View from the Pew – St. Frances Cabrini
BENSONHURST — Eleanor Martucci’s devotion to St. Frances Cabrini Church is as deep as her roots in the parish — the seeds of which were planted more than half a century ago. She became a parishioner before the church was even built in the mid-1960s.
“When I heard they were going to build a church, I wanted to be a part of it,” she recalled.
Today, Martucci is still a part of the parish — a very big part of it. In January, she retired from her job as the parish secretary after 53 years of answering phone calls, taking messages, scheduling appointments, and greeting rectory visitors with a warm smile.
“I worked with seven pastors over the years. I guess you can say I lasted a long time,” she said.
While she no longer works at the rectory, she is still faithful to her church. You can find her every Saturday at the 5 p.m. Mass, sitting in her favorite pew near the back of the church.
St. Frances Cabrini Church was established on June 21, 1963. The site selected for the church was 35 Bay 11th St. in Bensonhurst. The founding pastor, Father Anthony Ryder, celebrated the parish’s first official Mass on July 7, 1963, in a parking lot on Bay 11th Street. Martucci was there.
“It was a beautiful sunny day. It was so exciting,” she said. “We felt like we were starting something special.”
July 7 was deliberately selected as the date for the inaugural Mass because it marked the 17th anniversary of the canonization of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.
Martucci literally watched the church being built. She lived across the street and would check the progress of the construction from her window.
“It took a few years to build,” she recalled.
In the meantime, Masses took place in different locations — a Buick showroom on 16th Avenue, the Scarpaci Funeral Home on 14th Avenue, and the Knights of Columbus Archbishop John Hughes Council on 13th Avenue. The church opened when construction was completed in 1966.
By then, Martucci was already making her presence felt in the parish. She recalled a day when she was sitting in a chair in front of her house, reading a book, and spotted Father Ryder across the street, pacing back and forth in front of a converted private house that was serving as the rectory. He beckoned her over. “He told me, ‘I want you to start a women’s group,’ ” she said.
She organized a group of women who were young mothers like herself and found that she enjoyed it. “It was a whole bunch of us and we had a lot in common. We were all around the same age,” she recalled. Martucci had two young children at the time.
Martucci was also involved in running the parish BINGO nights, which took place three times a week. She served as a volunteer for three years, then went to work as the parish secretary, starting the job in June of 1967.
“It was a very active rectory. I bonded with everyone,” she said. “I loved the pastors I worked with.”