San Antonio's Italian Mission, Gary (defunct)
In Gary, Nicolo Accomando, a former Methodist, came forward to Bishop John Hazen White with an interest in promoting an Italian mission in the city. Born in Palermo in 1884 and probably at one time a Catholic seminarian, Accomando had immigrated to the U.S. in 1906 and had settled initially in Paterson, New Jersey. After marrying Rosetta Tedeschi in Chicago in 1911, the couple had moved to Indianapolis, where Nicolo established Fletcher Place Methodist Church at the intersection of South Street, Virginia Avenue, and East Street. Historian James Davita notes that this area was near the place where Sicilian fruit vendors and Calabrian laborers lived and worked. The church offered immigrants a place to take English classes at night and featured a regular Sunday school for children.
Accomando left Indianapolis for Gary, searching again for a local Italian immigrant community that had no Catholic church. He became active in local Italian clubs and would eventually publish an Italian-language newspaper, Corriere del Popolo. On 24 May 1916, ten months after a Catholic priest had left the city, 76 Italian-Americans signed a petition to Bishop White to give them a church. Deeply moved by the request, White remarked at the Diocesan Council, "They feel that when and so soon as they have a Church and a minister large numbers of Italians from the whole Calumet region will come to them." White and the diocesan Missionary Committee approved the petition, and under Accomondo's leadership, San Antonio's Italian Mission (Iglesia de Sant'Antonio) was established at 19th Avenue and Adams Street in Gary. When White arrived for the mission's dedication the following year, an Italian band played, the crowd cheered and waved flags, and White confirmed more than 75, mostly children, the largest confirmation class of his episcopate.
Accomando served initially as San Antonio's lay reader under the care of the Rev. Wilbur Dean Elliott of Christ Church and preached in Italian. He soon expressed an interest in becoming an Episcopal priest himself and approached the bishop about ordination, White confirmed him and later ordained him to the diaconate. Under his leadership, the mission's initial growth portended its success. Parishioners used the main floor as a chapel and the basement for social gatherings. In Accomando's aspiration, just as in Indianapolis, San Antonio's would not only meet these immigrants' spiritual needs, but would serve as a bridge to acculturate them in their new home. Elliott reported in an article in the Spirit of Missions that "a special effort is being made to familiarize these foreign-born and trained inhabitants with American ways and customs." Accomondo's Italian newspaper was renamed Americans All in 1924.
White confirmed more than 300 Italian and Hispanic immigrants in the mission's first few years. Its success alarmed the Catholic bishop, Herman J. Alerding, who called Gary a "hot-bed of of proselytism." Hoping to recoup the loss of Catholic parishioners, he dispatched Fr. John de Ville and Fr. Riccardo Fantozzi to reach out to the lost Catholic flock. Fantozzi established a competing Catholic mission, St. Joseph's Parish for Italians, at 17th Avenue and Washington Street, and it proved immediately successful.
In a burst of optimism, Accomondo pressed to have San Antonio's frame church resurfaced in brick, but by 1922, its membership had begun to fall away just as quickly as it had grown. The mission had amassed a debt of $6,600, of which $3,750 was owed to the contractor who placed a mechanic's lien on the property. Accomando made an impassioned appeal to save the building, which was valued at $16,000, but Bishop White despaired in his annual address that he would not likely be able to rescue it. Nevertheless, he managed to find the money after the Diocesan Council agreed to borrow $7,000. Ultimately, the heroic bailout proved unnecessary, because membership continued to dwindle, leading to the mission's closure in 1927. Accomando left Gary for Utica, New York, and the remodeled building was later given to the new St. Augustine's to serve as an African American mission.
The records of St. Antonio's Mission are not known to survive.
James J. Davita, "The Indiana Churches and the Italian Immigrant, 1890-1935," U.S. Catholic Historian, volume 6, no. 4 (Fall 1987): 325-349.
"How Our Church Is Caring for People of Other Tongues in Our Midst," Spirit of Missions, volume 82 (1917), 787-790.
Rev. Nicolo Accomando, 1916-1927