by Msgr. Steven Ferrari
This Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, I intend to make a pilgrimage. Not to any famous Franciscan shrine, but to a place that has meaning for me and my family: Webster Hall on East 11th St., Manhattan. Though recently closed for major renovations, the hall is where, at a closely chaperoned dance 70 years ago, on Oct. 4, 1947, an 18-year-old Rosie Lusardi met an ‘older man,’ 24-year-old Clemente Ferrari. Within 10 years, this young couple would be married and have three of their eventual four children. I am the second offspring of their union.
As the story was told to my younger self many times, when they met at the dance Mom was not really interested in Dad, an ex-GI who had served in the Pacific in World War II. She had her eyes on Dad’s cousin, “Big Rudy.” Rose thought Clem was ‘square’ and out-of-touch, wearing his two-toned shoes. And Dad was so tall – well over 6 feet, compared to her 5-foot-3 stature. But Dad was persistent and pursued Mom until he won her over.
I have in my ‘family memory chest,’ the actual letter Dad wrote in 1948 asking his future in-laws for “…the hand of your daughter, Miss Rose, who I love and cherish with my whole little tiny heart, with your kind permission please tell me if you’ll accept me as your son-in-law.” Dad signed it and then had it “witnessed” by Mom herself!
On my bookcase sit their separate 4” x 6” engagement portraits (in glorious black-and-white, of course!) that radiate their unencumbered youthfulness. And I inherited, though never use, the Longines wristwatch, inscribed “Clem – with love, Rose – 4-19-49,” that Mom gave Dad on their engagement.
They wed on a warmish Jan. 14, 1950 at Mom’s home parish, St. James Pro-Cathedral, Downtown Brooklyn. Dad’s distant cousin, Msgr. (then-Father) Celsus Collini was the celebrant of the nuptial Mass. It was a marriage that lasted more than 60 years, until Clemente’s death at age 86. Rosie remembers none of that now, or if she does, is unable to express it, due to the vile ravages of Alzheimer’s.
My sister, the youngest of us four, calls me “The Keeper of the Family History.” “Write it down before it’s lost,” she directs me. “Let the younger generation know about our family heritage.”
Indeed there are many stories I do recall, and they are precious and ever-present to me. I hope to preserve and convey them as best I can. For these stories tell us who we are and where we come from. They are the vital connection to a family, a heritage and a tradition that should never be forgotten.
In our fast-paced world, we focus too often on what’s new and current and ‘the latest.’ But as I age, I find myself looking back more often than forward. For surely, at age 65, I have many more years behind me than before me. So I take the time to reflect on the past, to recall and cherish what has been, to make a pilgrimage to places important to my family’s history, and to be grateful that Rosie and Clem “cut the rug” at Webster Hall 70 years ago.