Story by Bill Stephens

Italian-Americans from all over Los Angeles gathered downtown Sunday, September 12 to celebrate the centennial of St. Peter's Italian Church.

The church, along with its church hall, Casa Italiana, is the focal point for L.A's far-flung Italian community.

The day's activities included a mass, reception, rededication of Casa Italiana, and  banquet. Improvements to the church and Casa Italiana were unveiled, as were a centennial history book and video. Speakers recognized those who nurtured the church  and urged members to keep the tradition alive. 

"St. Peter's remains a beacon, the mother church and spiritual home for Italians in Los Angeles," said  Cardinal Roger Mahony during the mass. "Look back and look ahead. Maintain  this spiritual center and keep it alive. Pass it on to your children and grandchildren."

St. Peter's was founded in 1904  on Spring Street to address the needs of Italian immigrants in Italian.  The church soon moved to "Little Italy" along North Broadway in today's Chinatown. Italians eventually dispersed throughout L.A.

Mario Trecco, editor of L'Italano-Americano newspaper wrote part of the centennial history. He says St. Peter's adapted by becoming a center for special occasions and enlarging the function of Casa Italiana into a center for meetings and celebrations for church groups, as well as for Greater Los Angeles social and professional groups.

"The Italian community remained attached to the church and wants it to continue," says Trecco. The social function of St.Peter's has actually increased, as has the ceremonial function, including feasts, funerals, weddings, baptisms.

"Italians who may belong to a suburban church, like to come here to link with their ancestors and Italian heritage," says St. Peter's pastor Father Giovanni Bizzotto. St. Peter's is run by the Scalabrini Missionaries.

St. Peter's has services in Italian and 

English. Local Latinos and Asians attend services, as well as Italians. Some 50 Italian church societies and cultural/professional clubs are based at Casa Italiana, maintaining Italian traditions and supporting the church. 

Since becoming pastor in 1998, Father Bizzotto has  boosted church attendance, upgraded facilities, energized the clubs, started a small seminary for young men deciding whether to become priests, and enlarged migrant services with a feeding program.

"We serve Italians throughout L.A.  and other cultures in our neighborhood, especially newcomers to America," Father Bizzotto said in an interview.

The centennial was launched a year ago to recognize those who have nurtured the church and to stimulate participation,  especially among church members' children. A centennial committee organized the Sept. 12 event and fundraising.  The church received fresh paint and improved air conditioning. Casa Italiana received paint, wood paneling, sound system, flooring.

At the centennial banquet, attended by 450, First District  City Councilmember Ed Reyes congratulated church members for not forgetting their roots, and promised that a new park across the street will add local  appeal.

Italian Consul General Diego Brasioli told the audience that he and his family feel at home at St. Peter's. He's trying to build a closer relationship between the downtown and West Los Angeles Italian communities.

Two priests were singled out for keeping St. Peter's vital. Father Michael Cecere, who was pastor from 1943-1949  and built the current church structure, was a special guest. Father Luigi Donanzan (pastor from 1962-1979)  was recognized for building Casa Italiana and Villa Scalabrini retirement center, and for reviving St. Peter's clubs and festivals.

Several involved with St. Peter's say the church has been important to them.

Beatrice Smaldino grew up in the neighborhood, was married at St.Peter's, and lives nearby. "The church has meant everything to me--the Italian language, the family memories."

Said Gloria Carone: "Many want to reconnect with this place because they want to reconnect with their roots and with their Italian-ness."

Stella Sciarra: "We live in Arcadia  but are drawn here by our friends. It's a hub for the Italian community."

When Nick Costantini moved to L.A. from Italy in 1948 he says St.Peter's helped reduce culture shock. He was married in the church, his two sons were baptized and confirmed there. Though he lives in the suburbs, he remains very involved.

Said Burbank's Noema Corradi: "The centennial got everyone re-energized. It's history in the making. This church and hall are very important. We need the closeness and attachment to each other."  

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