Gracia” in celebration. The procession stops at the World War II memorial on Middle Street, the last one in city, formally maintained by the club. One child dressed in an Army uniform and one in a Navy uniform shoot off toy guns and the band plays taps for the fallen soldiers. The procession continues down Western Avenue, Rogers Street, Main Street, Washington Street and back to the clubhouse. Many spectators pin money on the banners as donations to the club. Many dedicated volunteers help; Joe Novello provides the electrical work, setting up all the lights for the fiesta.
I formed a Junior Mother of Grace Club. We marched in parades in our uniforms and also did fundraising. Frances Aiello also organized many bus trips. We went on pilgrimages to Canada and New York, visiting beautiful churches.
The Mother of Grace fiestas are still being celebrated today. A nine-day novena always proceeds the event. There is a daily rosary at the clubhouse in the afternoon and a group of Italian ladies pray the rosary again in the evening.
The program has grown to a four-day event, with rosary in the afternoon and musical entertainment in the evening. The program ends with a raffle and a candlelight procession. Our Lady is marched again up to the Legion and back to her place on the club altar. Also novenas are celebrated in the months of May and October.
Gus MacIntosh, in memory of his grandmother, Rose Ciulla, continues to help Katie Fontana, the dedicated club president, who is fulfilling her promise to her mother, Jenny Giacalone, the former club guardian, to never abandon the Mother of Grace Club, and their devotion and gratitude to our Blessed Mother for her intercession to her beloved son, Jesus, to bring peace to our world.
Many new members were enrolled his year as the club continues to be stronger than ever, praying for world peace.
Virginia (Frontiero) McKinnon is a Gloucester resident.